‘I was scared he’d find where I live’
A Chelsea teenager used to ride her bike along the community trail to and from work without a second thought. Those days are over.
Now, the teen avoids the trail and lost sleep over a July 17 incident that police are investigating.
The 15-year-old Chelsea resident and her father, who spoke to the Low Down on condition of anonymity, are still both shaken from the experience over a week after it took place.
On that fateful Sunday afternoon, the girl was riding her bike from work near Kirk’s Ferry to her family’s home when she noticed a suspicious man following her on a bike. She stopped for a moment to put on her headphones when he passed her for the first time.
“He was biking fast, but when he was near me, he’d ride slowly and look right at me,” she said.
The man, described as a 20 to 30-year-old white man with a slim or athletic build wearing an athletic neckwarmer over his face, rode a bit ahead, then stopped and waited. Once she rode by him, he’d start riding after her again.
Though the man never said a word to her, she said a knot was beginning to form in her stomach.
“I was saying to myself, ‘No, this is not happening to me right now,’” she said.
But that disbelief turned into fear.
Luckily, there were others on the Voie Verte Chelsea at this time. She rode near a bicycling couple who were also heading north. After the man passed her multiple times, she got the couple’s attention.
“I told them that I was being followed and they brought me to safety,” she said.
She didn’t learn the couples’ names, but said that they’re from Wakefield. The man stopped following the trio before the girl got to her home, so she doesn’t think he knows where she lives.
Once home, she told her parents and called the MRC des Collines Police. Her father said that he got on his bike and rode the trail looking for the man after his daughter got home.
“I totally trust her intuition,” the father said.
He said that he wanted to talk to the man, but he didn’t know what else he would have done if he found him following his daughter. But he biked all the way to the Farm Point Community Centre and the man was nowhere to be found.
According to MRC des Collines Police Lt. Josée Forest, police responded by interviewing the girl and patrolling the trail to look for the man, but he wasn’t found.
Forest said that the girl did everything right.
“She did very good in the situation,” Forest said.
But, Forest said, anyone in a similar situation should call 911 immediately instead of waiting to get home.
“We’re going to rush to that kind of call,” Forest said.
The police are still investigating and, so far, haven’t heard additional reports of similar behaviour on the trail by someone matching the man’s description. They have increased their patrols on the trail and asked people with information on the suspect to call 819-459-2422.
But that doesn’t help the 15-year-old girl, who said she had trouble sleeping the first few nights following the incident and who now gets rides to work from her parents instead of riding along the community trail.
“In the days after that, I was scared he’d find where I live and target me,” she said.
Chelsea Mayor Pierre Guénard said that the incident has him concerned for other kids on the trail, which is why he spoke with an MRC Police lieutenant about increasing police patrols. He said that, while Chelsea does have a contract with Vélo Service for people to patrol the trail, those people are volunteers, not police officers.
“I certainly don’t want to cause panic,” Guénard said to trail users. “Be concerned, aware and collectively supportive of each other.”