'I wanted to die myself,' says father of Aaron Driver
'Aaron chose the path that he chose and I do not blame the RCMP whatsoever'
When he heard the news, Wayne Driver knew that this time his son — the sad little boy, the troubled teen, the angry young ISIS sympathizer — was gone for good.
Until Wednesday, Driver had always held out hope that somehow his son, Aaron, would leave the dark path he had chosen and turn back toward the light.
Then his cellphone rang. His son was dead, killed in a confrontation with police in Ontario.
"The light went out," Driver said. "Completely. Forever. I knew he was lost, but I didn't know how far gone he was."
With the television camera rolling and the whole country waiting, perhaps, for some explanation, the heartbroken father found the strength to express something greater than his own pain.
"As much as Canada may hate him, or people in the world may hate him, just remember, we are all human beings," Driver said. "I'm going to remember him, obviously, for what happened. But I want to remember him as the loving child that we raised."
Then he seemed to correct himself: "That we tried to raise, after his mother died."
- 'I never gave up' Aaron Driver's dad mourns radicalized son, killed in police standoff
- Aaron Driver, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, was planning 'imminent' attack, police say
- TIMELINE: Aaron Driver's history of radicalization
An ex-military man now training to be a pastor at the Harbour Light Alliance Church in Cold Lake, Alta., Wayne Driver spoke to CBC News on Thursday about his son's troubled life.
Driver said he was in the parking lot of a local Shoppers Drug Mart when his daughter called his cellphone from London, Ont., with the news that his 24-year-old son was dead.
"When I found out the news that he was shot and killed, I wanted to die myself," he said.
He spent the night thinking about the past, about all the times he had lost his son over the years: first as a boy of seven, then as a troubled teenager, and now finally, irrevocably.
I knew he was lost, but I didn't know how far gone he was.- Wayne Driver
Less than 24 hours after his son died during a confrontation with police in Strathroy, Ont., Driver made it clear he does not fault police for what happened.
Before he was killed, Aaron made a martyrdom video stating his intention to carry out an attack at a "highly populated" area.
His father said police acted in the only way they could.
"What if there had been a bomb in the house and he was going to blow up the neighbourhood? Who knows? They don't know. Only Aaron knew. So, ultimately, if I was to blame anyone, I would blame Aaron."
During a lengthy interview, Driver said he first lost his son 17 years ago, when the boy's mother died.
His son was born in Regina on Aug. 18, 1991. At the time, his parents had a farm near the city.
Driver said his son was a happy child, but definitely "a mama's boy" who developed an extremely close bond with his mother.
Aaron was seven when his mother died.
"That's when he got mad at the world," Driver said. "He blamed me for killing his mother. He stopped eating. He figured if he didn't eat he could go to be with his mother."
Over the next years, father and son grew even further apart.
A year and a half after his wife died, Driver remarried. He said his son wanted "nothing to do" with his stepmother.
The troubled boy grew into a more troubled teenager. He ran away from home, skipped school, stole from stores, had run-ins with police.
When he was 12 or 13, his father and stepmother, concerned about his behaviour, rummaged through his bedroom one day in search of a marijuana stash. Instead they discovered hateful poems the teenager had written about his desire to kill his parents.
Living in fear
By 2012, his parents were living in Winnipeg, and that year Aaron moved back in with them.
It was around then, Driver said, that his son discovered Islam.
"I actually thought Islam was a good thing for him. Because he had stopped the drugs, he had stopped the drinking. He actually stopped smoking and swearing."
At some point, Driver said, his son discovered a darker side to his new religion, though his parents at first had no idea.
"When I heard some of the videos he was listening to, I thought he was just learning the Muslim faith," Driver said. "And I thought it was a good thing. Because he had become a better human being for it."
In January 2015, agents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service came to Cold Lake and met with Driver. They showed him a thick file that detailed, among other things, tweets his son had sent expressing radical beliefs, and lists of radical Facebook pages his son had visited.
- ISIS supporter Aaron Driver released on bail, but with 25 conditions
- Peace bond will limit activity of Aaron Driver, ISIS supporter
"I sat there in a public doughnut shop, crying, when I found the news, as I was trying to read these articles," Driver said. "I tossed them back across the table and said, 'I've had enough. I understand where this is going.' Then I realized there was nothing more I could do."
By then, Driver and his wife feared the young man who lived under their roof.
"When we first learned that he was an ISIS supporter, we were actually afraid, at one point, for our own lives, in the house where he was living with us. We got to locking our bedroom door at night."
'Don't lose faith in humanity'
Driver said his son moved to London, Ont., to live with his sister and her family. After that, father and son had little contact.
- Aaron Driver's neighbours heard 'scary' bangs, yelling before ISIS sympathizer killed
- Aaron Driver incident a 'wake-up call,' says local MP Bev Shipley
On Thursday before his interview with CBC News, Driver watched live television coverage of an RCMP news conference about the case.
Asked why he had agreed to speak so freely with the media, Driver summed up his feelings with a simple message.
"I wanted people to realize that, yes, he did a bad thing. He was wrong. But he was still a human being. He went down a dark path. They're saying he was disturbed. Maybe he was. Maybe he was severely depressed.
"We do dumb things. We do good things. We do go down dark paths.
"Just don't lose faith in humanity. There are good people in the world."