By Eric Lam
Natalie Novak should be in her second week of classes right now, working on the final year of her Hospitality and Tourism Management degree.
Instead, Novak’s family and friends will watch as her ashes are interred in the family cemetery near Algonquin Park this week, almost four months to the day after her brutal murder.
Novak’s body was discovered by police in her bedroom at 28 Grange Ave., after several 911 calls were made in the early morning of May 15.
Accused of her murder, is the man who was once her boyfriend, Arssei Hindessa, 30. He was convicted of assaulting Novak in September 2005.
Homicide Squad Detective Sgt. Gary Giroux said the cause of death was multiple stab wounds.
“She was a very strong person, a strong bright light, but that light was snuffed out by evil,“ said her father, Ed Novak.
Police say, Novak, 20, and Hindessa met early in the evening along with several of her friends. They met despite the restraining order Novak had against Hindessa, following the assault conviction.
An argument allegedly ensued when the two were alone in her second-floor room. When roommates attempted to intervene, they found Novak’s bloodied body. Hindessa then jumped out the window — a 25-foot drop.
There had been reports her throat was slit, but police refused to confirm. The man was arrested 45 minutes after the 911 call and nows faces a first-degree murder charge. Hindessa, an unemployed, landed immigrant from Ethiopia, faces a mandatory life sentence and deportation if convicted. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for February.
Novak’s family, friends and colleagues are left with only memories and thoughts of what might have been.
One friend remembers when Novak once bought a homeless couple a hot meal, for no reason other than it was a good thing to do.
Her father chuckles as he remembers when she had adopted a cat from the Humane Society, hiding him from the family for six months because she didn’t think they’d approve.
But she did it anyway.
“By the time she got to Ryerson, she thought she could manage the place even better than the (professors) who were there,” said her father.
“She had all kinds of plans to fix Ryerson, she loved it so much,” he said.
In the year before she died, Novak told her father she’d decided to change directions and become a lawyer to help victimized women.
He is sure she would’ve succeeded.
The girl her friends called Nat was athletic, growing up in the forests and lakes of Muskoka.
She played on her high school basketball team, studied ballet, played the piano and skated on the backyard rink that her father flooded every year.
Novak had only moved into her new home at Grange Avenue a few weeks before her death.
Grange Ave., tucked away behind Spadina Avenue in the heart of Chinatown, is home to many students looking for an affordable place to live.
Novak’s home, 28 Grange Ave., hides behind an unkempt lawn and a few small potted plants. There’s a rusty bike leaning against the stairs, a dusty broom standing unused in the corner.
“I don’t feel more or less safe (after the murder),” said David Bosch, 23, a fourth-year English and Philosophy major at the University of Toronto who has lived on Grange for three years.
“There are break-ins all the time. If you look down the street you’ll probably find broken windows in half the cars,” Bosch said. “I think it could happen just as easily the next street up.”
For Ed Novak, that’s the problem.
“This wouldn’t have happened in Hamilton, I can tell you that.”
Novak was born in Hamilton before moving north near Huntsville.
The Novaks, Ed, his wife Dawn and kids Nicolas and Natalie built an “enchanted” life for themselves in the Muskoka Lakes Township.
“Still, she always wanted to move to Toronto,” he said.
“And when you’ve got kids (like her) walking around without a clue, they become easy targets, easy to find…and easy to kill.”
Brianne Murray, a fourth-year Ryerson Social Work student who met Novak in their first year, remembers how much Novak loved Toronto.
Murray said Novak enjoyed exploring the city, once naming a rock near Yorkville “the Muskoka Rock” because it reminded her of home.
“She also had a list of 25 things to do before she turned 25, just really silly things like places she wanted to visit,” Murray said, her voice fading.
“And when she died, (her friends and I) were celebrating her life and when the list came up, we all just shared it together.”
For Professor Zhen Lu who taught Novak at Ryerson, his only regret was not getting to know her better. He said her time in his class was short, but she was very sweet.
“I went to the funeral. Really, I think it was a tragedy. What more can you say?”
Murray would give anything now to see her friend alive again.
“I have a framed picture of her holding a butterfly that I keep in my bedroom, and every time I look at it, it just reminds me of how heartbreaking it was,” Murray said, voice cracking.
“I just want to thank her for the memories. I cherished our time together and I will always love her.”