By Charlie Senack
Two teens who died in the Rideau River days after Christmas are being remembered for their gentle hearts and love of the outdoors.
Ahmed Ahmed (also known as Ahmed Haitham), 17, and Riley Cotter, 16, drowned near Nicolls Island on Dec. 27 after falling through the ice after what was supposed to be a night of skating. Two other teens — a brother and sister — narrowly made it out alive.
Outside of Ahmed’s Old Barrhaven home, a memorial with candles, balloons, and flowers now stands. Family and friends have visited regularly to try and make sense of the shocking tragedy. The night after the accident, a vigil was held where cups of tea were poured amid prayers and calls for him to come home.
“He was joyful, generous, thankful and forgiving,” a poster outside Ahmed’s home read. “He loved animals and helping others. [He] chased his dreams always with a smile.”
Ahmed’s family said he was set to graduate high school in a few months and wanted to become a police officer. His family came to Canada from Iraq in 2013 for a “fresh start” as war was unfolding in that country. Set to turn 18 this month, Ahmed was the youngest of four children.
Speaking to the CBC, his aunt said the family gathered by the Rideau River for hours waiting for his body to be found.
“It’s really hard, we can’t describe it really,” said Faten Ataallah. “We were all screaming.”
Ahmed loved going to the gym and was at Movati before meeting with his three friends to go skating. A GoFundMe page set up to help his family cover funeral costs has raised over $29,500, surpassing its initial $12,000 goal.
Riley Cotter, who had a passion for alpine skiing, dirt bikes, baseball, and skateboarding, has been active in Barrhaven’s sports community since he was a little kid.
“Riley loved nothing better than a day on the hill at Calabogie with his ski racing teammates, or in the warmer months at the Limerick Forest on his dirt bike,” his obituary read. “Riley has been part of the Calabogie Ski Racing Club since he was young and also loved playing baseball with East Nepean Little League.”
In a statement posted to Instagram, Calabogie Ski Racing shared their condolences to Cotter’s family. The young athlete was on the slopes just hours before his sudden death.
“Riley was a loved long time member of our club along with his sister Tori and father Brent who’s been a long time club coach and his mother Ellen, who has been volunteering for years,” the statement read.
“Riley was a fun loving funny kid who made people smile and laugh whenever he had the chance,” the ski club continued. “Riley you will forever be a part of our club and a part of our lives! Rest easy and ski hard my friend.”
Friends and family who knew Cotter told CBC he excelled at slalom skiing. The Calabogie Ski Racing Club was planning to hold a memorial to honour the teen at a later date.
Cotter’s family said they were overwhelmed by the support shown by the community and said they will never get over his loss.
“His sense of humour is well known to all that were lucky enough to spend time with him,” they said in his obituary. “Riley loved working with his hands and his time at his school co-op for auto mechanics and working with his cousins in the summer doing landscaping. Riley’s life touched many and will be sadly missed by all. We love you little buddy.”
A memorial service for Cotter was held for Cotter on Jan. 5 with donations being requested for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario [CHEO] and the Ottawa Humane Society. Meanwhile a prayer service was held for Ahmed at the SNMC Mosque in Barrhaven earlier in the week.
The Ottawa Carleton District School Board said they would have mental health services available at John McCrae High School for any students who were struggling.
“This is very sad news for us all. This tragedy will be felt deeply by students and staff in our community, the board said in a statement. “Our first priority is to ensure that we are supporting the families of the students and our school community in any way that we can.”