Son's murder shook mother's faith to the core

Eileen Mohan holds a photo of her murdered son Christopher in her office.

BC CATHOLIC PHOTO | AGNIESZKA KRAWCZYNSKI

Eileen Mohan holds a photo of her murdered son Christopher in her office.

January 26, 2015
AGNIESZKA KRAWCZYNSKI
THE B. C. CATHOLIC

A mother's faith was shaken to the core after her son was shot dead in 2007 in B.C.'s worst gang murder case.

"I literally hated God," Eileen Mohan told The B.C. Catholic. "My faith, my everything, was taken away from me. I stopped believing at that moment."

Eileen and her 22-year-old son Christopher lived in an apartment building in Surrey. When they temporarily moved from the 14th to the 15th floor seven years ago, they unknowingly became across-the-hall neighbours of drug trafficker Corey Lal.

"I bumped into him a couple of times, and he would say 'hi' to me," Eileen recalled. "He seemed a nice person. There was nothing for me to think he was a drug dealer."

Eileen was working in her downtown Vancouver office on Oct. 19, 2007, a few weeks after the move. When she returned home that dark, rainy night, she found the apartment building blocked off and swarming with police.

She'd heard there had been a major gas leak in Surrey, and assumed that was the reason. The officers refused to let her inside, so she drove to a family friend's home.

"As I'm driving away, I'm starting to get calls from Christopher's friends saying Christopher didn't make it to the basketball game," Eileen said.

"We started calling all the hospitals just because you never know who picked him up from where."

At 2 a.m., Eileen turned on the news and heard that six bodies had been found in a Surrey apartment. The camera focused on her building.

"It was as if something just came and sat on me. My entire body was frozen; I had goose pimples from top to bottom," she said. "I picked up my rosary and all I did was sit on the bed, and I don't know how many Our Fathers I said."

Two days later, a detective sat the heartbroken mother down to tell her that Christopher was one of the six killed in what became known as the Surrey Six murders.

More details about the shooting surfaced later. Apparently a gang had planned to murder Lal, a rival drug dealer. He was shot execution-style, with his head covered, in the apartment.

The other five victims were murdered near him in the same way to silence potential witnesses: his brother Michael Lal and associates Eddie Narong and Ryan Bartholomeo, as well as neighbour Christopher Mohan and fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg.

LARGE CROSS

When the Mohans moved, Eileen had hung a large cross on the wall as a sign of blessing and protection. She couldn't get its image out of her head.

"I had that cross in the hallway. Christopher would have walked past that cross for this to happen to him. Everybody has a miracle; where is mine?"

She felt betrayed. "I believed I wasn't protected. My son wasn't protected. The day we were allowed to get back to the apartment, the first thing I did was I looked at that cross and said: 'You're coming down.'"

She'd been raised by devout Catholic grandparents. They went to Mass every Friday and Sunday. They prayed the rosary before bed every night. She attended Catholic schools, prayed before meals and even dragged Christopher to Mass. How could this have happened to him?

WANTED A MIRACLE

"I sat by Christopher's casket, and you wouldn't believe how many Our Fathers I said," she recounted. "When the flames embraced Christopher's casket, I looked at those flames and I still could say maybe the Holy Spirit would bring him back."

When the miracle didn't come, Eileen stopped praying. She asked priests to pray for Christopher's soul but had lost all faith.

"My mind was blank. Instead of being at the Mass, I was by his graveside. Even if I had my rosary in my hands, I wouldn't be praying. I couldn't pray. I forgot to pray. My mind refused to pray."

She even felt tempted to take matters into her own hands. "My faith was almost to a point that I walked to the doorsteps of hell. I even thought about going and getting a gun myself and finding where these people were and shooting them on the spot. That's how enraged I was. I was full of hatred."

For two years Eileen blamed God for taking away her only son. The grief took a toll on her body; she said she shrank to 80 pounds.

COURT SYSTEM

Eileen was also furious with the court system. "Some of (the victims) had had 19 criminal charges against them either stayed, or evidence wasn't taken into consideration, and they were let go," she said.

"Had somebody sat with them and invested some time with these people, these four young drug dealers, I believe today they wouldn't be dead. My son wouldn't be dead."

She was told the Surrey Six case, tangled in a web of gangs and drugs, would never be solved.

Eileen avoided going to church, but she did invite Father George Edattukaran to celebrate Mass for Christopher about a week after his death and on some anniversaries.

"It was an eerie feeling to go into the spot a few days after the murder to have Mass in her apartment," recounted Edattukaran, pastor of St. James Parish and chaplain for the Fijian community, of which Eileen is a member.

He also attended the memorial service. "Everybody was saying that time heals.

"Time can make us forget things, but not heal," he said. "Only God heals."

A year and a half later, in April 2009, someone came forward and pleaded guilty to the murders.

GUILTY PLEA

"The unbelievable has happened," Eileen recounted. "In this culture, nobody ever comes out and pleads guilty and rats out all the other people that took part."

She told Edattukaran about the surprising development, and he took the opportunity to praise her strength and encourage her to turn back to God.

"We always blame God for what happened, but God is not a machine who will automatically kick in and save a situation created by human beings," Edattukaran said.

"It was true," Eileen considered. "God didn't come down from heaven, kill Christopher or kind of inspire all these people to kill Christopher, and then go away. God isn't a devil."

PRAYING AGAIN

She and the priest held hands and prayed the Our Father, something she hadn't done since the funeral.

"When I went to bed that day, I took out my rosary, and for the first time (since 2007) said the entire rosary. It was almost like I was missing it. It was as if I lost it, and then I found it. I cried a lot."

Eileen didn't return to church right away. "It was so hard to go back to Sunday Mass because at Mass I'm left alone. I have no one to talk to," she said. "The emptiness was too much to bear."

She became a vocal advocate for tougher penalties for criminals, meeting with politicians and police officers at home and in Ottawa. "I became an activist against these gangsters. I started speaking out about the revolving door of the court system."

She met Prime Minister Stephen Harper on three occasions, and his consultations with her and other victim families led to the Victims Bill of Rights which was unveiled in 2014. She made a presentation to the justice committee in Ottawa and worked with former B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell.

She also advocates for a courthouse "quiet room" for family members or close friends of victims to grieve and collect themselves.

There are days Eileen still wishes a miracle could have saved her son, or that her life had been taken instead of his.

LIFE IMPRISONMENT

Two gang members, Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston, were found guilty on six counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to murder Oct. 2, almost exactly seven years after the tragedy. Two months later they were sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

"No one can understand what these families have gone through in the past seven years," lead Crown prosecutor Mark Levitz told reporters after the sentencing Dec. 12. First-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence.

Haevischer and Johnston "did kill six people, and they had no hesitation in doing that," making this "one of the most horrific crimes committed in this province."

The two didn't make any statements or apologies that day.

Jamie Bacon, the former leader of the Red Scorpions gang, and Sophon Sek have also been charged in connection with this case and will be tried in 2015.

Eileen still mourns the loss of her son, with whom she had a close relationship. "It's still very difficult because I still will go back to an empty car, which used to be full of Christopher. I still have to go back home to an empty apartment."

GROWN IN STRENGTH

But thanks to Mass during lunch breaks or on Sunday evenings, Eileen finds the strength to sit on a secluded pew, pray and light a candle.

"In the process I think she became stronger and stronger as she really fought for her son," said Edattukaran. "It's amazing that this fragile woman, with very little support in the community at that time, managed to go fearlessly against all these thugs."