In the latest issue of Toronto Life, Lauren McKeon examines the short and sad life of Aaron Driver, a small-town Canadian who became so lost after family traumas--a mother's early death, a stillborn child--that he managed to join up with ISIS online, eventually to die in a confrontation with police.
Aaron Driver was a sunny, easygoing kid with knobby knees and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles obsession. Born in Regina in 1991 to Wayne, a long-haul trucker, and Linda, a stay-at-home mom, he was a late addition to his family. His sister, Eileen, was already 12, and his brother, Rob, was 10. Wayne often spent weeks on the road, and, in his absence, Aaron became inseparable from his mom. He’d do anything to make her happy—clean his room, do his homework, take out the garbage.
Wayne, a devout Christian, had always planned to become a pastor, but he never finished divinity school. Instead, he worked a succession of contract jobs. The Drivers moved around constantly, jumping across Canada from Regina to Kitchener to Port Colborne. On Sundays, they would go to church, then pack a picnic lunch and head to a nearby beach on Lake Erie.
Everything changed when Aaron was seven. Doctors discovered an inoperable tumour in his mom’s brain. Aaron didn’t understand how sick she was until his dad brought him to the hospital to see her undergo radiation. That’s when it sunk in: she wasn’t going to be okay. Aaron grew quiet and withdrawn, spending entire days in the hospital room with his mom.
A few months after Linda was diagnosed, she fell into a coma and never woke up. Aaron was inconsolable. He and his father were suddenly on their own—his older siblings had already moved out—and Aaron found the loneliness unbearable. In the following months, he often refused to get out of bed to go to school. He stopped eating his lunches, telling Wayne that, if he starved himself to death, he could be with his mom in heaven.
When Aaron was nine, his dad met a woman named Monica on a Christian dating site. Aaron seemed to like her at first, but that changed when, several months later, she and Wayne announced they were getting married. Aaron snapped. He raged and screamed, telling his dad nobody would ever replace his mom—and that he wished Wayne had died instead. Wayne took Aaron to a Christian bereavement counsellor, but his son refused to participate. He tried again with a psychiatrist and had to drag Aaron into the office; he sat through the entire appointment in silence. When Wayne brought a family counsellor in for home sessions, Aaron would storm out of the room. Eventually, Wayne stopped trying altogether.