(Photo illustration: Amy Reid)

Shattering the Image

How gangsters are recruiting Surrey teens on Instagram, Snapchat

SECOND IN A SERIES: ‘The evolution of (gang) development in the community is actually technology’

This is the second part in a series on gang violence in Surrey, how youth recruitment is happening right now, and what the Surrey RCMP are doing to try to prevent it. Read part one and part three.

His eyes scan his Instagram feed, while waiting for dinner at the table. He scrolls through an endless sea of selfies in his feed, but something stops him.

Something catches his eye.

It’s a video of a pistol, and a wad of bills, along with the tag, “my new bae.”

It’s a clip that was circulated among some Surrey students.

While the video has since been deleted, it’s just one of many examples of “clips circulating out there that kids are exposed to,” said Surrey RCMP Sergeant Mike Sanchez of the Gang Enforcement Unit.

“These images you see in the clip represent power, the air soft pistol, and profit, the cash. These are two of the biggest promises gangs give to inquiring minds,” he said. “Exposure to these images and videos is what starts the questions among kids like, ‘How do I get that money? Is that a real gun?’”

The clip is being shown to elementary school students in Surrey, in an effort to raise awareness about how gangsters are recruiting kids in the city as young as 13.

“I know it looks funny, we can laugh about it, but in that very short clip, you will see power, profit and prosperity,” Sanchez told a group of Grade 7 Erma Stephenson Elementary students during a recent presentation, after the video elicited laughter.

“And when young minds like yourselves get exposed to that, the first reply to those messages being put out there – and I’ve seen it – is, ‘How did you get that? Where did that come from? I want that.’”

That’s how it begins, Sanchez said, with the evolution of gang development now happening through technology.

Gang recruiters in Surrey are monitoring social media, he explained, even following accounts that post videos of school fights. It’s happening on Snapchat, on Instagram, and on Facebook.

What are they looking for? Kids who are being bullied, as well as those who are obviously striving to be the “tough guy.”

“I wouldn’t have believed it until it was actually reported to me,” said Sanchez. “They will actually approach them (after figuring out their school via their online profile) and say, ‘Hey, do you want to work with us? Want a little bit of money? Some power?’ That’s gang recruitment. It doesn’t start with a gun to your head.

“These guys read the comments…. So guys, if you’re gong to put yourself out on social media, be mindful of your settings. All that stuff is there for these gangs to see, guess who they’re going to show up to next? The person in the video or the one making the comments.”

Often, the pitch comes with a promise of protection.

“‘Hey man, you don’t need to get bullied anymore. Those videos of you getting beaten up or told to do something doesn’t have to happen anymore. We’re going to help you,’” Sanchez told the children.

“We actually have people approaching kids in our high schools, asking them to get involved in stuff.”

See also: The inspiration behind a Surrey gang presentation in elementary schools

See also: VIDEO: A former Surrey gangster’s cautionary tale

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Once recruited, the first job is always “dial-a-doping,” said Sanchez, which is essentially the sale of drugs done in the same way one orders pizza. A driver is needed, but so is a “runner” to hand over the drugs.

“It’s like ordering pizza, you’re hungry you want pepperoni pizza, someone shows up at your door you give them money,” said Sanchez.

“Some of the kids they don’t want to work at McDonalds. They want the easy money. But there’s a catch. Once they’re in, it’s hard to get out.”

Later in the presentation, Sanchez showed an image of a Surrey South Asian man who was killed, his body found in the trunk of a car.

He had worked as a dial-a-doper, said Sanchez.

“He was recruited in everything I just described to you,” he told the students. “He went missing because he decided he was going to go work for somebody else. Somebody more profitable, that would pay him more.”

Today, gangsters in Surrey are predominantly male and while they are multi-ethnic, there’s an over representation of South Asian males, such as the one murdered, said Sanchez.

But it’s not just those involved in gangs who have been killed in Surrey.

Sanchez’s presentation also told the tragic tale of Chris Mohan and Ed Schellenberg, two innocent victims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time in the infamous 2007 Surrey Six gangland slayings.

Read also: OUR VIEW: Proactive anti-gang program in Surrey elementary schools hits home

Chris’ mother Eileen was moved when informed his story was part of a presentation aiming to keep kids away from gangs.

“Wow,” she said, slowly. “I think if it can change the life of one single young student or person who’s just entering the gang life at a very young age, for me it would be a life saved. And a mother who doesn’t have to forever long to be with her son and her family again.

“For this very reason, ever since Chris was taken, I have been giving scholarship awards to kids at-risk every year, so at least I’m touching some students’ lives, to change them around for the better,” she added.

“So I’m really glad what the RCMP are doing because what happened to Christopher and what happened to Ed should have never ever happened.”

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(Eileen Mohan at home, with pictures of her son Chris in the background. Photo: Now-Leader file).

Eileen still thinks about her son’s last moments.

“Just innocently going to his basketball game and dying at the doorsteps of his home,” she said, crying. “It was midday, it wasn’t midnight. To be taken in such a horrific manner where you know your life is going to end, he must’ve felt the barrel of the gun at the back of his neck, he would’ve known that this was his last moment and what a horrific way to die.”

Chris’ birth date is coming up on May 31, said Eileen, fighting back tears. She’s taking a week off work, 11 years after his death, because all this time later the massive loss hasn’t become a single ounce easier to swallow.

“Every birthday I have a mass for him,” she said. “You want to feel like you’ve not left him alone.”

Eileen urged parents to wake up and recognize the warning signs if their child is slipping into gang life, as it could save another family the same fate.

“I believe parents are so blinded by the fact when money of any sort creeps into the house,” she said. “When there’s a Mercedes parked at their mom’s home, or money being put in a safe deposit box, where did that come from?”

She said in the South Asian community, parents are “afraid and ashamed” to be linked to crime, so they stay silent.

“I think what they think is if they don’t talk about it then it will go away. But look at our family. Each part of our family is somewhere else. I’m left alone to pick up the pieces,” she added.

“The most tragic part of this is the family members who are left behind.”

See more: ‘Evil won that day,’ says mom of innocent Surrey Six victim

Read also: ZYTARUK: Eileen Mohan, a remarkable lady

Read also: Charges stayed against Jamie Bacon in Surrey Six massacre

Eileen noted that in the years since Chris’ death, the government has spent a “tremendous” amount of taxpayers’ money for programs aimed at helping young people avoid a life of crime, but the trouble is convincing parents to use them.

A modified version of the Shattering the Image presentation is available for adults, with tips on how to recognize the signs of drug dealing, along with the emergence of fentanyl and the young victims it has killed, and Eileen urged parents to take advantage of it.

“If you bring a child into this world then it should be your business to know every gritty detail about your child. You have to be in his business,” she stressed. “If they turn to a wrong direction, then it’s your responsibility to bring them back with care and love.

“People say to me, ‘Wow you look so good,’ but my insides are so broken. I really tear up when I see a young guy walking with his mom, or driving around with his mom,” she said.

“It’s a lifetime process. It doesn’t end when your child is buried and the cameras are turned off and people have moved on.”

But the news of his tragic murder being used in an effort to keep kids away from gangs brought her some comfort.

“It’s nice to know that Chris’ legacy in death will become a legacy to prevent young people from entering the gang life.”

For more information visit surrey.rcmp-grc.gc.ca or email the Gang Enforcement Team at surrey_sget@rcmp-grc.gc.ca.

See also: OUR VIEW: All Surrey students should hear powerful gang talk

UP NEXT: Students hear the shocking tale of a former Surrey gangster’s road to redemption.

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