‘Those boys, they gave me a new meaning to the new generation,’ says woman attacked on boardwalk in her wheelchair. ‘They went out of their way to help a senior’
An upsetting scene that occurred on the city’s boardwalk last week wasn’t all negative, thanks to the generosity and kindness of a pair of 15-year-old high school students.
St. Mary’s College students Kaige Millette and Scottie Racicot were enjoying a fun downtown field trip as part of their school’s Independent Living Skills (ILS) program on the afternoon of Friday May 12.
After grabbing some lunch at Stackburger, the class headed down to the boardwalk near the Art Gallery of Algoma shortly after 1 p.m. before things took a surprise and sudden turn for the worse.
“We were just walking on the boardwalk, and then all of a sudden I hear this lady screaming,” Millette recalls. “She threw a beer bottle at an old man, and then she started attacking a woman in her wheelchair.”
The woman being assaulted was Victoria Berlinguette, a local senior who lives in a nearby apartment.
Berlinguette said the attacker spat on her face and hair, swore at her, straddled her, and punched her chest.
“I was bawling and screaming for help,” she told SooToday.
According to Millette and Racicot, the teachers instructed the students to back away from the area while they phoned police.
“We could hear the woman in the wheelchair — she was screaming: ‘You broke my $20,000 wheelchair!’ I thought: ‘Holy crap, what am I supposed to do?’ That’s the first time I’ve ever seen that happen,” Millette says.
“I was praying for the woman to be okay after what happened. Our teachers were helping her, and I wanted to step in and help.”
Once the female attacker eventually left the scene, Millette and Racicot approached Berlinguette to provide some comfort when it was safe to do so.
“I told her that everything was going to be okay,” Millette says.
Because Berlinguette’s wheelchair had been broken, the boys offered to push her wheelchair to her nearby apartment and made sure she got home safely.
“It was an instinct,” Racicot says.
“I think it was heroic what we did,” Millette adds.
Holding back tears while speaking on the phone with SooToday, Berlinguette calls it an incredible act of kindness which she appreciated immensely following a very traumatic incident.
“Those boys, they gave me a new meaning to the new generation,” she says. “They were very apologetic and felt so bad for me.”
“They went out of their way to help a senior and push my wheelchair back to my apartment. They saw what happened to me. I really commend them and hope they continue doing what they do when they see somebody in trouble.”
The incident has left the high school boys feeling unsure of their safety in the city’s downtown. They both agree the boardwalk should have more security cameras and officers patrolling the area to help prevent another attack from happening.
“I’m kind of on edge downtown now,” Millette says. “You don’t know if it’ll be safe with what just happened. If that attacker comes back and does the exact same thing, I don’t know what’s going to happen to the people having just a normal day on the boardwalk. They might get hurt as well.”
“I’m always downtown fishing and I’ve seen this stuff before,” Racicot adds. “It doesn’t get easier seeing it.”
An email was sent out to all the parents at St. Mary’s College following the incident to let the families know that everyone on the field trip was okay.
One of the teachers personally emailed Millette’s mom to express their gratitude for how the boys handled the situation.
“Please know that Kaige was a superstar!” the email reads. “We were very proud of him as he was one of the students who directly helped the lady from the community. Fantastic work helping her stay calm and getting her back to her home.”