'He's still here,' says mother of Whitehorse shooting victim fighting for life

Viola Papequash thought she was saying goodbye forever.

She was told her son, John Thomas Papequash, 36, was at death's door. He was shot early Sunday morning in an incident outside a Whitehorse bar, and his mother says doctors told her he couldn't be saved.

"We got together as a family, and I said, 'you know, they said there's no chance for him, his brain — he's gone,'" Viola recalled.

"They were going to take the ventilator off, they told us what was going to happen, how it was going to happen ...  they said, 'he wouldn't want this,' and obviously we wouldn't want that for him either, if there was no chance for him."

The doctors down there could not believe that he was still alive. - Viola Papequash

The family then agreed to send John Thomas to Vancouver, so his organs could be harvested.

Submitted by Viola Papequash

"That's what we wanted for him," Viola said.

John Thomas was kept on a ventilator and given antibiotics through the medevac flight, Viola says.

He arrived in Vancouver alive — and now, defying the odds, he's still alive and fighting to survive.   

"When they got down there, they did another scan and they said, 'his brain is not dead, he has activity.' You know, so they're gonna do whatever they can for him," Viola said.

"He's strong, his heart is strong, his lungs are strong. The doctors down there could not believe that he was still alive with the kind of injury that he had."

2 men charged

The details around Sunday's shooting are murky. It happened in the wee hours, outside the 202 Motor Inn, also known as the Elite Motor Hotel, in downtown Whitehorse.

The incident prompted a police manhunt on Sunday for two suspects considered "armed and dangerous." By Monday, two men were in custody and one was facing a charge of attempted murder in connection with the shooting. Both suspects also face firearms charges. 

On Monday, RCMP said they believed the two suspects and the victim knew each other, but police have offered no other details.

Viola Papequash/Facebook

Viola Papequash, still at home in Whitehorse, says her mind is on other things.

"Right in the moment, we're just thinking about my son, and not thinking about all this other stuff and who these individuals were," she said.

"The only thing I have in me right now is that I have to believe, in the Creator, and the ceremonies and the prayers that have been going on for [John Thomas].

"You know, the Creator is working through the doctors and the people down there."

A waiting game

Viola calls it a waiting game. She says John Thomas had an operation on his brain, which was damaged along with his fractured skull.

Earlier this week, Viola had someone hold a phone to John Thomas's ear so she could speak to him. She says he's shown signs of responsiveness in recent days — squeezing a hand, moving an arm or leg. 

Mike Rudyk/CBC

On Wednesday, Viola said her son had been "moving around lots" and was responding to commands. She said he doesn't need another operation. 

"My son is alive, he's breathing," she says.

"I'm not mourning him — he's still here."