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Desiree’s Angels provides support for victims of crime and their families 

Community ProfileDesiree’s Angels provides support for victims of crime and their families 

Susan Gerth has spent the better part of a decade helping people who have experienced violence through fundraising campaigns as well as raising awareness across various events. 

However, this journey started when Gerth’s daughter, Desiree Gallagher, became a victim of violence in 2013. Gallagher was assaulted by a man who rented the apartment where she was in attendance for a party. She then sustained many serious injuries after falling seven stories from a balcony after the assault.

“I want to continue her memory [and] that she will never be forgotten. There was a motorcycle ride, that started for her when the tragedy struck in 2013, by a friend who is also on the board of directors now. That first ride raised $10,000 to help Desiree with her medical and rehabilitation costs,” Gerth explained. “With Desiree’s passing in 2015 (from her initial injuries); we decided to continue the ride and eventually [we] became a registered nonprofit organization called ‘Desiree’s Angels: Victims for a New Start,’ and to date have raised over $100,000 for victims of crime. Along with the annual ride, we have a golf tournament and have done breakfasts and pasta nights with the proceeds going to Victim Services of Brant.”

Desiree had to adjust to life in a wheelchair. Because of her injuries, she had her bone flap (from her skull) removed for 9 months as they had to get a bone flap made for her at a cost of $16,000. Photo courtesy Susan Gerth.

Gerth, who is the President of the organization, has been approached by many who themselves have experienced violence or know someone who has, including a family member.

“I’ve had many people come up and talk to me when we have done these motorcycle rides…they have been victims or parents that have lost their children due to being victims of crime. They have come forward and opened up to me and told me their heartbreaking stories.” said Gerth. “I understand that not everybody gets it; I would have never got it until it happened to me and my family. So, becoming a victim of crime can happen to anybody.”

Desiree is surrounded by participants of the 1st Annual Brantford Ride in 2014. The initial ride was spearheaded by a family friend who wanted to help raise funds to support Desiree’s medical treatment and rehabilitation. They successfully raised $10,000 in the first year of the ride. Photo courtesy Desiree’s Angels.

However, one of the key fundraisers is Desiree’s Ride, which started over a decade ago.  

“At one point, we had motorcycle rides going all over Ontario. We had rides in Niagara, Peterborough, Brantford, and Chatham…but then we decided to keep it here in Brantford, our home and where it started.” Gerth said. “We had a fabulous year in 2023, [but] I think we’re going to have an even bigger year in 2024. We have had lots of sponsors and lots of volunteers and people [contributing with] donations. And without all those people and their support, we definitely couldn’t be here. But it’s about bringing awareness to those victims of crime [and] to provide them with the support they need.”

Desiree always demonstrated incredible strength and courage during her trials and tribulations. However, while dealing with her treatments, she helped so many people during her two-year struggle. Photo courtesy Susan Gerth.

One of the key organizations that Desiree’s Angels has worked closely with has been the Victim Services of Brant. Gerth explains how the relationship grew as a result of her needing them after her daughter’s tragic experience.

“They helped me tremendously when this all first happened. They provided me with someone to talk to and they helped me feel safe especially when the perpetrator was out of jail for a short period of time,” she explained. “They definitely helped me so much at the beginning when Desiree was in critical care in London. They helped me with hotel rooms there [and] with fuel as I was going back and forth from Brantford.”

Desiree was very close to her brother and when she died, Dwayne Gallagher spent years trying to come to terms with her loss. He died in 2020. Photo courtesy Susan Gerth.

Nevertheless, for Gerth, it’s all about raising awareness on how violence affects all of us.

“I want to bring awareness [as] this could happen to anybody. The effects of being the victim of crime is not just short term [as] I have a lifetime sentence. I have to live with the loss of Desiree. I [also] lost my son when he took his own life [as] he did not deal with losing his sister and what happened to her,” Gerth said.

Desiree had to do physiotherapy, however, she continued to bound and was determined to walk again. Photo courtesy Susan Gerth.

Despite the hardships that Gerth has endured as a result of Desiree’s death as well as with the loss of her son, she continues to push forward helping others.

“I just want to let people know there’s lots of support out there for those victims who have experienced violence or their families who have gone through a loss,” Gerth continued. “My daughter’s tragedy is just one of many stories out there, so I understand what many of these people are going through. They need to know that they aren’t alone.”

Before the tragedy, Desiree was a vibrant and outgoing 21-year-old woman who was a student at Mohawk College and enrolled in the Biotechnology Program. She had five more classes remaining to complete the three-year program. Photo courtesy Susan Gerth.

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