By Vanessa Greco
More than 1,000 people marched silently past campus last Sunday night, in honour of Christopher Skinner, a Ryerson graduate who was killed on Oct. 18 after being beaten by a group of men.
With candles in hand, they headed to the spot where the graphics communications management student was murdered.
Witnesses say the assailants then got in their black SUV and drove over the 27-year-old before leaving him on the pavement at the intersection of Victoria and Adelaide Streets.
The murder has stirred speculation that Skinner, an openly gay man, may have been the victim of a hate crime.
“The way they attacked him was just brutal,” said Dawn Whiteman, who once worked with Skinner at an advertising agency. “This can only be motivated by hate.”
Police have released surveillance footage suggesting Skinner was attacked because his hand struck his assailant’s SUV while trying to hail a taxi.
“Yet again, another victim of violence that was gay and the police are convinced it wasn’t a hate crime,” said Jesse Trautmann, former RyePRIDE co-ordinator, while walking in the procession.
He added that police might be underplaying the idea of a hate crime to maintain a gay-friendly image of Toronto as the city prepares to host World Pride celebrations in 2014.
Gillian Mothersill, who taught Skinner during his time at Ryerson, said the murder of a former student is devastating no matter what prompted it.
“I’m going through the same range of emotions as many of his classmates,” said the associate dean, faculty and student affairs in the faculty of communication and design (FCAD). “Shock, horror, grief.”
Fifty minutes after the vigil began travelling from the intersection of Church and Wellesley Streets, the crowd arrived at the spot where Skinner was killed.
As a sea of onlookers raised their candles and stood in silence, Amy Grant, a childhood friend of Skinner’s began to sing “Amazing Grace” — a song they sang together as children in the Uxbridge Youth Choir.
Grant, a Ryerson nursing graduate, refuses to speculate on Skinner’s death.
“I don’t want to believe people can be that bad,” she said. “I hope not because Chris loved everyone.”
For years, Skinner was the popular host of Glamour Bingo — an annual campus residence bingo game with a drag-themed twist. Under his drag queen alias “Crystal Ball,” Skinner told jokes and challenged audience members to walk-offs.
“He’s the model of the perfect host,” said Chad Nuttall, Ryerson’s student housing manager.
Just blocks away from Ryerson, Talli Osbourne looked on as groups of people knelt at the spot where Skinner died, signing a memorial banner. The 29-year-old was Skinner’s residence advisor when he first arrived at Ryerson.
“Tonight is about showing people that this isn’t right,” she said. “That this shouldn’t have happened.”
RyePRIDE plans to launch a hatecrime awareness postering campaign and fundraiser in Skinner’s honour.