Nanaimo schools support grieving students, friends of Makayla Chang

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The day after police announced they found a body that could be missing 16-year-old Makayla Chang, teens sat down in classrooms around Nanaimo to a message of support from teachers.


Extra counselling was available, they heard, and they were encouraged to talk with other staff members or peers if they felt the need.


Before she disappeared on March 17, Makayla had attended three of the six secondary schools in the city: John Barsby Secondary, Cedar Community and Island ConnectED. A vigil for Makayla was held at John Barsby on May 2.


While school activities remained on schedule, the mood was sombre, said Bob Eslinger, an assistant superintendent in the school district.


“It’s hard to make sense of such a tragic event,” Eslinger said. “When she went missing, there was a lot of angst and worry. And then, as time went on, there was this silence. And then when you hear the news that you didn’t want to hear, it’s that disbelief: Can it happen in our town? Can it happen to one of my friends?


“It’s dealing with that grief, that acknowledgement that yes, it can happen here.”


Nanaimo RCMP said Thursday they are investigating Makayla’s disappearance as a homicide, after finding a body they believe is hers.


An autopsy will be performed to confirm the identity.


Police remain tight-lipped about where or when the body was found, whether they have suspects and when the autopsy might take place.


Although it feels like there are more questions than answers, Brandy McKee said the family is keen on letting the police conduct a thorough investigation.


“It’s not something to rush, we want justice,” said McKee, who is acting as a spokeswoman for the family.


In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to be made to any food bank — a tribute to Makayla’s generosity, she said. “Makayla was always giving and helping others.”


In addition to extra counselling hours, the school district provided more child and youth care and offered relief time and counselling to staff.


An extra psychologist was also sent to a school that Makayla didn’t attend, but where she had friends. Elementary schools received support, too.


asmart@timescolonist.com

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