‘A tragedy from every angle’: The fatal London shooting of a teenage boy | #schoolshooting


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It’s been almost a year since Lorraine McGratten’s son, Owen Serieska, 16, was fatally shot in a London apartment. Still trying to come to terms with his loss, she’s breaking her silence to draw attention to her son’s mental health struggles, her troubles trying to find the supports he needed and the dangers of guns. Dale Carruthers reports.


Lorraine McGratten told her son the same thing every night when she put him to bed.

“I love you, no matter what,” she’d say to her only son, Owen Serieska.

And every time, he would respond: “Always and forever.”

Then they’d hug and Serieska would go to sleep.

It has been more than a year since McGratten has hugged her son, who was shot in the face and died after a gun went off accidentally inside a friend’s London apartment on April 14, 2020.

As the first anniversary of the teen’s death approaches, McGratten is still struggling to come to terms with how his life was cut short.

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“Sometimes, I feel hopeful and I feel OK. Other times, I feel like I’m back at the beginning all over again,” she said. “Grief is just something that you learn to endure.”

Owen Serieska, 16, was fatally shot inside a friend’s Dundas Street apartment on April 14, 2020. Jesse Winstanley, 20, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Owen Serieska, 16, was fatally shot inside a friend’s Dundas Street apartment on April 14, 2020. Jesse Winstanley, 20, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to three years in prison.

McGratten spoke publicly for the first time in an effort, she said, to draw attention to her son’s struggles with mental health, her troubles finding him the proper supports and the dangers of guns.

“I don’t want my son’s death to be in vain,” she said.

“I just really miss him with every fibre of my being and I wish that my attempt to get the help that he needed had been successful . . . And I wish that I was able to watch him grow into the wonderful man that I know he would have been.”

Serieska was born at 5:56 a.m. on May 1, 2003, at Welland County General Hospital.

“He was perfect,” McGratten said. “He had the biggest and most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.”

Growing up in Port Colborne, a Lake Erie community south of Welland, and London, Serieska loved playing outdoors with his cousins, tinkering with motors and riding dirt bikes with his grandfather, with whom he was especially close.

But Serieska started having behavioural issues when he was four and always struggled in school. He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and put on medications, some of which worked for a bit, over the years, McGratten said.

Serieska saw a child therapist and took anger management classes, leading to some short-lived improvements. McGratten, meanwhile, took parenting courses, started inquiring about mental health services and was put on dozens of wait lists.

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“As a single mom, putting myself through school, I didn’t have the financial resources to seek private services,” she said.

Serieska’s behaviour worsened after his grandpa died when he was 11. “It was like Owen lost his dad,” said McGratten, who started looking into residential services for her son.

“His behaviours were becoming beyond what I could manage as a parent,” she said. “It’s a terrible and heart-wrenching feeling when your love and support for your child is not enough and you have to start exploring other options.”

In 2015, Serieska moved into a residential treatment centre, but within 24 hours found himself in trouble after kicking a door, McGratten said.

He eventually began hanging out with the wrong crowd, his mother said.

“Owen really, really wanted to fit in. He wanted to find friends . . . that had a purpose for him,” she said. “He went out of his way to seek out those in worse circumstances than himself, people that were far more vulnerable.”

By 2019, Serieska had moved to London to live with his father after McGratten said he could only stay with her in Mississauga if he continued treatment.

“I was fearful for Owen’s future and Owen’s life,” she said.

But Serieska had a falling out with his father and was staying with his friend, Jesse Winstanley, in a one-bedroom apartment at 580 Dundas St., a public housing building with a history of drug use and violence.

On April 14, 2020, McGratten was texting with her son, trying to help him secure housing. The last text she sent him was at about 4:45 p.m.

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A London police officer guards an eighth-floor unit at 580 Dundas St., where Owen Serieska, 16, was fatally shot on April 14, 2020. (Free Press file photo)
A London police officer guards an eighth-floor unit at 580 Dundas St., where Owen Serieska, 16, was fatally shot on April 14, 2020. (Free Press file photo)

“One of the things I struggle with is (that) if it weren’t for COVID, I would have just gone and picked him up . . . but he assured me that he could stay with his friends for a little while,” she said.

Serieska was in the living room with Winstanley, then 19, and Winstanley’s girlfriend, around 5:30 p.m. when Winstanley pulled a .22-calibre rifle from under the couch cushions and it went off, McGratten said.

The bullet hit Serieska in the right cheek, ricocheted off his skull and lodged in his brain, according to an autopsy that listed his cause of death as a gunshot wound to the head.

“Owen didn’t see it coming,” McGratten said. “He didn’t suffer.”

Winstanley and his girlfriend called 911 before running across the hall to get help from neighbours, McGratten said.

McGratten was home in Mississauga putting her then-eight-month-old daughter to bed around 8 p.m. when her ex-husband texted her, saying he’d heard Owen had been shot and was dead.

“Immediately, I had this gut feeling that it was true,” she said.

McGratten called London police, but said she was told they couldn’t confirm or deny there had been a shooting involving her son. Then she phoned her ex-husband, who told her police had just showed up at his house and confirmed their son was dead.

That night, McGratten gave a statement to a detective, who asked if Serieska was suicidal, whether he had a gun and what their last conversation was about, McGratten said.

Police charged Winstanley with manslaughter the next day.

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Almost two weeks later, Winstanley and James Dean Simmons, then 35, were jointly charged with possessing a loaded prohibited firearm and possessing an unauthorized firearm. Simmons was additionally charged with possessing a firearm contrary to a probation order and failing to comply with a release order

Winstanley pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Dec. 17 — the gun charges were withdrawn — and was sentenced to three years in prison and given a lifetime weapons ban.

“I can confidently say that I believe it was an accident after facing Jesse,” said McGratten, who read a victim impact statement at Winstanley’s sentencing hearing.

Winstanley apologized in court, saying he’d trade places with Owen if he could, McGratten said.

Owen Serieska started having behavioural issues at four, struggled in school and was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Despite treatment, his behaviour became more than his mother could manage and she sought residential services. When that didn’t work out, he fell in with the “wrong crowd,” in a bid to fit in, she says. (Supplied)
Owen Serieska started having behavioural issues at four, struggled in school and was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Despite treatment, his behaviour became more than his mother could manage and she sought residential services. When that didn’t work out, he fell in with the “wrong crowd,” in a bid to fit in, she says. (Supplied)

“I don’t forgive Jesse for killing my son, for stealing his future and breaking my heart, but I do understand his actions, they weren’t intentional,” she said.

Last month, Simmons pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm and a breach charge. He was sentenced to 480 days in jail, the equivalent of the 320 days he spent in pre-trial custody.

“I think I will forever be disappointed with his sentence,” McGratten said.

Court records show Simmons was under a lifetime weapons ban stemming from a 2018 conviction for unauthorized possession of a firearm and possessing ammunition while prohibited. He was sentenced to 105 days in jail in the case.

Now living in Cambridge with her husband and two daughters, McGratten said her son’s story underlines the need for a “pendulum swing” in the way society and courts treat young people dealing with mental health issues.

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“I was made to feel shame and there shouldn’t be shame . . . There needs to be more understanding, more compassion in society,” she said.

McGratten also criticized the system that allows young people to withdraw their consent for treatments.

“He didn’t have the foresight and decision-making skills to withdraw consent,” she said of her son.

Comprehensive assessments and having appropriate supports, both formal and informal, are key when working with youth going through the criminal justice system, said Kim Harris, assistant executive director of the London Family Court Clinic.

The clinic provides counselling, assessment, clinical help and mediation to children, adolescents and families involved in the court process.

Harris said she can’t speak about specific cases, but some things are essential to help.

“Having a good assessment is really important to understand the complexities of the child or adolescent you’re working with,” she said. “What has gone on in their life? Are their needs being met?”

Progress has been made to ensure service providers work together, rather than apart,  but there’s still room for improvement in many areas, including providing sustainable funding for high-quality services, she said.

“We are making progress and we’re optimistic that progress will continue to be made, but certainly we have a long way to go in terms of addressing the mental health needs in the community for kids and teens,” Harris said.

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Harris also acknowledged that mid-teens sometimes face a difficult situation when they’re aging out of the youth system, but not old enough for adult programs.

“A lot of times, there’s a gap for that age group in terms of being able to access service,” she said.

After Serieska’s death, many of his friends took to social media to share stories about times he’d supported them during their struggles, highlighting his compassion and loyalty.

McGratten said she always believed her son, who would have turned 18 next month, had the potential to turn his life around.

“I truly believe Owen still had a ton to offer and I believe that he would have gone on to really help youth in the future,” she said.

“It’s a tragedy from every angle that you look at it,” she said of his death.

dcarruthers@postmedia.com

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