Friends of Evan Freeman, the 22-year-old who the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) have confirmed was the assailant in a brutal downtown Kingston stabbing incident, say he had sought help numerous times for a debilitating drug addiction that completely changed the person he had been.
40-year-old Christopher Barry, of Kingston, perished from his wounds in the Sept 12, 2019 attack and another man, 85-year-old Terry Stafford, suffered serious injuries, but is expected to recover. Freeman also died at the scene after being shot by police and suffering self-inflicted knife wounds.
Friend Noah Rockey said he had known Freeman since they were 14 and 15, respectively, when they both lived at a foster home just outside of Smiths Falls. “He was a very shy person, and it took years to get past his shell,” said Rockey, who explains that Freeman was a “custody boy,” a term Rockey uses for a child brought up as a ward of the crown.
Rockey said that Freeman spent most of his life in foster homes and in the care of the Children’s Aid Society after his father passed away at an early age and his birth mother was unfit to care for him.
The system left Freeman without the life skills he needed to take care of himself, Rockey said. “(CAS) gave him money, but they never taught him the lessons he needed,” he said. At age 21, Freeman “aged out” of the system and was never able to find his place in society, feeling more at comfort in jail than outside of it. “I’m pretty sure he was homeless (at the time of the incident),” said Rockey, “Jail was more like home to him.”
Indeed, Freeman had a history of violence and drug abuse, according to police records.
In 2016, while Freeman was living in Brockville, police were called to a Smiths Falls-area fast food restaurant after staff said Freeman was refusing to leave the premises. Although the restaurant was closed, the then-20-year-old was insisting on getting a hamburger. Police said that when they arrived, Freeman was still forcefully demanding his hamburger and refused to leave. He was arrested for being intoxicated in a public place, and police said that when they searched him, he was found to be in possession of two grams of cocaine.
Rockey confirmed that, in fact, Freeman had recently moved on to the use of harder drugs, including crystal meth, which had completely changed his personality. “When you do drugs, you’re a completely different person. I don’t think a lot of people really understand that,” said Rockey.
But a longtime friend, who asked to be anonymous, said that Freeman was desperately seeking help for his problems and never received it. “He knew struggle, but he always spoke of wanting to be and do better for himself… He reached out for help on numerous occasions, including before this tragedy, and he was denied the help he was so desperately in need of,” she said.
Freeman’s friends allege that, the same day of the fatal stabbing, Freeman had attended a methadone clinic near the location of the incident and, according to them, had been turned away. Citing privacy laws, the clinic was unable to confirm or deny whether that was the case.
“If he would have received the help he needed and reached out for then I have no doubt in my mind that Christopher and Evan would still be with us today,” the friend said.
Despite Freeman’s turbulent past, she says the brutal event was entirely out of character for him.
“He was an awkwardly shy, very respectable, compassionate, loyal and caring person who, in his right mind, never would have harmed anyone, let alone take a life,” she said. “For those who didn’t know Evan, he was the furthest thing from a monster! He was a kind and loving kid, a lost soul in need of help and, like many others in this city, his cries for help were ignored.”
Trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy, Rockey said he thinks several factors drove Freeman to that fateful day. “He was very depressed about the death of his father… and he was lonely,” said Rockey, explaining that the recent anniversary of Freeman’s father’s death had been weighing heavily on him. “And he really wanted to not be addicted any more.”
“He also wanted his family to know he was gone, but he needed to go in a very public way (for them to see it),” said Rockey, noting that Freeman had recently been estranged from most of his family.
Still, both friends expressed that the tragic incident points to failures of the system, and a series of unfortunate issues and consequences of having fallen through the cracks.
“I wish there was more I could do to make people understand that what happened was not Evan’s choice. He never would have willingly took a life,” said one.
“It takes tragedies such as this for people to pay attention when they should be helping people suffering from mental health [issues] and addictions every day in order to prevent things like this from happening in the first place.”