April 03, 2006

Was better alone

It has been exactly eleven years since one of the most haunting incidents of my young life. I meant to write about this last year after ten years had passed, but I didn't want to put a damper on my good mood at the time. I had just returned to Canada after three months overseas, and I was far too happy to dwell on the incident.

I was 13 years old, in the eighth grade, and struggling academically. I wasn't bothered by the poor grades; my popularity seemed to be inversely proportional to my academic performance. When I was the top student in the school, I was also desperately lonely and unhappy. When my grades took a plunge in my second year of high school, I found myself gravitating towards a new crowd of friends. Some of them shared many of the same interests I did; in particular, the classic videogame Doom - state-of-the-art at the time. And primarily for that one reason, I fit in. At 13, popularity was the most important thing, and if it meant discussing violent video games with unstable teenagers, then so be it.

I can't remember why, but I took the city bus home from school on April 3rd, 1995. And I can't remember why I was waiting for the bus somewhere in between my school and home, but there I was, across the street from the scene of a crime. There must have been at least 15 police cars lined up, and police tape sealing off most of the houses on that side of the street. This was highly unusual for this part of town; I lived in a very peaceful neighbourhood, and for many, police cars simply meant a free ride home.

I asked a few people waiting at the bus stop with me as to what was going on, but no one knew at the time.

I got home, somewhat confused but eager to think about something else. I went downstairs, turned on my computer, and started playing Doom. I was interrupted shortly afterwards, as a friend had called and told me the news.

"Did you hear about the murders?" my friend asked.

"On St. Charles? I saw a bunch of police cars just a little while ago."

"Yeah, it was ..." He mentioned the name of a friend, which I can't mention today by law. At first, I thought he was telling me that this friend was murdered, which would have been shocking enough. I was horrified to learn that the friend was, in fact, the murderer.

All the details came quickly. Three kids from my high school, between the ages of 13 and 15, had broken into the house of a retired priest and his wife. The victims were aged 75 and 70 years old, and were highly respected in the community. In fact, the priest was such a popular figure that he had a street named after him even before his death.

As the classmates, we were privy to lots of inside information. There were others at the house, who also got high on LSD and drunk on margueritas before the attack. We knew of others who were probably involved, but were never implicated in the investigation. We knew from before that the particular house was selected for robbery because one of the murderers never received tips from the owners as their newspaper delivery boy.

But the most gruesome details came when the autopsy revealed how the elderly couple was actually murdered. After the children broke into their house, they beat them to death with baseball bats and broken beer bottles. The former priest was believed to have been defending himself, given the tremendous bruising on his forearms. But he was an old man, and his wife an old woman. There was nothing they could do against the drug-induced rage of the children.

As all this unfolded, I recalled statements from some of my other friends, about the shady personalities I had begun associating with. One mentioned one of them intending to rob a house. Another alluded to the drug use. One of them clearly recalled the eldest of the three expressing a desire to kill someone.

This was all before Columbine, but I couldn't help but feel nervous because of the Doom association. At the time, video game violence wasn't in the media much; in fact, video games were still the domain of the socially awkward. The thoughts lingered on for years that, maybe, perhaps the influence of a video game pushed these kids over the edge.

In the aftermath of the murders, I realigned myself to my academically strong but socially unpopular roots. And to my joy, I found my place, simply by being myself. I didn't need to put on an act to fit in with a certain crowd, a crowd that could have taken me down a dreadful path had the murders not woken me up. For the most part, I put the incident past me, but some images still come back from time to time.

There is so much insanity in the world. I don't claim to understand any of it, but I do hold that there are lessons that must be learned from the chaos.


  1. wow.. that was really powerful

    i think we all have a wake up call at some point with who we associate ourselves with

    inshallah you'll continue to stay with your academically strong but socially unpopular group - those are really the best people :)

  2. Faraz,

    First, I think that you underestimate your social popularity.

    Second, wow...that is a very ugly story - I can't imagine how horrible that must have been.

    Third, I agree with 'liya - there are definitely moments in life that have more influence towards our being than others. Sometimes they are big, like this one for you, and act as a catalyst for change. I myself have had a few similar ones; thankfully, not as gruesome. Oppositely, and to me more interestingly, there are moments, that are just as influencing that occur in a much more undercover way. Moments whose significance is only clear through hindsight. You know those ones where you think, 'what if I hadn't have been at that place, at that time'.

    I am not going to judge who the best people are, but I think that it is unfortunate that young adolescence popularity is inversely proportionate to social popularity. I remember experiencing some of those same feelings. Though, I was never an academic powerhouse. I am greatful that my parents - and my extended support group - always encouraged me to continue to care about accademic success, but at the same time encouraged me in my pursuit of things non-academic, which I believe to be just as important - as long as the those pursuits are done with good, and not 'evil', at heart.

    My last word on the topic, from my experience, the kids that are the coolest in Grade 9, rarely are the 'coolest' by graduation. The rare examples, are not the non-academic, rebelling, viloent drifters - they are the natural gifted people, that will likely be leaders their entire lives.

  3. This post explains a lot about who you are... it all makes sense now. :)

    I think everyone has a critical event in their life which sets them on a particular path to which they follow for the rest of their lives. In your case, this traumatic event helped shape and mould you on a different path than what you were following prior to it. May Allah (SWT) make it easy for you and keep you safe.

  4. Interesting comments ...

    The internet, and more specifically Google, has made it such that the nerds and "popular" people are no longer mutually exclusive. So today, it's okay to be a nerd if that's who you are. In fact, I think as people get older, they become more accepting of different values and interests (for the most part - there are some people who never grow up.) Anyway, one of the best things of post-high school life I think is that popularity stops mattering, and the social structure becomes more of a meritocracy.

    The common thread in the comments is that certain incidents - whether they be tragic, traumatic, or painful ones, or happy ones - really help shape a person. It's strange that, often in the worst situations, some good comes out of it in the end - at least, at a personal level. It may be a tragedy for someone else, but it somehow triggers a change for the better in oneself.

    I'm curious, Nauman, as to what this incident does in explaining who I am, especially since we've known each other for over 20 years.

  5. Technically, we've known each other for 24 years so the first 4 were probably hard to remember since we were toddlers.

    Regarding how this post explains a lot about you, I'll leave that for another day inshallah. ;)

  6. Montreal? I think I remember that...I knew people who knew them.
    The cool people usually end up crackheads, in jail, or dead
    Some of us have learned this the hard way

  7. Yes, it was in Montreal. I think everyone was affected by that incident somehow, whether they knew the victims and the killers or not. It just shattered the illusion of peaceful suburbia that we had all grown up with, and I think most of us came out of it a little wiser.

    I'm thankful that I wasn't one of those who learned it the hard way. I sympathize with those who do.