The mom of a man who was shot to death in Abbotsford in 2017 says she is disgusted with the justice system after the three men responsible recently pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
Alex Blanarou, 24, of Surrey was killed Dec. 28, 2017 in the 5300 block of Bates Road, and investigators found his body in a blueberry field.
Edrick Raju and Islam Nagem were initially charged with first-degree murder, while Michael Schweiger was charged with second-degree murder.
But Raju and Nagem each recently pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a firearm, and Raju also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. Schweiger pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact to manslaughter.
Their sentencing hearings are scheduled for January and February.
Blanarou’s mom, Marina Sokolovskaia of South Surrey, said the plea agreements are unacceptable.
“My son was brutally murdered in cold blood. I was preparing his body to put him in a casket, and there were seven bullet holes in his body … That is not manslaughter,” she said.
“They will allow those killers out on the street, and they will be walking among us again, and they will continue targeting and recruiting our children (into gang activity).”
Sokolovskaia and her husband moved to Canada from Russia in 1992. She said they started with nothing, and couldn’t yet speak English.
They settled in Surrey, and raised two children – Alex and his older sister. Sokolovskaia worked as a registered nurse and in a hotel restaurant. Her husband operated a business.
She said Alex – whose family called him Sasha – was “very funny,” “always smiling” and loved life.
“He was so giving. He was so generous. Me and him, we had such a bond,” she said.
The two often took mom-and-son trips together, visiting places such as Amsterdam, France and Mexico.
Sokolovskaia said Alex had many friends who often came over to their home – so many that she would sometimes trip over all their shoes at the front door when she arrived home from work.
She bought a Jeep so that she could drive them to the gym for martial-arts training and boxing practice.
Alex loved to read and was “very interesting to have a conversation with” on topics such as art and music, Sokolovskaia said.
But things started to change when Alex was about 16. His parents didn’t know it at the time, but the gym he frequented was owned by a criminal organization, and Alex was being recruited.
Sokolovskaia said different people began coming to their home, and Alex started smoking pot.
He began getting into arguments with his parents, and they noticed that he was accumulating expensive items such as jewelry and brand-name clothes.
Sokolovskaia would ask him what was going on, but she would get no clear answers. Alex moved into his own apartment at one point but later returned home.
Sokolovskaia said Alex was “trying to get his life together.” He took a few courses aimed at perhaps going into a career as a paramedic.
On his last Christmas – three days before his death – Alex had a talk with his mom.
“He was down and – I will never forget this – he was telling me that, ‘Mom, I feel tired.’ I knew what he was tired of. I was trying to tell him, ‘You need to get out,’ and he said, ‘You don’t understand … They’re going to kill me,’ ” Sokolovskaia said.
Police warned the family that Alex was being targeted, but Sokolovskaia said they “did nothing” to help nor did they advise the family on how to protect him.
They didn’t even know exactly who they should fear. One of Alex’s killers – Islam Nagem – joined the family for that last Christmas dinner with Alex.
The family doesn’t know the specific role that Alex played in the criminal organization and exactly why he was targeted, although those details are expected to come out during the sentencing hearings (Jan. 24 for Schweiger, Feb. 9 for Raju and Feb. 22 for Nagem).
They remember Alex every Dec. 28 with a memorial, when friends and family gather at his gravesite and then come to their home. Sokolovskaia also has a “life candle” burning in her son’s memory every day.
And this Christmas was the first time she decorated their home since Alex’s death. Sokolovskaia now has two grandsons (her daughter’s children) – ages two and 17 months – for whom she wants to make the season special.
The two boys are a reminder of all the good things that their uncle was, and they each honour his memory: Both have “Alexander” as their middle name.