Natalie Ouellet began a GoFundMe campaign back on Aug. 12 when she heard her friend Euar Wanichpan had been reported missing.
Ouellet, a Vancouver resident and former schoolmate of Wanichpan at Vic High, wanted to broaden the scope of the search and help Wanichpan’s parents in any way she could.
The GoFundMe page is ongoing, but Ouellet said it has become a way to raise money to help the family cover funeral arrangements for Wanichpan, whose body was discovered buried on the grounds of S.J. Willis Education Centre on Aug. 22. Police confirmed the identity last Friday and continue to investigate her suspicious death.
Part of a tight-knit group who began hanging out in Grade 9 at Vic High, Ouellet said friends and Wanichpan’s family are still in shock over the devastating news. The GoFundMe campaign has been a source of strength, she added.
“It’s actually the light at the end of the tunnel in this situation; being able to help her family when they’re going through a really rough time.
“A lot of us live in Vancouver and have different lives and have grown apart and gone on different paths,” she said. “It’s really nice to see everyone come together, even if it’s in a time of despair, to be there for her family.”
Ouellet is upset at what she calls the tone of media coverage around Wanichpan’s death and more recent life, which included struggles with addiction and brushes with the law.
“That’s not the person I knew. She was young and so beautiful, full of life, with bright shining eyes,” she said. “She was a super caring, compassionate person. I can’t say enough good things about her, she had so many good qualities and was the kind of person you hope your daughter or sister would be.”
Ouellet recalled enjoying being closer to Wanichpan when Euar moved to Vancouver for a “change of pace.” Before long Wanichpan determined she wanted to pursue her arts degree at Camosun College and moved back to Victoria, Ouellet said. “She was an extremely talented artist, with sketches and drawings and cartooning.”
On the GoFundMe page, Camosun visual arts department staffer Michael Yerkovich wrote, “Euar was a kind and thoughtful student. She was well-liked by both her classmates and the program staff and will be missed. I am sorry for this tragedy, she did not deserve to die like this.”
Another friend from Vic High days, Evangelina McNally, also wants Wanichpan to be remembered for her positive qualities – her love of art and music and the easy laugh that would draw people to her – and not for the choices she made late in her young life.
“She was a great spirit and personality, she had an amazing smile,” McNally said. “I remember hanging out with her at another friend’s place after school and we just found ourselves laughing our asses off. I can hear her laugh now, it was so infectious.”
Wanichpan’s parents arrived last week from Thailand, where they moved several years ago after operating the Sookjai Thai restaurant on Fort Street. While they are not speaking to media, Ouellet has fielded numerous interview requests and said she is glad to help them by talking more about who Wanichpan was as a person. A memorial service for her has been planned, but details are not being released to the public, Ouellet said.
The GoFundMe page had collected more than $1,700 of its $5,000 goal by Wednesday. Donate at gofundme.com/49g9s2o.