‘Things just got crazy very quickly’

Nanaimo student assaulted during Vancouver riot recovers

The Bossons

The Bossons

It has been two weeks since Vancouver’s shattered downtown has been cleaned up, the burned out cars removed, and the shop windows restored following the June 15 Stanley Cup riot, but a new voice has emerged to tell her story of what happened that night.

It’s not that Nanaimo resident and Wellington Secondary School student Chelsea Bossons wanted to wait this long to speak, it’s just that she couldn’t – her jaw was wired shut since being sucker-punched by a 220-pound man among the chaos.

It took three hours of emergency surgery at St. Paul’s Hospital to re-attach her jaw at both hinge points and insert plates to reinforce her shattered chin.

She spent the night alone – her parents Todd and Kathy received a call at 10:20 p.m. from the hospital on the night of the riot, but were forced to wait until the morning of June 16 – with tubes emanating from her nose and ribbons of blood streaming down her bruised cheeks. She swallowed so much blood after being hit she spent the balance of the night throwing it up.

It wasn’t the way what was supposed to be a night of celebration was intended.

Bossons, 17, and six friends travelled to Vancouver to watch one of the big screens set up for Game 7. As it became evident the Canucks would lose, Bossons said the cheering turned to boos, but there was no evidence chaos would soon rule the streets.

“Things just got crazy very quickly,” she said. “Suddenly there was a car burning right in front of us. People started pushing. My friends and I, we all locked arms to try and stay together, but it was impossible. We tried to get down side streets to escape but the police kept pushing us back into the crowds.”

Among the crowds, Chelsea’s group accidentally bumped into a group of young men, who took exception and punched one of her female friends in the back of the head before the crowd swept them apart.

In a matter of minutes, Chelsea and her friends became separated. Panicked, she tried to call her parents, but massive cellphone demand from the event restricted any communication.

“She got through once for just a few seconds and all I could hear her say was ‘I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do,'” said Todd. “We saw what was going on on TV and we knew she was in trouble and there was nothing we could do about it.”

Chelsea somehow managed to reunite with one male friend after 20 minutes on Georgia Avenue and together they tried to go home. That’s when the men they had bumped into earlier reappeared.

“I was in mid-sentence, telling them to leave us alone when he hit me,” said Chelsea. “I never saw it coming.”

The single punch knocked her unconscious.

The attacker is described as in his mid-20s, 5-foot-10, 220 pounds and possibly of East Indian heritage. He has short, dark curly hair, deep sunken eyes with dark rings around them and was wearing a ball cap and white T-shirt.

Const. Jana McGuinness, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department, wrote in an e-mail to the News Bulletin that assaults are investigated by the force’s robbery and assault squad, not the Integrated Riot Investigation Team.

“Our foremost priority is protecting life and ensuring public safety,” she wrote.

Paramedics were quickly on the scene and rushed Chelsea to hospital, but no friends were allowed to go with her. Angry and frustrated, her friend tried to track down the assailants.

He found them, but when he realized he was outnumbered six to one, he turned and ran. He was chased by at least one of them, who produced a knife and slashed his arm in four places as he tried to escape. His efforts earned him 18 stitches.

“There was an overwhelming feeling of helplessness,” said Kathy, who sat through the night with her husband worrying before catching the first ferry to Horseshoe Bay Thursday morning. “It should have been a good adventure, a positive experience. The kids had arranged rides, there was a mix of boys and girls, we knew they would look out for each other.”

Scared, in pain and alone, Chelsea waited in her hospital bed for her morning surgery. One St. Paul’s nurse, a Wellington graduate, stayed with her to provide some comfort for three hours, a gesture Chelsea said she won’t forget.

As news travelled through her community of what happened, cards and flowers began to arrive. Her brother Josh, a Grade 7 student at Rock City School, rallied classmates and to create get-well cards.

“That made me cry a little bit,” said Chelsea.

Since returning home, she has had to visit Nanaimo Regional General Hospital’s emergency room at least twice – once for weight loss and the other because the wires were digging into her cheeks. She’ll be on a liquid diet until at least July 7, when the wires are scheduled to come out.

Chelsea said she won’t let the experience keep her from doing the things she wants.

“It was scary, and I don’t ever want to experience that kind of pain again. But I don’t hate Vancouver,” she said.

Vancouver police continue to provide resources to find people responsible for the riot.

According to a press release Tuesday (June 28), the Integrated Riot Investigative Team is poring over thousands of photos and have catalogued 4,000 e-mails in an attempt to identify suspects involved in 120 separate incidents of rioting and looting. Since June 15, 24 people have turned themselves over to police.