'We hoped he could be helped': Shamattawa chief says community reached out to suspect in bus driver's killing

The troubled life of the young man suspected of murdering a Winnipeg Transit driver is coming into focus.

Suspect had FASD, was apprehended at birth, placed in 73 foster homes

The 22-year-old man accused of killing a Winnipeg Transit driver on Valentine's Day had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, was placed in 73 foster homes, and struggled with addiction and homelessness. (istock)

The troubled life of the young man suspected of murdering a Winnipeg Transit driver is coming into focus.

At 22, Brian Kyle Thomas, who was bounced between 73 foster homes as a child, has been homeless, battled substance abuse and has been in and out of jail for a series of violent crimes. 

"He's had a very difficult upbringing," Shamattawa First Nation Chief Jeff Napaokesik told CBC News. "We hoped he could be helped, [to] find a solution to his trouble."

Thomas has been charged with second-degree murder after Winnipeg Transit driver Irvine Jubal Fraser, 58, was stabbed a number of times early Tuesday morning. The allegations have not been proven in court. 

Thomas is from Shamattawa First Nation and had been living in Winnipeg, Napaokesik said. He had run into Thomas on a trip to the city just a few week ago, he said, and saw that the young man was struggling. 

Shamattawa Chief Jeff Napaokesik (shown in a file photo from 2016) says 22-year-old Brian Kyle Thomas, accused of stabbing bus driver Irvine Fraser to death, had a difficult life and struggled with a number of issues. (Jill Coubrough/CBC News)

"We bought him some shoes, some sneakers that he desperately needed at that time, also some money for food," he said, adding he and band members had even offered to bring him home to Shamattawa, about 750 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

The murder allegations against Thomas have left Napaokesik and other community members in disbelief. 

"It was very shocking," he said. "We were looking at each other and talking and wishing we could've done more for him."

Born with FASD

Thomas was born in June 1994 with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and placed in foster care after birth, his lawyer said.

"His mother drank 'super juice' constantly while she was pregnant with him and as a result he was seized," Theodore Mariash told court during a sentencing hearing in November 2016. 

"He had a number of behavioural issues corresponding to FASD and to top it off, the local child care agency lacked the resources and personnel necessary to care for Thomas as a young boy."

Thomas pleaded guilty to assaulting his former girlfriend in August 2016 while intoxicated. 

"I just want to say sorry for what I did to my girlfriend. I am just sorry what happened," he told the judge. "If I wasn't drunk I would have never did that."

Lengthy, violent record

Thomas has seven criminal convictions to date and has breached conditions upwards of 13 times.

His first criminal charge was two months after his 18th birthday. 

In August 2012, he was charged with assault and pleaded guilty. Two years later, in October 2014, he pleaded guilty to another assault and was handed a 28-day sentence.

Later that fall Thomas was charged with uttering death threats against a woman and her two children and was carrying a knife, police said.

At the sentencing hearing in 2014 Thomas told the judge he was "drunk" during the incident and had little memory of what had happened.

Suspect wanted to go back to school

"I want to go back to school and I just want to get my Grade 12 diploma and start out my life and get back on the right foot you know," he told the judge. "I don't really like being in jail. I know my mom misses me a lot and I was hoping to get out today so I can spend Christmas with her," he said, adding he had never had spent Christmas with her before.  

The judge told Thomas she remembered him from his assault conviction a few months before. She had denied him bail at the time because "I thought you were really scary," she told him.

The judge said it was clear his difficult upbringing played a role in his criminal activity and because he had spent the last few months in custody awaiting his sentencing, she considered his time served and let him go that day.

"You're a man now, you're not a little boy anymore. You have to act like a man," she told him. "I'm going to let you out today so you can spend Christmas with your mother."

Thomas' lawyer Mariash declined to comment Thursday on the second-degree murder and weapon charges he faces for killing Fraser.

Back in Shamattawa, Napaokesik said they are still struggling with the news. He said his heart goes out to Fraser's family.

"We're so sorry, these are just words but I feel for what the family might be going through in Winnipeg," he said. "We wish it had never happened."

About the Author

Jill Coubrough

Reporter, CBC News

Jill Coubrough is a video journalist with CBC News based in Winnipeg. Before joining CBC Manitoba, she worked as a reporter for CBC News in Halifax and an associate producer for CBC's documentary series Land and Sea. She holds a degree in political studies from the University of Manitoba and a degree in journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax. Email:

With files from Karen Pauls and Angela Johnston