Mr. Alsaadi, who hadn’t had contact with either of the men in years, said he really doesn’t think the two were planning anything at the time. He feels, though, that the experience emboldened them. “The fact that they were being questioned kind of gave them that self-importance,” he said. “It kind of made them be even more rebellious.”
Residents in the men’s hometown were aghast at this week’s revelation that two of their own were implicated in the North Africa attack and that Mr. Yoon had been detained. The news is a conversation starter among strangers holding newspapers on street corners; it is on the lips of neighbours, friends and relatives trying to reconcile the portrait of the families they knew years ago with the narrative emerging now about the three men.
For Mr. Alsaadi and another childhood friend, the bearded, Muslim-garbed Mr. Katsiroubas, who ultimately went by the name of “Mustafa,” was wholly unrecognizable next to the memory of a Greek boy named Xris. The young Xris played volleyball, basketball and road hockey. He went to the movies and visited a Greek bakery with his father, Stan, and he was a “Conflict Cooler” who helped settle playground spats at St. George Etienne Cartier elementary school.
The school, in a well-to-do neighbourhood, is a walk away from the house he called home after his parents divorced. His mother moved into the Chiddington Avenue home, already owned by her new husband Ian Hawn, merging the two families. “It was a Brady Bunch situation,” said the childhood friend’s father, who hosted Mr. Katsiroubas for playdates.
Mr. Alsaadi remembers feeling as though Mr. Katsiroubas’ mother and Mr. Hawn, his engineer stepfather, played favourites. With the two families under one roof, Xris was one of three boys, alongside his biological brother Andrew and a stepbrother, Eric. Mr. Katsiroubas often descended into the basement alone to play video games.
Mr. Katsiroubas and Mr. Yoon went to elementary school together, but since Mr. Medlej attended a different school, he didn’t come into the fold until high school at London South Collegiate Institute – until Grade 10 or so, when he and Mr. Katsiroubas “clicked,” as one former schoolmate put it.
Mr. Medlej was a year older and not like the other two. While Mr. Yoon and Mr. Katsiroubas were described in their early high-school years as inconspicuous, Mr. Medlej was remembered for an oftentimes “jolly” nature, a sometimes hot temper and his impressive smarts.
“In my memory, he’s got a smile and kind of happy-go-lucky [personality] for the most part,” said former classmate Michael Melito, who played football with Mr. Medlej. He added, though: “[He was] quick to anger, but not an angry person … Maybe someone who had a shorter fuse.”
One friend remembers Mr. Medlej telling him he took a baseball bat to a “group of white kids” who were yelling at him from their porch. Another former schoolmate said he got into a brawl with Mr. Medlej outside a London bar in 2008 – there had long been bad blood between the two, the schoolmate said, since he was convinced Mr. Medlej stole his backpack in high school.
But the friend said Mr. Medlej was also incredibly bright. “He and I would sit together [in class], and goof off or whatever, but I would get mediocre marks, whereas he would goof off and still get like 90s,” he said of studying together at the collegiate, which is in one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods.
Although this friend saw Mr. Medlej as a leader who didn’t travel with a pack, he believed Mr. Medlej wanted to “fit in” with the Lebanese cohort at a school somewhat divided between the “white” students and an immigrant population captured by the school after it widened its net to the south.
It is there, in the south London neighbourhood of White Oaks, that Mr. Yoon’s Catholic parents live. Unlike the Katsiroubas house, with its healthy lawn and backyard pool, the Yoon apartment is on the dimly lit third-floor of a three-storey walk-up condominium complex across from a mall.