It seems impossible that a woman whose child was executed in cold blood could ever feel fortunate.
But Eileen Mohan does.
Just weeks shy of the six-year anniversary of her son Christopher Mohan’s murder, she’s seated on a plush chaise lounge in her living room, the walls painted bright yellow to infuse some cheer. Her suite is in the same building where the unthinkable happened – the Surrey highrise where her 22-year-old youngest child’s life was cut short.
The trial of three of the six men accused in the gangland attack where Chris and five others were killed is scheduled to begin Monday.
“I feel very fortunate to be in this place in time,” Mohan says. “I want to be very appreciative because I don’t have very many things to be appreciative about.”
You see, she explains, there are other families who will never know who killed their loved one. And she takes solace in believing justice will be served.
The mom of two didn’t always feel such hope.
She recalls arriving home from her bank job in Vancouver on Oct. 19, 2007. It was raining and windy and she wasn’t allowed inside her building on East Whalley Ring Road. Rumour was there was a gas leak.
Her son Chris (left) was supposed to be playing basketball with friends that afternoon, but oddly, she hadn’t heard from him. She stayed with relatives while news trickled out that six peo
ple had been shot inside her apartment complex.
Eileen’s gut churned. She knew Chris was gone. But it would be two days before police would confirm he was among the dead.
Now, she comes home to her quiet, empty apartment every afternoon – a stark contrast to the one that was once alive with music and the sound of video games. When she moved to a different suite in the building, she gave away all her furniture, except for the dining room table. It holds happy memories of the last breakfast she ate with her always-hungry son.
Christopher’s funeral was fit for a prince. Mohan hired a wedding planner, who decorated in red and white fabric with sparkling lights, candles, photos, flowers and 22 balloons.
As she had requested, Mohan sat in a tall chair beside Chris’s casket. She wanted to be close to him. And Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” played over the chapel speakers – a song she sang to him growing up, often embarrassing the young man.
“I would never see Christopher graduate,” Mohan says. “I would never see him get engaged and get married, I would never see his wife or future grandchildren. I wanted to capture everything on his last day on Earth.”
It was just the beginning of her resolve. She would fight for Chris. Just as his life meant everything, the way he died would not go unnoticed.
Sometimes she tries to place herself in his shoes during those final moments: shaking, terrified, a cold gun at his head.
The fact he was taken from his own doorstep, with nowhere to run, simply isn’t acceptable, she says.
“He was captured and cornered, and he died among strangers.”
Almost immediately, Mohan was before the TV cameras, microphones and reporters, unafraid and unwilling to let the killers win. They stole Christopher, but they wouldn’t steal her voice.
“I chose to honour my son. You have once in a lifetime to feel really loved, and I know that I was really, really, really loved by my son. In return, this is what a mother does.
“You can live a victim all of your life or be a survivor. And I don’t think I’m a victim.”
Six men have been charged in connection with killing Chris and Ed Schellenberg, the second innocent victim, and the four gangsters.
One man pleaded guilty in 2009 to shooting Chris and two others and is serving a life sentence.
The upcoming trial of Matthew Johnston, Cody Rae Haevischer, and Quang Vinh Thang (Michael) Le won’t be easy, Mohan knows. There will be many difficult days ahead.
There will be details and gruesome photos that will take her to a painful place.
She can only take solace knowing it’s occurring in a court of law and hopefully, won’t be in vain.
“I feel I have to have faith in the courts. If I don’t have that confidence, I don’t think I would survive.”
When 2013 arrived, she decided to devote some time to herself. Unable to muster an appetite following Chris’s murder, her weight dropped under 100 pounds. Now she’s eating healthily and is back at the gym. She wanted to be physically and mentally strong for the lengthy court proceedings.
Of course, there remain moments when she crumbles. Like when she sees a mother and son together.
“I still cry,” she admits.
Having saved up her vacation time for the past five years, Mohan is planning to attend most days of the upcoming trial. She doesn’t much care how long it takes, just that it’s done right and those who are found guilty are sentenced.
The perfect ending, in her eyes, has already happened. The accused (except one) are – and have been for some time – behind bars. They’re unable to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with family, their toilets are beside they’re beds and their freedom is severely limited.
“Now it’s just the finale,” Mohan says.
“I’m not seeking revenge, I’m seeking justice.”
On the fireplace mantle behind her couch, there’s a single burning candle in a crystal holder, a pair of mother-and-child-themed sculptures, four photos of Christopher, one of Jesus, and a dried, single white rose that a woman Mohan didn’t know gave her on the SkyTrain.
Such moments of kindness are what keep her grateful, getting her through, one day at a time.
She often wonders what might have been, knowing her aspirations of becoming a fashion designer may never be realized, just as Chris’s dream of being a civil engineer were derailed.
“Honestly, I don’t know what my tomorrow will look like, but I’ve left my tomorrow for the universe to look after me.
“Like the universe is looking after me, the universe will take care of everyone else.”
Also read: An interview with Lois Schellenberg, widow of innocent victim Ed Schellenberg.