When asked to describe her son, Thornhill, Ont., mother Kim Swartz struggled to find the words.
“I can’t talk about him. I haven’t spoken about him,” she answered, almost in a whisper.
It has been nearly three years since Tyler Swartz, 18, died of gunshot wounds to the abdomen.
For his mother, time has stood still ever since.
“I don’t talk about him. There are no words,” she said.
Only when remembering her son’s many talents does Kim’s face briefly light up.
“He was a volunteer, so he volunteered from the age of seven until 17 with children who are disabled, worked for Friendship Circle, enjoyed playing pool, took up tennis, did swimming,” she said.
This week, Tyler’s friend Jonathan Weir pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection with Tyler’s December 2018 death after originally being charged with first-degree murder.
The friends had frequently spent time together at the estate of Weir’s uncle, former CBC Dragon’s Den star Michael Wekerle, in Caledon, Ont., according to an agreed statement of facts, where they “shot firearms for sport.”
“Jonathan grew up with guns. I was led to believe Jonathan had a gun license,” said Kim. “As a mother, we worry about our children in anything that they partake.”
On the day of the shooting, the agreed statement of facts indicated “Tyler Swartz and Jonathan Weir used firearms for target shooting … and also went hunting.”
They had planned to have a barbecue and cook a rabbit that Tyler had shot and invited friends to join them.
As they waited, “Jonathan Weir came into possession of a Colt R75 machine gun and inadvertently pulled the trigger,” noted the statement of facts, adding, “Weir did not know the Colt R75 was loaded and did not intend to fire the weapon and did not intend to harm or kill Tyler Swartz.”
When police arrived, they found a male on the ground unresponsive with a rifle beside him.
It was Tyler, but not the firearm used in the fatal shooting.
The Colt R75, a prohibited weapon in Canada as defined by section 84 of the Criminal Code, was found seven months later, at the bottom of a pond on the Caledon property.
As the matter is still before the court for sentencing, a lawyer for Weir declined to comment about the case.
Sentencing is scheduled for October 2022.
Kim said she does not believe justice was served.
“The criminal system is broken and we need change. Tyler needed a voice,” she said.
Tyler’s mother and grandfather are now suing Weir, Wekerle and Canadian rock legend Ronnie Hawkins, who allegedly supplied the firearm.
“There needs to be accountability. One needs to take responsibility and ownership. And the truth needs to be told,” said Kim.
The claim seeks $1 million for Tyler’s death, $1 million in special damages, and $1 million for aggravated, punitive and exemplary damages.
“This is a case brought against three individuals, one of which discharged a machine gun, who was essentially a child left in charge of Mr. Wekerle’s farm,” said Kim’s lawyer, Justin Linden.
“We’ve also named Mr. Wekerle as he owned the farm and left this young boy in charge of this property and we say he knew or he should have known that this young boy had a machine gun, among other weapons and we also say he knew or he should have known that he used narcotics. And we’ve also sued Mr. Hawkins, who we understand supplied the firearm,” Linden continued.
According to Wekerle’s statement of defence paragraph 7.b, “Michael denies that he was negligent in leaving Jonathan at the Property or that he had any duty to supervise Jonathan when Jonathan was at the Property or at any other time. Jonathan was 18 years of age and was not a minor in need of supervision.”
The suit claims, in part, that Hawkins “negligently sold and/or provided prohibited firearms to Jonathan” and “he failed to have appropriate regard for the safety of others, including Tyler.”
A lawyer for Hawkins declined to comment to Global News, noting “this file is currently before the courts, and we are unable to comment on current proceedings.”
Wekerle has filed a statement of defence denying any wrongdoing, noting he has never owned any firearms, adding, “Jonathan was a licenced hunter and owned a number of legally registered firearms. At all times if firearms were at the Property, they were stored in proper gun lockers to ensure the firearms were safe and secure.”
Wekerle’s statement also indicated that when he became aware that Jonathan was in possession of a “restricted firearm” he ensured it was “immediately returned to its owner. ”
Both Weir and Hawkins have not yet filed a statement of defence.
The allegations in the civil suit have not been proven in court.
Kim said due to a publication ban in the case, for a long time, she knew very little about her son’s death and felt “victimized.”
“I’ve been very alone. I’ve had no support. It’s my son … It’s a very lonely journey,” she said.