When it first happens, there is only numbness, says Wendy Chapman.
A loved one is murdered, and there are initially no feelings. Nothing makes sense. Everything seems surreal. A dark shadow is cast and you can’t fathom this is your life. There’s no reprieve from the pain.
“It sucks all the colour out of the world,” Chapman says.
Yesterday marked 20 years since Chapman’s younger brother Chris Lussier, 16, and his best buddy 15-year-old Paul McDaniel, were shot to death beneath the Pattullo Bridge.
On Sept. 11, 1993, the teens were driven to the remote spot by John Joseph Arneil, who gunned them down. A third victim, Richard Moisan, survived by pretending he was dead.
Arneil, who was then 18, had confronted the trio of teens on a Surrey street earlier that evening, telling Lussier that his girlfriend had accused him of raping her.
Arneil convinced them to stay put, warning he’d know Lussier was guilty if he left. The three remained, determined to prove Lussier’s innocence.
When he returned, he ordered them into the car and drove to a pile of dirt under the bridge where, one by one, he turned his gun on the teens. Moisan, who was shot in the face, heard Arneil say “adios” before he shot Lussier. He waited until Arneil left and later called 911, identifying him as the killer.
The girlfriend, who has since died, recanted the rape accusation eight years later.
A double-funeral was held for Lussier and McDaniel. Friends since childhood and inseparable in life, they were also together in death.
For Chapman, pushing back tears as she describes the service where everyone wore green ribbons to celebrate the teens’ lives, it feels like it all just happened.
“It’s still just as raw and just as painful as it was the first day,” she says, noting it was a second blow for her family as she had a 19-year-old sister who died during childbirth prior to Lussier’s murder. “It doesn’t get better.”
In fact, in the past few years, it’s gotten worse, she says.
Though Arneil received a life sentence for two counts of second-degree murder and one of attempted murder, he became eligible to apply for parole three years ago. Family members of both boys are alerted about hearings at least once, if not twice a year. Each time, they recount the horror, writing and reading statements to the parole board about the longterm impact the murders have had on their lives.
They don’t have to go to the hearings, but they feel compelled to do so.
“Chris needs a voice,” his sister says, noting neither family ever chose to be in the position they’re in. “It’s a club that you get dragged into, not one you want to belong to.”
Chapman says it’s not only difficult to revisit the day that turned their world on end, but they are forced to be in the same room as the double-murderer.
“You see him and have to hear his rendition of that night and his excuses.”
Though he has been allowed escorted day passes, in March Arneil was denied unescorted passes because he was deemed to still be a potential risk to society. He waived his right to a full parole hearing in August.
Yesterday, like every Sept. 11 for the past two decades, those left behind grieved the loss of McDaniel and Lussier in their own private way. Each year, Chapman lights a special candle with a green ribbon tied around it and lets it burn from morning until night. It’s always a difficult day, she says.
In October, the families are planning a more public event to remember the boys and mark the 20-year anniversary of the crime. They intentionally chose not to have it on the exact date the pair was killed – a day filled with grief.
“I didn’t want him (Arneil) to have power any more than he already has had,” Chapman says. “For 20 years, he’s breathed stolen breaths.”
A candlelight vigil is being organized for Oct. 19 at Valley View Memorial Gardens, where the boys are laid to rest, with further details and times to be announced later.
McDaniel was a talented artist with a great sense of humour, while Lussier had an affinity for computers, even though they were only just gaining popularity. Their loved ones wonder daily what their futures might have held.
“You always think of the ‘what ifs?’ ” says Chapman. “They are not forgotten.”