WHALLEY – There are devoted mothers, and then there are Devoted Mothers. Eileen Mohan resides somewhere in the second category.
"The one thing I miss is being called ‘Mom,’" she sighed.
Everything in her condominium speaks to her great love for her son Christopher, from the shrine of photographs and mementoes of him just inside her door, to the tiny silver flower pin – a son’s gift to his mother – left on top of his Toshiba television in her living room.
Christopher, 22, was one of six men who were shot dead in gang violence in a penthouse suite on the 15th floor of Whalley’s Balmoral Tower on Oct. 19, 2007. Mohan shared a suite with Christopher on that same floor and had she been home at the time, she likely would have shared his fate.
Christopher, and Abbotsford gasfitter Ed Shellenberg, 55, were innocent victims who accidentally stumbled upon a drug hit in progress. Edward Sousakhone Narong, 22, Ryan Bartolomeo, 19, and brothers Michael Justin Lal, 26, and Corey Jason Michael Lal, 21, were also slain.
After waiting seven years for justice for her son, Mohan got a taste of it last Thursday when Justice Catherine Wedge convicted Red Scorpions gangsters Matthew Johnston and Cory Haevischer of six counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder.
Mohan works at a bank and had been saving up her vacations for the past five years so she could hear the court case. Diligently, she sat through the year-long trial through to its conclusion.
She was besieged by reporters moments after the verdict was revealed.
"Leading to this day I was sitting on pins and needles and I have to say, today’s a beautiful day," she told the reporters.
"Today is a great day for Christopher," she said. "I’ve been waiting for seven years for this day, and it has come. I am relieved, and I know my son is smiling down today, and it’s a good feeling."
The following day, the Now sat down with her inside her new home, its light yellow walls bathed in morning sunlight. She moved down from the 15th floor in August 2012, almost a year before the trial started, but still lives in the Balmoral. "I thought it was time," she said. "It’s a different step in my life.
"I will move one day, when I’m ready. But for the moment, I’m here. This is home, for the moment."
Her new place is refurnished. She gave away her furniture, but kept Christopher’s TV and her dining room table, on top of which sits a daily devotional book. She said her Catholic faith has helped her cope with her loss.
"When Christopher was taken away, I questioned God’s miracle," she explained. "I left church. My priest didn’t give up on me, and one day he came and sat down on the couch and looked at me and he said, ‘I have to be strong and I’m going to tell you this: God did not kill Christopher, it was men who killed Christopher. When they were killing Christopher, all the angels and saints and God in Heaven were crying with you, and they were ready to receive Christopher in heaven. So Eileen, shape up – get back to church, and start believing.’
"That opened my mind, it was so true that God didn’t walk from Heaven and killed Christopher and flew back – it was men who walked to the doorstep of my home, where I’m supposed to be safe and secure, stole my son’s life, and they expected to walk free from court. It wasn’t God. So slowly and surely, I’ve gone back to church."
Eileen and Christopher were tight and had planned to relocate to New York to chase their dreams. She was in her final year of a fashion design program and aimed to make waves in the Big Apple. Christopher was planning to enter modeling school in New York.
"I never told this to anybody, but we were working towards that…it was like a mother and son team," she said. "We’d probably be in New York now.
"Today we would be both a very successful team. Instead, here am I, trying to find justice for my son. This is the first step towards justice, and I’ve got two more steps."
She’s trying to rebuild her life, but for the time being, it has all been and will be about Christopher. You might call them stages, measured out in seasons, court cases and countless tears.
With seven years now gone, Mohan still has other trials to attend, both criminal and civil, and more victim impact statements to deliver. She’s steeling herself for two more criminal trials related to Christopher’s death: Jamie Bacon’s on May 4 next year and then Sophon Sek’s, which she expects to take place in 2016.
Later this month, Mohan said, she’ll be back in court for a three-day hearing. Prior to Wedge’s verdict, she said, Johnston and Haevischer’s lawyers filed an "abuse of process" motion alleging their client’s Charter Rights were violated during the police investigation and that the charges consequently should be thrown out.
"We’re going back to trial again on the 27th, because they have put in appeals. They already put in an appeal to dismiss all the charges."
She also has a civil suit on the go, related to Christopher’s murder. Filed on the second anniversary of his death, it targets the killers, defendants, the estate of Corey Lal, the condominium strata council, owners of the apartment where the murders happened, and the property management company.
"My dream is to get Christopher all settled down, get myself civilly all cleared out," she said. "There are a lot of people who run. I am not a runner. I have never been a runner. My son was a very, very loyal person, and this is loyalty back to Christopher.
"I can exercise my right, and I have one life, so I might as well take everybody with me too," she said. As for the gangsters, "If they think they can walk to my doorstep and touch my son’s life illegally, I can touch these people legally. You have to do the right thing. If I don’t do it, then who will do it for Christopher?
"I’m a loyal mom, and he was a loyal son." There was a time, early on, when Mohan contemplated taking justice into her own hands.
"Everything I knew was torn apart, broken down," she recalled. "The RCMP actually carried me; they became like my second family. They showed me total compassion."
But, she admits, "There were moments that I wanted to go and get a gun myself and look for these people. Because, you know, you are sitting on this, almost like on a big egg that the shell is going to crack any moment, right. A lot of people were saying Eileen, in this case the gangsters are never found, are never incarcerated, they’ll never go to trial and you’ll never see your day of justice. In the first few, six months, it was like that. My mind was so full of anxiety and I was so anxious and so mad, I wanted to do that.
"I wanted to go find a gun and find these people myself and probably shoot them on sight. I didn’t care. As the investigation progressed, the RCMP told me, ‘Eileen, have faith.’" She said she had come to court last Thursday with "a very low expectation," not wanting to set herself up for disappointment, but left with a smile on her face.
"It is all about being patient. "Putting this case together wasn’t easy," she noted. "Patience, understanding and respect to the system pays."
Asked if she’s concerned for own safety, Mohan shakes her head. "Why would I be? I’m not a criminal.
"Criminal elements have said things to me and came to my car…point a finger at me, but it doesn’t deter me. I just turn around and say, ‘I’m not a drug dealer, I don’t know you people – just get out of my face.’ The RCMP have been very nice, very protective over me. All I have to do is one phone call and boom, they are there. If we live in fear of these people, then we might as well not live at all. And that is why I stayed on the 15th floor for the longest time, because people thought, ‘Oh, are they going to come and kill you.’ Well kill me if you can, I am already half dead."
Mohan said she doesn’t dream about the gangsters. Daily, in the high-security courtroom, she said, "They’d turn around and look at me, and I’d look at them. I’d say ‘I’m outside the glass, you’re inside the glass."
Mohan has been thinking about writing about her experience and the Surrey Six case.
"I’ve been thinking about this for a while," she said. She declined to elaborate, though.
"It’s Christopher, work, and then Eileen. If I can fit other things in, I will."