Thursday, May 16, 2013
The gun pipeline: Kesean Williams’ mother shares her never-before-told story of his unsolved murder
On the drive to school, the day before he was to present to his fourth-grade class, the little boy, usually a ham, was excited but also nervous.
His mother, Tanya Garvey, offered him some advice about speaking in front of crowds. “You just look people in the eyes,” she said. The wisdom seemed to ease him.
That night, Wednesday, Jan. 23, mom and son went to a friend’s house to borrow a printer, so they could print off cheetah pictures for a poster to go with the cue cards Kesean had painstakingly written out by hand.
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“He had the most beautiful eyes,” Tanya Garvey says of Kesean. zoom
"Love you, Mom" were Kesean Williams' last words to his mother, Tanya Garvey. zoom
After his death, friends shared photos of 9-year-old Kesean Williams on Instagram. zoom
The machine was temperamental and ran out of ink, and Garvey had to pick up her eldest son, who was playing basketball at the YMCA. She decided to drop both boys at the Brampton townhouse they’d moved into just three days earlier and return to finish the printing job herself.
“Love you, Mom,” Kesean said as Garvey headed back out the door.
A short time later, around 10:30 p.m., a bullet tore through the family’s living-room window, striking Kesean in the head while he watched TV.
Over the past several weeks, a Toronto Star investigation has taken you along the gun pipeline, revealing how easy it is to buy a pistol in the U.S. from states with lax guns laws, to the border where most guns get across, and then into the GTA, where criminals — and even kids — buy, rent and steal the deadly weapons.
This is where the pipeline ends: a child, killed. A mother’s irreparable heartbreak.
Because her grief makes it too difficult to return to work right now, and because she doesn’t have benefits, like paid leave, Garvey, the kind of mom who saved up to buy a Jeep just so she could fit her boys’ bikes in the back to take them to the beach, has lost a home. She is struggling while trying to support her teenage son.
On that night, Garvey returned home from the house with the printer. She pulled into the complex on Ardglen Dr. and saw the flashing lights. Her 15-year-old son, Kajan, was “freaking out” in the back of a squad car.
Kajan, a quiet, respectful kid (“sometimes a little mouthy at school,” notes his mom with a smile) had found his younger brother, his “main man,” not breathing, and began performing CPR, a skill he had learned while working toward his volunteer hours at the YMCA.
The teen’s furious pumping brought his sibling back to life.
When Garvey arrived on the scene, an ambulance had already peeled off en route to the Hospital for Sick Children.
Tanya Garvey moved her boys to Brampton in the summer of last year, looking for a fresh start. Before that, Garvey lived in the same Hamilton apartment for 13 years.
One of the reasons for the move: Kesean’s biological father lives in Brampton, so Garvey thought it a good opportunity for them to forge a closer relationship.
For the first five months, the family lived in a different apartment, just around the corner from Ardglen Dr. Garvey decided to move to the townhouse because it was a little roomier and a little cheaper, giving her a few extra hundred dollars spending money a month. To buy her sons a new pair of sneakers or take them to the beach.
Garvey, who has round cheeks and big round eyes just like both her boys, had worked with people with intellectual disabilities for the past six years, with Community Living, a non-profit provincial agency. On the night shifts she took care of severely disabled children, feeding and comforting them. On the day shift, she often looked after adults, when parents needed a reprieve from the demands of taking care of a grown child with Down syndrome, for example. She talks admiringly of mothers and fathers, 70 or 80 years old, still so devoted to their kids.
The Toronto native is outgoing and gregarious, qualities that periodically poke through in the moments between her grief, like when she jokes about how her boys, fiercely protective, stared down every man that came within five feet of her. There’s also the story about the time she was kicked out of Kesean’s basketball game for arguing a referee’s call.
Mostly, though, she cries nearly every time she talks about Kesean.
On a recent Saturday, she mustered up the courage to attend a community event in the schoolyard of Kesean’s school, Sir Winston Churchill. The purpose of the day was to stand up against violence, and Garvey set out to do everything her son would have done: she toured the neighbourhood fire truck, shot hoops and painted Kesean’s favourite symbol, a peace sign, on a half-dozen murals that will hang in his school corridor.
It lifted her spirits, though she was exhausted afterwards.
Kesean was a kid so passionate about sports he refused to wear boots in winter because their clunkiness hindered his ability to kick the soccer ball or sprint down a basketball court. Coaches have talked of his lightning, catlike speed, not unlike a cheetah, the world’s fastest land animal.
At Winston Churchill, Kesean found a core group of friends. Initially, the boy’s teacher told Garvey she was worried her son might be keeping company with some of the more troublesome kids in class. “I’m not worried, my son is a good boy,” Garvey replied. As it turned out, it was Kesean, a “little superman,” as family friend Robert Junor describes him, who acted as a compass for the others, keeping them so wrapped up in sports none of the boys had time to stir up trouble.
“He was an angel,” says his mom.
Kesean worshipped his older brother, Kajan, who attended Cardinal Leger high school, where he landed a spot on the basketball team, a sport he practiced nearly every day at the YMCA.
“Can’t believe they took my sweet sweet Kesean from me I want you here,” Kajan tweeted after his brother’s death.
“I feel like they shot me not even my bro my bro just gone.”
Before January 23, the family was doing well. “Things weren’t perfect,” says Garvey. But they were good.
Peel police didn’t immediately take Garvey and Kajan to the hospital to see Kesean that night. They took them, in separate cars, to nearby 22 Division, where Garvey says she waited in a hallway for 45 minutes while her eldest child, in his pyjamas, without socks or shoes on the -12 C night and covered in his brother’s blood, was questioned.
Garvey remembers throwing a fit in the station’s hallway, threatening to call every news organization in the city. After that, police rushed the pair to SickKids, where family, including Kajan’s biological father — who Kesean called dad as well — was racing to the city from Hamilton.
At one point during the investigation, an officer implied that Kajan may have shot through the window himself and then run back inside the house, she says angrily, noting she understands questions have to be asked but not the manner in which they were asked. There were questions about whether Kajan was involved in gang activity, she adds.
“They treated us like we were criminals,” she says of Peel police.
Insp. George Koekkoek of the Peel police homicide unit said he couldn’t comment on questions asked by investigators because the investigation is ongoing. He said police have “no indication” Kajan was involved.
Koekkoek’s understanding of what happened after the shooting was that Kajan was initially taken to the division because he was home alone and officers brought Garvey shortly after with the purpose of reuniting the pair.
“It was a very chaotic scene as you can well imagine. And once we got Kajan and his mother reunited back at the division it was shortly thereafter that they were taken together down to SickKids,” he said.
The case remains unsolved. Some area residents said they believed the previous tenant was a suspected drug dealer, one lead police are probing.
The gun has not been found.
At the hospital, Garvey and Kajan got to say goodbye.
Kesean was still breathing, still warm when she touched him.
She felt his cheeks, held him close and kissed his face again and again.
She could see the looks on the doctors’ faces. “I knew it was the last time I was going to see him,” says Garvey. Kesean died soon after, in surgery.
“He waited for me,” she says, tears streaming down her face. “He waited to say goodbye to me.”
Garvey doesn’t remember much of the weeks that followed her son’s death, though she tells one story, of when she and Kajan needed some time alone and headed to Tim Hortons for a hot chocolate. On the front page of the papers, they saw Kesean’s smiling face. She broke down.
Hundreds of people attended the standing-room only funeral, including all the tenants from their Hamilton apartment building.
An aunt on Kesean’s father’s side, whom Garvey had never met, came to her home and handed her an envelope with money inside.
“You bury him however you wish,” the aunt told her. Garvey did, purchasing a spot in a mausoleum in Burlington, right by the lake that reflects the sun. Kesean loved the water, so the place is fitting. When she can afford it, she will put his picture on his plaque.
“He had the most beautiful eyes,” she says.
Every Sunday, she visits him, decorating the plaque with things like handwritten notes from classmates.
Garvey has introduced herself to the other children laid to rest nearby — a 3-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy, a car accident victim.
“Kesean is just over there,” she told the other children.
From the darkness, brighter moments have come.
There have been memorials at Kesean’s school and scholarships set up in Kesean’s name, all things that give Garvey strength. The principal of Kesean’s school, Kristin Bergen, arranged for Kajan to be flown to Disney World for a day on May 8, in memory of his brother, as part of a program called Dreams Take Flight.
On May 25, at Brampton’s David Suzuki Secondary School, Peel board trustee David Green will host a breakfast in memory of Kesean, with proceeds going toward a scholarship for a student at Sir Winston Churchill. The remainder will support Kajan’s education over the coming years. It’s being administered by the Free for All youth foundation.
But there’s also palpable loneliness and a sense of complete loss of control.
After Kesean’s death, Garvey spent a week in a Brampton motel before moving in with a friend with young children. While the support is appreciated, it’s hard to wake up amidst the youngsters knowing her own child isn’t coming back.
Garvey loves her job and would like to go back to work when she’s ready. But while she was working full-time hours with Community Living, she was technically a part-time worker, so she doesn’t receive benefits that would cover paid leave.
Victim Services was not helpful.
She was told she doesn’t qualify for subsidized “emergency housing” in Peel and is now trying to avoid moving to a complex in Mississauga she likens to a shelter that is much farther away from Kajan’s new school, where she drops him off and picks him up each day. Her son, who was moved to an alternative school after the shooting, away from his friends and his basketball team, doesn’t want to move there either.
“I don’t want my son to be angry,” she says of how she now has to be extra vigilant, to make sure her teenager keeps on the straight path he was on before “some idiot with a gun” shot his brother.
She’s never needed to apply for social assistance and doesn’t want to. She has always been able to manage on her own, and perhaps because of that, the idea of accepting help is hard. That she has to think of so many practical, logistical factors compounds the stress.
“This has been the most devastating heartbreak . . .” she says, her voice trembling. “I don’t know how to explain it in words because all I know is that I feel pain, pain that won’t go away. I see the sun and Kesean’s not there to enjoy it.”
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