The boy was six years old when he had his first brush with authority. He climbed a tree and couldn’t — or wouldn’t — climb down. The fire department came to his rescue that day. Nobody has been able to rescue him since.
Last Tuesday, at age 13, the boy was arrested. Police stopped him in a car with four buddies as they fled the third bank they had allegedly robbed that day. His age was not the only thing that stood out in the police report: he was the only one to face weapons charges and he was also fingered as a suspect in an earlier bank robbery.
Not long after the boy was born, his mother met a man who had become a zealous convert to his own heartless brand of Islam. He forced the boy’s mother, who was studying at the University of Ottawa, to drop out, don the hijab and obey him.
The stepfather was violent. The boy’s 15-year-old sister remembers the stepfather beating the boy, then tying him to a pole in the basement where he was left in the dark for hours. The mother was whipped with a skipping rope, and the sister remembers waking up to the stepfather’s belt bruising the tender skin of her inner leg. The stepfather kept her home for days until the wound healed, afraid the community would discover the darkness lurking beneath his warm public persona.
Jason’s grandfather urged the boy’s mother to tell someone, but she feared her partner would kill her.
“You don’t know him, Daddy, he’ll do it,” she told him.
The stifling atmosphere at home was broken only by the stepfather’s absences. Days would elapse without any word before he would return home.
Forbidden even to speak at home, the boy took to stealing. His grandfather remembers him shoplifting toys from a Wal-Mart when he was less than 10 years old. The grandfather discovered the theft and forced him to return the toys to security, hoping the boy would be scared straight.
It didn’t work. His mother caught him stealing an MP3 player from their doctor’s office. He was made to return it, but while the doctor delivered a short sermon on what he had done wrong, the boy pocketed it again.
The stealing escalated.
About a year ago, the grandfather took the boy with him to a job site. Instead of working, the boy stole his car. This time the grandfather called police, who laughed off the theft because the boy was so young.
“He thinks stealing is going to make it better,” said his sister, who described him as “addicted” to stealing.
The stepfather fathered three children with the boy’s mother before he left last February. She is now trying to raise five children on welfare supplemented by the money she earns cleaning houses two days a week.
The boy began to disappear for days on end. Unable to control him, his mother placed him in a group home. But in the weeks leading up to the bank robberies, the boy had been missing.
The boy looks old for his 13 years, telling many people that he’s his sister’s twin.
His sister blames their stepfather for the boy’s problems.
“If he hadn’t treated my brother like that … ” his sister trails off.
The boy’s situation is not without hope. His sister is finishing high school, intending to go to university in Toronto for nursing. She’s managed to avoid the boy’s problems, but the stepfather’s treatment has left her with eyes downcast and shy.
“My brother listens to me,” she said. “If he’s out with me he doesn’t get into trouble.”
She says he has a talent for rap and that at parties he freestyles skillfully. And his grandfather says he’s interested in learning a trade. Whether or not he can take advantage of these good influences may hinge on what happens at trial — whether he’s locked up or able to find help.
“He’s got a lot of things in there different from everybody else,” said his grandfather. “He needs someone to figure him out and get inside his head.”