It had been a difficult few years but Aaron Driver seemed like he was doing better and was putting his peace bond and online activities behind him, his older brother says.
Aaron, 24, was holding down a decent job, had received his high school diploma and was working out, said Rob Driver.
“He just wanted to put that behind him and wanted to move on with his life,” Rob Driver said. “He seemed happy, actually. He seemed happier than he’d been in the past, like things were moving in the right direction for him.”
Under that surface, Aaron had not left his radical ideas behind.
Aaron Driver, an open ISIS supporter, was killed outside a home in Strathroy, Ont., on Wednesday during a confrontation with police. Officers opened fire after Aaron detonated an improvised explosive device in the backseat of a taxi, police said.
Authorities later revealed he had made a “martyrdom video” and was planning an attack within 72 hours in an urban centre during rush hour. An FBI tip warned Canadian authorities of an “imminent threat,” which led them to Aaron.
Not long ago, after Aaron was subject to an anti-terrorism peace bond, Rob said he asked his little brother point blank if he ever had any plans for an attack.
“He seemed very sincere and I truly believed him when he said that he had no plans of doing anything and that he wouldn’t hurt anybody,” said Rob, speaking to CBC News by telephone from London, Ont.
Even after his brother’s death and viewing the martyrdom video, Rob said he finds it hard to believe that the little boy he grew up with went against his word.
‘He kind of kept to himself’
When Aaron was born, Rob was almost 10. The two brothers lived in Regina with their mother, father and sister.
“He was always very inquisitive, right from a child. You know, if he wanted to know about something, he would learn about it, and he would really do a lot of research and learn as much as he can,” Rob said.
“He wanted to fully understand things.”
It’s not often that a preteen wants to hang out with his much-younger sibling, but Rob said when he was about 12 and Aaron was around two, they would head to the park together. Rob’s friends didn’t mind the toddler around because he liked to sing along to the popular songs and “it was so adorable.”
“Even though, as a young man, part of you just always sees somebody as your little baby brother, he obviously had a hard time, became a little less happy,” Rob said.
It happened around the time of their mother’s death, Rob said, when Aaron was seven. Their family life was completely disrupted and Rob and his older sister had moved out. Aaron was left to deal with the grief alone.
“He moved around. He was shuffled around a little bit, lived with a couple relatives while my dad was grieving, then he was back with my dad,” Rob said.
Aaron later moved in with Rob and then their sister. He also ended up in a group home. At 17, Aaron learned his girlfriend was pregnant and he looked to religion to deal with the upcoming responsibility. But the baby did not survive.
Although they weren’t as close as before, Rob started to see a change.
“He was more introverted, kept to himself more. I think after he lost his son … he withdrew more from people,” Rob said. “He didn’t really talk about his emotions that often, he kind of kept to himself.”
The brothers drifted further apart when Aaron moved to Winnipeg in 2012. It was around that time Aaron converted to Islam and, a couple of years later, the younger brother was on the radar of CSIS for his online activities.
Before his death, Aaron had told CBC he turned toward his “radical” views after reading about the Middle East online.
After Aaron was put under the restrictions of the peace bond this past February, he moved to Strathroy to live with his sister. Rob said he started to see Aaron a lot more and they’d have “intellectual” conversations around Islam and religion, but it never seemed extreme or radical.
“He was level-headed, not a violent person,” Rob said. “I’ve never even heard of him getting in a fight in high school or anything like that.”
Just last week, Rob said the brothers hung out and watched a movie. Their last words were “have a good night.”
‘His eyes looked different’
Rob was contacted by RCMP and told his brother had died in a confrontation with police and had made a disturbing video.
Wanting to know his little brother’s motivations — what led him into the taxi and what led him to his extreme decision — Rob watched the video. “It was just disturbing. It was weird because his eyes looked different,” he said.
“He just looked, big circles under his eyes, that he didn’t have a week ago. When he talked, he talked with a certain kind of, I don’t know, like an emotion that was not familiar to me. It was weird. Like I didn’t feel like it was him.”
There are many unanswered questions for the Driver family. When Aaron knew he was being monitored, why would he release a video? Why would he release the video ahead of the allegedly planned attack? What made him move from online activity to real-life action?
Rob said he knows he may never get the answers.
“That leads me to believe that he wanted to get caught and that he, perhaps, that he just wanted to end his own life in this way, through … martyrdom,” he said. “But I still hold onto that feeling that he didn’t actually want to go and hurt innocent people. I don’t know how to explain it.”
From a happy little boy to a struggling teenager to a young adult trying to get his life together, Rob said he may never really understand his brother’s journey. But he said he does understand why Canadians are scared and angry with Aaron.
“There was another part of him. He was sweet, funny, intelligent person,” Rob said, breaking into sobs.
“And I don’t want to make excuses, you know. We’ve all had bad things happen in our lives and we all don’t go and do bad things … It’s just, I think he was very damaged inside and we weren’t able to help him.
“I want to reiterate again that I am sorry to all of the people that were affected by this,” he added.
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