A few years ago, I wrote a column about a trio of old elementary-school classmates who’d ended up in the news for various criminal misdeeds.
One, I said at the time, I recognized when I saw his face on the front page of a newspaper, where he was tagged as one of Canada’s most-wanted car thieves.
Another, a reputed gangster whose name hadn’t even crossed my mind in more than a decade, was found floating in the Fraser River, dead.
And though I mentioned him only anonymously at the time, the third was Jonathan Bacon, the 30-year-old Abbotsford resident, whose name – along with those of his two brothers – has become in recent years synonymous with the Lower Mainland gang crisis.
Bacon was killed Sunday in Kelowna, in a targeted drive-by shooting.
I suppose when you live by the gun, you have to be prepared to die by it, too, and many have said it was only a matter of time before something like this happened.
But on Sunday night, as word spread of Bacon’s death – and some Lower Mainland residents cheered, most notably on social-media platforms – I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit uneasy.
Because 20 years ago, we were friends.
Jonathan’s family lived across the street from mine.
He and his brothers attended my birthday parties, we played baseball in our front yards – the first video game I ever played, on an Atari, I played in his living room.
His mother babysat me after school.
That was a long time ago, and our lives have obviously taken far different paths since. But still, deep down, I couldn’t bring myself to note any sense of justice in his death.
I relayed my feelings to a friend of mine, and she understood.
“No matter what, it’s always a little sad if you knew a person on a different level, even if it was a long time ago,” she said.
And maybe she’s right. Maybe my first reaction was nothing more than the deep recesses of my brain painting a picture of how things used to be, as opposed to how they are now. Childhood memories can be funny that way – sometimes you only remember what you want to remember.
Because in reality, I know the havoc Bacon and people of his ilk have caused. I know his two younger brothers are locked up for a reason, and there’s not much room for randomness in a targeted hit.
I also know that two innocent men, Chris Mohan and Ed Schellenberg, are not with us today because they were murdered as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So I’m no gang sympathizer here. I don’t cheer for the bad guys in movies. But I didn’t go to elementary school with many Hollywood villains, so perhaps that’s why.
Or perhaps, last Sunday, when Jonathan’s death was first reported, I was mourning the fact that somewhere over the course of the last two decades, something went very wrong for one of us, and I don’t know why, or how.
Or maybe, like my friend suggested, it really was just nostalgia.
So while some celebrate – and others worry, rightfully, about potential retaliation – and police laud the fact that another dangerous gangster is off our streets, I choose instead to remember a time long ago, before any of this, when a couple of kids used to run around the neighbourhood playing ‘war’ with plastic guns.
Because now we’re dying by real ones, and I can’t cheer about that.
Nick Greenizan is a reporter at the Peace Arch News, as sister paper to The Abbotsford News.