by Denise Ryan/Special to the Langley Advance
Lisa Kelly wept openly on the phone Sunday, overcome with grief for Shakir Salaam, the boy she had taken in, and thought of as one of her own. Salaam, 16, was killed Friday as he hung out with two friends in a wooded area near Clayton Heights Secondary School in Surrey.
Salaam’s sudden death is almost incomprehensible, said Kelly, and deeply traumatizing to the two friends he was with at the time. Kelly said she isn’t sure whether Salaam was listening to music on his trademark red headphones or whether the wind was whistling so loudly that he didn’t hear the tree crack before it fell.
Salaam was her son Jacob’s closest friend. “He’s lost right now,” said Kelly. Kelly and her son rushed to the hospital the moment they heard something had happened. When they were greeted by a social worker, Kelly said she knew immediately that Salaam was gone. “I went into the room with Shakir. He was on a table. I laid my body over him and held him and kissed his head, and said, No, please don’t go.’ ”
Salaam had already overcome tragedy in his short life, and overcome difficult circumstances to become, said Kelly, “an absolutely kind-hearted, beautiful boy — a saint.”
Salaam’s mother, Razia, suffered a traumatic brain injury and paralysis after a 2005 car accident. She spent a year in hospital. Salaam’s parents separated. In 2010 his mother and her boyfriend were the victims of a knife attack by her former brother-in-law. Her boyfriend didn’t survive. In 2012 she died.
“He had to grow up pretty fast,” said Kelly. After his mother died, Kelly said, Salaam treasured a bottle of her perfume. “He loved his mother so much. They had an amazing bond,” said Kelly. He kept the perfume so he could smell it, and feel her nearby. “He talked about her all the time.”
Before moving in with his maternal uncle and grandmother, Salaam became a fixture at the Kelly home, pitching in with chores, always ready to lend a hand. “Shakir referred to my son Jacob as his brother from another mother,” said Kelly. “He called me auntie, and he’d say, ‘I’m your brown son.’ ” Whenever anyone asked how many kids she had, Kelly, mom to three of her own, always said four. When they booked a vacation, said Kelly, “There was no question we’d go on it together.”
When Salaam was staying with the family, Kelly helped him find a job. When he got his first paycheque, he wanted to buy himself a bicycle. Kelly was the one who accompanied him to the store — and it’s the story of that bicycle, she says, that says almost everything about the kind of person Salaam was.
“He looked at all the bikes and chose a bright, shiny white bike.” Of all the bikes in the shop, Kelly couldn’t believe he’d picked the white one, the one that would be hardest to keep clean, but that’s the one he wanted. He put down a deposit. “Every time he got his paycheque he made a payment,” said Kelly. When he finally got the bike he was beaming. “He kept saying I absolutely love my bike, auntie! When I asked him why he said it was because he had to work so hard to get it. He took care of it, and he polished it, and he loved it.” If any kid could learn a lesson from him, said Kelly, it would be that — the value of what is earned from your own hard work.
Whenever they needed him, Kelly said, “He would get himself up the hill to our place, pedalling as hard as he could.”
“He was a sweet young man, very respectful and well-liked,” said Colin Campbell, who coached him in rugby last year. “He was a real committed player, one of those kids who was there all the time, wanted to learn. He was a real team player.”
Mohamed Khan, Salaam’s uncle, said the family feels helpless, and is coping the best they can. On Saturday, after the funeral, Salaam’s friends gathered in his room at Khan’s Surrey home. “His dog doesn’t know what to do,” said Khan. “He keeps going in to his room and coming out, looking for him.”
On Saturday, Salaam was buried at Valley View cemetery in Surrey, not far from his mother. A GoFundMe page has been set up.
The donation page says it is raising money for funeral expenses, meals for the family and also a memorial fund in Shakir’s honour.
As of Monday morning, nearly $22,000 had been donated.
“Shakir played rugby at Clayton Heights and lets challenge all rugby schools around the Lower Mainland to donate to his memorial fund. Please share this to help raise money and get to our goal of $7,500. And lets try to beat it, I know this is doable for our community,” reads the post.
– Denise Ryan is a reporter for the Vancouver Sun. With files from Surrey Now.
For more from the Sun, click HERE