Jaysen Arancon Reyes has already fought too many difficult battles in his young life. Now there’s one more.
The 28-year-old soft-spoken Filipino was grievously injured by a shotgun blast during a violent attempted robbery at a Red Deer gas station in 2013.
He had only been working as a temporary foreign worker in Canada a few months when in one terrible flash, he went from being breadwinner, sending money home to his mother and four brothers living in poverty in the Philippines, to being flown by STARS to intensive care at Calgary Foothills Hospital.
Reyes’s story is a compelling one — about being thankful for the many who have reached out to comfort and befriend him, his hopes of becoming a permanent resident in Canada, and second chances.
He has travailed through numerous surgeries with possibly more ahead, permanent injury including damage to one eye, the loss of a thumb on one hand and finger on the other, facial scars and arm deformities, and depression from the emotional aftershock.
As he continues to heal with the support of many caring individuals — not the least being his mother, Sercia — Reyes now lives with the uncertainly of whether the Canadian government will permit him to become a permanent resident in Canada, sooner rather than later.
There’s a future here for him — back home, giving his disabilities now, not so much so. He lived with his mother and brothers on the Philippine island of Bohol, where there is no hospital. Surgeons and psychologists, for his continuing care, are almost 900 km away.
He worked there as an air conditioning technician, making $5 a day. He and his family often lived on two meals a day. In Red Deer at the Fas Gas station in West Park, he was making about $11 an hour.
Reyes came here under a two-year Temporary Foreign Worker permit but because he has been unable to work since the shooting, he is on a visitor visa that expires Aug. 30.
Last June, with the legal help of Parkland Fuel Corp., he applied for permanent residency based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. While it was not his intention to stay in Canada, he came to realize after he was injured that staying here would be better for his future.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada began processing his claim in December. He has not heard anything yet. Parkland Fuel Corp., which created the extensive Fas Gas gas station network, has extended legal and other assistance to Reyes to help him with his application for permanent residency. It can take several years to get it, if he does.
When Reyes arrived in Red Deer in May 2013, his plan was to work and make money to send home. But four months later, on the night of Sept. 11, a man would enter the West Park Fas Gas station and change everything.
Reyes was working alone that quiet Wednesday night. A woman was in the store paying for gas.
“The guy, I cannot forget that,” said Reyes. The man first got a blue slush drink. As the man headed into the bathroom while the woman was paying, Reyes noticed he had gun.
Reyes said his first instinct was to run out of the store but he stayed calm. “Maybe the gun is not real,” he thought.
The woman realized something was not right so as soon as she exited the store she called 911.
The man came out of the washroom and pointed the sawed-off shotgun at Reyes in an attempt to rob the gas station. As Reyes raised his hands, the man fired the gun into his face. It was reported in court later that the wounded Reyes then still managed to take all the money out of the till and put it on the counter.
But the would-be robber, Jeffrey Lyle Geary, then 30, didn’t even take the money. He took the slush drink and left. Two days later he turned himself into police. In 2014 he was sentenced to nine years in prison.
The woman and Reyes have since become friends. She went to visit him and celebrate Thanksgiving with him the month after he was shot. Another customer who came along, a man, also came to Reyes’s help at the time. Reyes has never been able to connect with him again.
As Reyes started recovery in hospital, a community he had mostly never met began to reach out and help. A fund was set up and many people donated. Flowers and well wishes were sent. Parkland Fuel, lawyers and government officials worked together to get his mother the paperwork so she could be here within weeks, instead of a year. There’s a long list of helpers, and Reyes and his mother are truly thankful for all of them.
Sercia was frantic when she first got the bewildering news at home that her son was in hospital. Frantic, she finally reach him in the Intensive Care Unit.
“I heard his voice. He said ‘I’m OK,’” she recalls tearfully. But Reyes was not OK. Five days later he was crying when she called him again.
“He said ‘Mama I didn’t want to continue my life because every day the nurse said another surgery,’” said Sercia, who is 50.
What she said to him on the phone then, 10,000 kms away, was: “You’re still alive. … just continue your life. Don’t mind the fingers. Don’t mind the face. You are still breathing. … I give him hope because he did not want to continue.”
“I’m coming,” she told him.
Sercia would be the one who buttoned his shirts and tied his shoelaces for him until he could do it again himself. She must return home in July when her visitor visa expires. She has been staying with him in Cochrane where he is for now.
An emotional Reyes said his life has changed a lot because of the shooting. There’s been the dark side. “But I met a lot of friends, especially when I was in hospital.”
“Even if I have a bad experience I can still see that (Canada) is a good place for me.”
The road to recovery has involved a lot of rehabilitation. And he’s also worked hard to overcome fears. It still makes him nervous whenever he sees a blue slush drink. Sometimes when he’s alone, he sees the face of the shooter and feels the fear again.
Part of his recovery involved a step-by-step process of going to Fas Gas stations in Calgary with his therapist, ultimately coming back to Red Deer and going to the West Park gas station.
“I overcame it but I cannot help myself to still feel a trauma.” He’s met some of his old customers. “They hugged me. It’s very nice to see them.”
He has taken some computer training, and wants to work but as a visitor he can’t.
“I have a message to the guy that shot me,” Reyes, a bit shy but determined, said quietly.
“I just want to say to him that I forgive him because everyone possesses a second chance. I hope he will change, that he will become a good person.”
“He did it all to me but after a time, I figured out, even me, I have a second chance. … I give him a second chance if he wants to change. So I want to tell him that I forgive him for what he did.”
Reyes has become good friends with Peter Kilty, vice-president of retail operations for Parkland Fuel.
“He’s really just a wonderful example of young people who do come over here both for the opportunity but also with the intention of supporting and helping family back home,” said Kilty.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard Jaysen talk about anything other than others. I think he would be a fabulous addition to the Canadian community.”
“Our hope is that the government will act quickly on this. I think had this not happened, in all likelihood he would have worked his two years and become a permanent resident. It’s a system and it’s not anybody’s fault,” Kilty said.
The goal is to see Reyes get permanent residency before his visitor’s visa expires. If that hasn’t happened by August, and then his visitor visa isn’t extended, “That’s when we’re in trouble,” said Kilty.
“If they will let me stay here I can find a decent good job where I can still continue helping my mother financially in the Philippines. I can see a good future here,” Reyes said.
Here’s hoping. It would be the right thing to do.