Edmonton·Exclusive

Teen charged in Edmonton bus driver stabbing had violent past, family says

The family of an Edmonton teen accused of stabbing a bus driver says they warned children's services that the boy posed a risk to the public and repeatedly asked for more intervention.

'My warnings have been to everybody, social services, the police,' says grandfather

The grandfather of the teen charged in last week’s bus attack tells the story of the youth’s violent past and the family’s troubles finding support. 1:43

In the days before he allegedly stabbed an Edmonton bus driver last week, the 15-year-old suspect repeatedly attacked his mom, punched and stomped on his grandfather, then maced his uncle, his family members say.

Police responded to the family altercations. But according to the teen's family, he wasn't arrested.

Instead, a social agency placed him with a family trained to take in troubled teens. Early the next morning, the boy turned up at the transit centre in Mill Woods where he is accused of stabbing a 65-year-old bus driver 13 times.

The teen's family say the Sept. 26 stabbing is a disturbing tragedy, but it came as no surprise to them, as they have been warning for some time that intervention was needed to prevent further violence.

"Oh man I'm sad, because look at what happened to this bus driver, and when we warned everybody," said his grandfather, a frail man with a black eye, broken glasses and a limp from the latest confrontation with his grandson. Neither can be named to protect the teen's identity, so CBC is referring to the youth by the initials J.S.

"My warnings have been to everybody, social services, the police," added the grandfather, who has guardianship of the teen. "He's going to kill somebody or they're going to kill him, he's that psychotic."

My warnings have been to everybody, social services, the police — He's going to kill somebody or they're going to kill him, he's that psychotic- Grandfather of teen accused of stabbing bus driver

Following the stabbing of the bus driver, J.S. was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon and theft of a vehicle.

On Friday, the slim youth offered a polite "Good morning" as he appeared in court by closed-circuit television from the Edmonton Young Offender Centre. The Crown prosecutor Claudette Hargreaves asked for an order to have him mentally assessed.

Defence lawyer Karen McGowan said the circumstances "cry out for such an order." She said her client had been held for two to three months last year at Alberta Hospital under a mental health warrant "because he just wasn't getting any better."

The judge ordered a psychiatric assessment to evaluate if J.S. should be found not criminally responsible due to his state of mind at the time of the attack. Another test will determine if he's fit to stand trial.

Grew up around violence

J.S. grew up around violence, according to the grandfather, an aunt and a close family friend who spoke to CBC. His mom, who was in and out of jail, once stabbed his dad in their home. A photo taken five years ago shows a 10-year-old J.S. pointing a gun to his head. He also spent time in foster care.

He started smoking pot at the age of seven before turning to harder drugs. By 13, crystal methamphetamine, often referred to as pint, was his drug of choice.

J.S. lost interest in skateboarding and rejected his Indigenous heritage as he started racking up charges for theft, uttering threats and possessing a weapon, his family said. The youth court charges could not be confirmed by Alberta Justice because of possible restrictions on the file.

"He was uncontrollable, you just don't know when he's going to react," his grandfather said. "He didn't even have to be on pint because he was already psycho. So when you got him on pint he was even worse.

"He would talk in front of a mirror, because he lost all his friends, his ability to even be with anybody," the grandfather added. "And even when he wasn't talking in front of a mirror he would holler out what he was saying, in his pain, 'I have nothing, I have nothing in my life. I'm nobody.' "

Family of the teen accused of stabbing a bus driver at Mill Woods transit centre say he assaulted three family members just days earlier. (David Bajer/CBC)

The grandfather said he couldn't manage J.S. and advocated for him to be placed in a group home or therapeutic foster home. But he was told no appropriate facility existed.

"And they wanted me to keep him and (said) they would do everything possible to help" but that didn't happen, he said.

Family members described several occasions where they managed to get J.S. into Alberta Hospital for psychiatric care or a forced detox program for child addicts, only to see him gain access to a lawyer and return to the streets.

On one such stay at Alberta Hospital in 2017, J.S's support team advised that he remain in hospital until he no longer showed signs of psychosis or put himself and others at risk, sources said. The following spring, it was determined that assistance such as counselling and support workers should be put in place for J.S.'s release, they added.

But J.S.'s 62-year-old grandfather, who uses a walker due to a back injury, said it fell to him to ensure J.S. was going to school and taking his medication, which led to more conflict. The teen's behaviour also prompted a series of evictions for his family, who are currently back on the streets.

'No place for these boys to go'

A child welfare worker was recently assigned to reassess J.S.'s case, the grandfather and other sources said.

But the decision to place J.S. with a family the day before the stabbing underlines the need for specialized facilities for kids like his grandson, the grandfather suggests.

"That's why we've been hollering again to get him off the streets," said the grandfather.

"There is no place for these boys to go ... They set up the laws this way. They set it up so people don't get help."

The transit union has said the early morning attack on the driver occurred after the teen asked the bus driver for a ride downtown. The driver called a dispatch operator who said police would escort him, and that appeared to trigger the attack, they said.

The bus driver has since been released from hospital.

The grandfather, who has spoken to J.S. since he was arrested, said the teen appears to have believed he was in danger and needed to get to safety.

In an emailed statement, the Alberta department of Children's Services described the incident as a tragedy but defended the way it has handled J.S.'s case.

"The Government of Alberta assesses every report it receives of a child at risk. We work closely with our partners in health care, law enforcement and other agencies to determine if the child is in danger, at risk or at risk of harming others," wrote Zoë Cooper, a spokesperson for the ministry.

"We do not leave a child in a high-risk situation, but use specialized resources deemed necessary to ensure that a child will not be a danger to themselves or others."

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca
@andreahuncar

Clarifications

  • The youth's initials have been changed to further protect his identity.
    Jan 22, 2019 3:11 PM MT