Deceased student’s friends still mourn their loss
By Theresa Ebden
Nine months after the murder of Elena Tchoudakova, the third-year Ryrson Interior Design student’s alleged killer, Gilbert Ho, appeared in a College Park provincial court Monday for a preliminary hearing.
But the court date is little comfort to Ryerson’s Interior Design community, who still remember Tchoudakova as the sweet Russian student who came to class every day with a smile.
The school’s mourning process has been “very positive” said Lorna Kelly, chairperson of Interior Design.
“We’re starting to clear this away… the school is nicely settled,” she said.
Much of the healing process has come through work to keep Tchoudakova’s memory alive.
Until the end of the last school year, the Interior Design building show-cased Tchoudakova’s art, her photograph, and flowers in her memory. They also held a candlelight vigil on January 20.
A silent auction for Tchoudakova’s equipment and supplies will occur later this year.
When Tchoudakova’s mother Elvina flew from Moscow to claim the body of her only daughter, Elena’s classmates gaver her money from a fund they had started for the funeral and travel expenses, and transport of Tchoudakova’s ashes back to Russia. They also made a book including photos of Elena and their signatures.
Tchoudakova’s classmates discovered her body three days after her murder in her Broadview-Danforth area apartment on January 12.
She had been raped, bludgeoned, and drowned in her bathtub. Ho, a 33 year-old married father of two young girls, has been charged with first degree murder.
“We don’t really talk about (the murder) now,” said Colleen McGill, a fourth-year Interior Design student.
Tchoudakova had lived in Canada for almost three years. She was a full-time Ryerson student and held three jobs to support herself.
She didn’t talk about her personal problems at school but Professor Dave Johnston knew Elena was having troubles when she started getting behind in her class work.
“She was scared,” he recalls. “It all came out after her death, but at the time I didn’t know the whole story… no one did.”
When Johnston and his wife went to England over the winter break before Tchoudakova’s death, he let her and a friend stay at his house in Meaford.
“She needed a place to go, to feel safe,” Johnston said.
He searched for words as he showed a contemporary coffee table that Elena designed for a class assignment, shortly before she died.
“We all felt it should be built,” he said softly.
Johnston helped technicians Don Coulombe and Dave Loewy build Elena’s coffee table in two days. It was painted by her best friend, Annie Chan, who was also an international student.
“All three of (the international students) sat together,” said Johnston, looking over towards one of the woodshop desks. “They were best friends. She was a very strong, conceptual artist. She was very easy to relate to.”
“She was the last person in the world that this could happen to,” said Coulombe. “She always had positive energy.”
“I remember the first day I saw her,” he continued. “Her name was called in the introduction, and she jumped out of her chair with both arms out in the ari,” he raises his hands and smiles. “She was hard not to know.”
A close friend of Tchoudakova’s, her alleged killer Ho helped support her financially. He got her and two other women jobs at the Coloured Stone, where he was a manager, about a year before the murder.
After the murder, Kelly said a lot of women in Interior Design felt vulnerable. Ryerson security responded with additional patrols in the Interior Design area.
“There’s always the question of, ‘Should we have done something?’” said Kelly. “She was very creative, she had a lot of potential that was not realized.”
“She was a wonderful human being,” said Lowey, a technician. “Always excited, never brought personal problems to school.”
Loewy remembers going to the dead girl’s apartment with Coulombe to collect art supplies and equipment which were donated to the school by Tchoudakova’s family.
“It was a brutal experience, knowing you’re in this small space where such brutality occurred,” said Loewy. “It was a very hard thing… the family was there… it was very draining.”
“Being an artist, she had true energy,” said Coulombe. “She really applied herself, and showed great interest. She truly sought to learn and extend herself.”
“I don’t know how to tell you, all I can say is we remember her,” said Selwyn Lee, one of Elana’s friends who was heavily involved in the fund-raising and survival of her memory.
“She was one of us. She wants us to go on.”
The three-day trial began on Tuesday, September 26, and concludes on Thursday, September 29.
— with files from Tanya Arnoti