Our fallen hero

He'd protect his brother until the very end....

Published by: Mark Christy & Polly Taylor
Published on: 3rd March 2011

The beer was cold and crisp, topped with a perfect head of foam. Grinning, my son Darren, 34, placed the frosty glass on the bar in front of his younger brother Junior, 25.
‘That’s how you pour the perfect pint!’ he said. ‘Now you try.’
Junior copied Darren’s movements, hanging on his every instruction…
Ever since Junior was a little boy, his big brother had been his hero. He’d taken him to footie training with him, showed him how to do keepy-uppy with the ball.
And years later, when Darren had won a place at Brunel University to study business management, Junior had vowed to further his education, too.
With Darren’s help, Junior
had achieved the grades he needed to study criminology at Roehampton University.
Over the years, Darren had taught Junior everything, from how to kick a football, to chat up girls.
Now here he was teaching him how to pull the perfect pint in the Newton Arms – the pub my hubby Winty, 59, and me had run for the past nine years.
And a good job, too – in a few hours, the place would be packed with family, friends and regulars for our annual New Year’s Eve party.
‘We’re going to need all hands on deck tonight,’ I smiled at Junior. ‘So I’m glad you’re a quick learner.’
The place was decorated with streamers, plates of party food lined the bar, and the fridges were chock-full of bubbly.
Soon, our guests started arriving.
‘Well done, Mum,’ Darren said, as he and Junior served customers. ‘Another great party.’
‘Yeah, you’ll have to help us plan the wedding reception,’ smiled Darren’s fiancé Abigail, 27. They’d been together six years, and had just started planning their wedding.
‘Love to!’ I beamed.
By midnight, the pub was packed, the atmosphere buzzing.
‘Happy New Year,’ Winty winked, giving me a kiss.
A few hours later, though, it seemed the mood had soured.
A scuffle broke out between two men on the dance floor. Junior rushed between them, holding his arms out to keep them apart.
‘We don’t want any trouble,’ he said, pulling the drunker of the two towards the door. ‘I think it’s time you left.’
With that, he bundled the man out and closed the door behind him.
‘Everything all right?’ Darren asked, coming out from behind the bar.
‘Fine,’ Junior nodded, patting Darren on the back. ‘He’d just had a few too many.’
The tussle had put a bit of a dampener on things though, and the pub started to empty.
Soon, just a few family members and close friends were left.
‘Time to call it a night,’ Winty said, turning up the lights and switching off the music.
‘You’re right,’ I sighed, helping Darren and Junior collect some empty glasses…
Crash! The pub door burst open.
The man Junior had chucked
out was back. Standing in the doorway, eyes menacing, he lifted his shirt, pulling something from his waistband. A gun!
‘What are you doing?’ I shrieked, as Junior ran to the door.
In a flash, Darren was in front of his brother, trying to grapple the weapon from the man’s hands.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
The sound of gunshots filled the air, blood arced across the room.
‘No!’ I screamed. Darren fell to the ground. Then the man lifted the gun, aiming it at Junior’s face…
More shots pierced the air. Junior was hit at point-blank range, falling to the floor by his brother.
People were screaming, running for cover. I tried to rush towards my boys. Someone grabbed my arm, tried pulling me back.
Helplessly, I watched as the man raised the gun for a third time, aiming at Winty.
Click… he pulled the trigger, but nothing happened and he ran from the pub.
In seconds, Winty and me were on our knees beside our sons.
‘Someone call an ambulance!’ I screamed. Please don’t let my boys die…
Moments later, police officers burst in and paramedics surrounded us, giving my two boys oxygen, trying desperately to stop the bleeding.
This couldn’t be happening. It was like I was in the middle of a terrifying nightmare.
‘I’m sorry,’ a paramedic said, turning to us. ‘There’s nothing more we can do for Darren.’
My world imploded. I felt my chest tighten, my fingernails dug into my palms as I collapsed into Winty’s arms. Abigail’s devastated screams shattered the air.
I couldn’t take it in. Just half an hour earlier, I’d been standing next to my son. Now he was laying dead on the floor, his brother beside him.
‘W-what about Junior?’ I managed to say.
‘We’re doing everything we can,’ the paramedic said gravely.
Junior was rushed to St George’s Hospital in Tooting, but we weren’t allowed to see him until the following day.
In the meantime, police took statements.
A regular told officers the man who’d shot my sons was Saturday Lobsang Hassan, 33.
His uncle, another regular, had brought him to the party.
When I closed my eyes, all I could see was Darren laying on the floor, blood seeping from his chest. I wanted with all my heart to be able to grieve, break down and crawl within myself but, somehow, I had to stay strong for Junior.
The next morning we were told Hassan had been arrested and charged, but we had more important things to worry about.
Finally, Winty and me were allowed to see Junior.
‘He’s in a critical condition,’ the doctor warned, leading us to his room. ‘His appearance may shock you…’
My beautiful son looked like a monster.
His head had swollen to the size of a water melon, his eyes and lips bulging. On his skull and neck were angry marks where the bullets had ripped through the skin.
‘We can’t remove the bullets,’ the doctor explained. ‘It would cause too much damage. They’re lodged in his skull, just inches from his brain.’
The things that had left him in this state were still inside him? And removing them could kill him? It didn’t make sense…
Taking Junior’s hand, I swallowed back tears. ‘I’m here, son,’ I whispered.
For the next few days, his life hung in the balance. Me, Winty, my other son James, 14, and my mum Louise took turns sitting by his bedside.
I was in emotional turmoil.
I was grieving for Darren, while desperately willing Junior to wake up. All the while knowing that when he did, I’d have to break the news to him that his big brother, his hero, hadn’t made it.
As I sat there willing my boy to wake, I couldn’t help wondering what Darren would have done.
How would he try to rouse his little brother? ‘Read him the footie scores, or play some reggae music,’ he’d have suggested.
As memories of the pair of them bobbing their heads to Bob Marley flooded back to me, I felt like I’d been punched as I remembered how Darren used to grab hold of me and twirl me around…
The memories were too painful. I couldn’t play that music to my son, and remember him with his big bro. So, instead, I begged.
‘Please, Junior… I can’t survive without you… I’ll do anything to see you smiling again…’
It took two weeks but… he opened his eyes!
‘Son!’ I cried, leaping up.
He couldn’t respond, but there was a warmth in his brown eyes that told me there was life there,
he was with us.
‘Junior’s going to make it,’ the doctor told me. ‘But it’s going to be a long road to recovery.’
My heart soared. I didn’t care how long, as long as my boy was going to be all right.
Over the next few days, he showed ever increasing signs of life. He started blinking whenever we came into the room, to let us know he could see us. He even moved one of his hands.
But my happiness was tainted. We’d begun planning Darren’s funeral, doing our best to keep it away from the hospital. And to think, I’d been looking forward to planning his wedding weeks ago…
Only, one day it became clear Junior knew something was going on. At the mention of Darren’s name, he began blinking furiously.
Oh God! He wanted to know where his brother was.
It must’ve been strange – after all, he’d not seen Darren once since being in hospital.
But we’d had good reason to keep his death secret.
His doctor had given us stark warning. ‘You can’t tell Junior, the shock could kill him.’
So how could we tell him now? He’d spent the last three weeks fighting for his life, he couldn’t move, couldn’t speak – surely he was too weak for the news?
When I looked into his pleading eyes though, I knew we couldn’t put it off any longer.
‘I’ll tell him,’ Winty said solemnly, ushering me into the corridor.
I bit down on my knuckles to stifle my sobs. Then an agonised cry echoed from the room. My heart broke all over again, along with my son’s.
The next day, the consultant ushered Winty and me into a private room to deliver more devastating news.
‘Junior’s going to be in the hospital for at least another nine months,’ he told us. ‘He’s going to need intensive rehabilitation to learn to talk, eat and walk again.’
Nine months?! We’d known it would be a while, but…
‘His brother’s funeral is next week,’ I explained.
‘There’s no way Junior will be well enough to attend,’ he said. ‘I’m so sorry.’
This couldn’t be happening. ‘Just for an hour?’ I pleaded. ‘Darren was his hero.’
‘I’m sorry,’ the doctor repeated, shaking his head.
All his life, Junior had looked up to Darren. He’d taken his advice, followed in his footsteps, admired him in every way. Now he’d never get to say a final farewell to his big brother.
A day later, I was at home when the phone rang. ‘Hello, Mum,’ a voice croaked.
‘J-Junior?’ I cried.
‘My brother was a hero,’ he choked. ‘He died protecting his family, and I’ll move heaven and earth to be at his funeral.’
And he did. A week later Junior had made such progress, doctors agreed that he was well enough
to attend.
‘I’m so proud of you,’ I said, wheeling him into the church where hundreds of people had gathered to say goodbye to Darren.
With the help of Winty, he even got up from his wheelchair and made his way to the front of the church.
Deafening applause rang out.
‘Darren was a hero, a wonderful man,’ he said, his voice thick with emotion. ‘He sacrificed his life to save mine and others.’
I felt overwhelmed with pride and sadness.
Eventually, Saturday Lobsang Hassan appeared at the Old Bailey and pleaded not guilty to Darren’s murder and Junior’s  attempted murder. He even had the nerve to claim the gun had been Junior’s and he’d grabbed it in self-defence.
But no one believed him. They could see the truth in Junior’s eyes, as he limped into court using a walking stick, and described his brother’s heroics.
Saturday was found guilty and sentenced to 37 years in prison.
Now our lives are in ruins. We couldn’t bear to return to the pub, so we lost our business, and Junior is too poorly to work.
Saturday has taken everything from us – our livelihoods, our health, our optimism, our futures and, most of all, our Darren. For that we can never forgive him.
Lurline Deslandes, 56, Croydon, South London