Victim Testimonial – Ontario

Counselling, not Concrete

From the Toronto Star, September 7, 1977:

Two teenagers gunned down in a Toronto street Sunday were in stable condition in hospital today. However Russell (Chickie) John, age 13, was still in the intensive care unit at the Hospital for Sick Children, where doctors were uncertain whether he will be paralyzed by a bullet that hit his spinal cord.

It turned out that Chickie was in the hospital for over a year. The waiting, while he was in surgery, not knowing if he was going to live or die, was hard. Then I heard he was going to live but never walk again.

I remember the day very clearly, as if it was yesterday. Chickie (Russell) had spent the summer with my grandmother. When he returned, the boys down the street that he hung around with called on him. Chickie was not allowed out at the time and was asleep in front of the t.v. when his friends kept coming to the door, so my mother sent him out to get rid of them.

Chickie was not gone more then five minutes when a little boy came to the door saying that my Chickie was shot. We did not believe him and my mother told us to run down and see. We got to the laneway and my sisters and I were standing in a row. I saw Chickie on the stretcher, looking at us, with blood coming from his mouth. All of a sudden my sister Tracey screamed out “CHICKIE!” She ran and I followed her back to the house. My mother was standing on the street when she heard Tracey screaming. She ran towards the laneway.

Being the second-oldest child was difficult as the responsibility of looking after my sisters while my mother went to the hospital fell on me. When I heard he was not going to walk again, it never hit me until I went to see him at the Ontario Crippled Children’s Hospital for rehabilitation.

A lot of changes took place after the shooting, such as reporters bothering us, wanting our pictures and asking questions. When Chickie got out of the hospital another big change took place. We moved to Regent Park Housing. In those days it was not a nice place to live, but we managed to make some friends that were not dysfunctional and not into illegal activities.

Chickie had difficulty adjusting to not being able to use his legs.  He wouldn’t speak to my mother or my other sisters. He would only let me into his room when he had the urge to cut off his legs. We talked and cried a lot. He drank more and did more drugs and when he got drunk, he would run away and some times I would go with him or he would go on his own and I would follow him. He did not go far, just through the park. He cried a lot and hid in his room. He did work on models, and that calmed him a little. Chickie was committed to the psych ward a couple of times for trying to cut off his legs.

We never had counselling about the shooting. Chickie had attended a hearing to get compensation for victims of crime, and was awarded $17, 079.00 and $500.00 in monthly payments that continued until an increase of $1000.00 was issued on Jan 1, 1987 for pain and suffering.

Support services or counselling were never put in place for a single mother of five kids, one now disabled from a crime. Chickie had to learn how to dress, go to the washroom, push and pull himself out of a chair, wash himself all over again. Some days I’m sure were unbearable for him.  

This past year was the first time Chickie was billed for his wheelchair, for $1500.00, which is no longer covered under the Ontario Disability Support Program. When I contacted the Resource Centre for Victims of Crime to assist us with this burden, he felt helpless again. For Chickie, asking for service or support was always like asking for a handout. Having to go get a medical letter from his family doctor to say he was still handicapped was a reminder and a nuisance.

In 1979-80 when Chickie started to attend high school, he went to a special school to accommodate youth who were disabled. Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister then and had arranged that children who were disabled would have the same rights as regular students. When the special school closed, it became too hard with teasing and fights. That’s when Chickie dropped out, in Grade 10. Never to complete his high school, never to have kids of his own, never to get married, never to ride a bike again.

— Valerie John and Christine John, Russell ‘Chickie’ John’s sisters.

On the day that my brother was shot, I remember lying on the floor with my sisters watching T.V.  Our neighbour came to the door and said “Chickie was shot.” We jumped up and ran down the street to the back laneway. When we got there I remember seeing Chickie on a stretcher. His head was turned toward us, his eyes were half open and blood had trickled from the side of his mouth. I then remember a loud scream: “Chickie!” It was my sister, Tracey.

At the time of the shooting I don’t remember wondering whether he was going to live or die, I don’t remember feeling sadness, fear, or anything. Perhaps my age, at 9, had something to do with my lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation or I was in shock at seeing such a horrific scene. Not one detail of what I had seen that day has faded from my mind — I clearly remember even the tone, depth and sound of my sister’s scream.  

We stayed at a neighbour’s while my parents were at the hospital. When they returned, I would hear my father sobbing at night and my Mom comforting him. I thought it was strange that he cried so much for a stepson and not for his own mother who had passed away just before Chickie was shot. I remember visiting Chickie at the Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre. I got to feed him an apple because he couldn’t move his arms.  I felt proud and strange at the same time that me, the little sister, was helping him to eat and wondering how he felt in his state of helplessness.

When Chickie completed his rehabilitation we moved into Ontario Housing in order to accommodate my brother’s need for space. After he came home he would have very angry outbursts. He would smash up his room and would call us terrible names. I was torn between loving him as a big brother and hating him for the things he said to me. I don’t remember having any conversations or meaningful moments with Chickie after he came home as I was never sure how to approach him and figured he didn’t like me anyway, so why bother.

I spent much of my teen years thinking my brother was a jerk and not really bothering with him. As I reached adulthood I was finally able to understand why Chickie had such anger and to understand the grieving process that he had to go through to reach a state of acceptance. As I reflect back to the types of support we received as a family and my brother received as an individual, I can say that we received concrete walls and space as opposed to guidance and counseling. Counseling could have helped a family heal, cope and rebuild relationships and meaningful memories in the face of a tragedy that was not of their own doing.

Kimberly John, Russell ‘Chickie’ John’s sister.

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