WINNIPEG — Shellan Proden couldn’t bring herself to watch the grainy surveillance video of two young men who brutally attacked her son, forced him out of his wheelchair and pummelled him.
“I haven’t watched that video and I don’t think I will,” Proden said Wednesday from her home in Winnipeg Beach, 60 kilometres north of Winnipeg. “I can’t believe a human being would do that to someone else. It’s like a savage.”
Proden’s 35-year-old son, Heath, has been visiting his girlfriend in Sydney, Australia, since November. Police in New South Wales say he was returning from a country music concert by fellow Manitobans Doc Walker and waiting for a train late Tuesday night when he was approached by two young men who punched him in the face and knocked him from his chair.
Police say the assailants stomped on him and hit him with metal bars before running off with his belongings and wheelchair, only to return later to continue the beating.
The crime was captured by transit security cameras. The video, which was shown on news websites around the world, shows the victim lying on the cramped floor of an elevator as he tries in vain to fend off blows and get back into his chair.
He suffered multiple injuries and was waiting for surgery.
“I’ve been told … that they’ll have to go in and do some draining of the brain. But he’s alert, he’s talking and whatever,” Proden said.
The victim’s girlfriend, Kristin Sharrock, was disgusted by the assault.
“He’s been through a lot in his life and he doesn’t deserve what’s happened,” she said. “I’m sick to my stomach. He came out here for me and he ended up in hospital. And to think that he could have died.”
Two youths, who are 15 and 16, have been arrested and charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent, as well as with robbery armed with an offensive weapon causing wounding.
The victim was an acquaintance of the Doc Walker band, and grew up in Portage la Prairie — the same small city west of Winnipeg that the group calls home.
“The band is certainly saddened by the turn of events and we’re still trying to find out more details ourselves,” manager Ron Kitchener said.
“The band are aware … and are obviously concerned about his health.”
The Proden family has already experienced its share of tragedy. The son has been in a wheelchair for 10 years following a snowmobile accident. That same year, another snowmobile accident killed Shellan’s husband.
While such attacks on people in wheelchairs are rare, they are not unheard of, said a spokesperson with the Council of Canadians With Disabilities, a Winnipeg-based advocacy group.
“We do know that people with disabilities, because of the perception of vulnerability, are often targets,” said national co-ordinator Laurie Beachell. “The incidence of violence against people with disabilities is actually higher than it is against non-disabled.”
Beachell pointed to the August 2008 killing of Ronald Wayne Lacey, a paraplegic whose body was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg. Lacey had been robbed and beaten. His wheelchair was found near the shoreline.