Penticton grad festivities carry a sombre note

Family of teen killed at grad party last year calls for an end to "sunset" celebration

The family of the teen who died at a grad party known as sunset said it is time to end the event that has tainted a time of celebration.

Wiping tears from her face, the older sister of a Pen High teen stabbed to death at the bush party last year spoke Monday from the steps of the courthouse where her brother’s accused killer made an appearance.

“A group of us are thinking of putting a car across the road to prevent kids going up there (sunset party). If we can’t prevent it, then I guess we should supervise it. Every year something bad happens at these parties,” said Heather McAdam, pointing to incidents such as drunk drivers, sexual assaults and deaths.

Her brother, Andrew McAdam, was one of those tragedies. He would have been in this year’s graduating class. Last year, on June 17, he attended the sunset party held in the rural Carmi Road area with his other sister where over 100 students gathered for the year-end celebration. RCMP reported at the time a fight broke out around 2 a.m. and Andrew was stabbed. The teen died shortly after arriving at the Penticton hospital.

The slain teen’s mom, Linda Childs, shook her head at how things have ended up and the impact it has had on the family the past year.

“I spent all those holidays at a grave, looking at a stone,” she said.

In celebration of the teen’s life, a memorial walk is occurring on Sunday starting at the Penticton Library at 6:30 p.m. down to Okanagan Lake. After, they will meet at the Japanese Gardens to light candles and release balloons.

While the sunset party historically has taken place the evening before the last day of school, the class of 2012 has already found themselves in hot water. Another grad ritual turned into a booze-soaked event for some students last Monday morning that spilled into the downtown core. An apology letter was sent out for the grad-napping event that sees female graduating students dress up their male counterparts in women’s clothing. This year, some of the students showed up drunk to school and were sent away.

“When a lot of the kids got kicked out of school, they ended up walking downtown and I hear the businesses were upset with how rowdy they were and the fact there were drunk teenagers downtown on a Monday,” said a female student, who penned an apology letter on behalf of the class, but wished to remain anonymous. “It happens every year, but I guess this year was just worse than usual.”

The letter offers an apology to the city, downtown businesses, students, teachers, administrators and custodial staff, and notes the class is trying to come up with a way to make amends.

Penticton Secondary School principal Bill Bidlake said some students were suspended, but did not disclose how many, saying that is “private.”

He said students were warned the week before that alcohol and school don’t mix, and to look after one another. Letters also went out to all parents indicating this is the time of year these types of events occur. The sunset party is not a school function, but Bidlake said there doesn’t seem to be the same hype surrounding it this year.

“I have talked to the students about it and they don’t seem to be hearing very much about sunset this year, so I am hoping that because of what happened last year there wont be a sunset this year,” said Bidlake, adding a dry grad committee sets up an after prom event for students.

Still, former School District 67 trustee and parent Kevin Andrews is concerned about an impending sunset party and other activities. He said the community needs to “wake up” on this issue and take more of an active and positive approach. He said parents need to question their children on what events they are attending and to get involved. Andrews is interested in meeting with parents and community members on this issue.

“Let’s help our students finish this school year on a positive note. Let’s help them be successful and let us hope that no one’s actions leave a negative legacy for future students,” said Andrews, adding he can be reached at glen2809@hotmail.com.