CRIME

HIGH SEAS, DEEP LOWS AND A SOUL ADRIFT

As a boy he sailed the world. Now he’s up for attempted murder.

NICHOLAS KÖHLER July 1 2006
CRIME

HIGH SEAS, DEEP LOWS AND A SOUL ADRIFT

As a boy he sailed the world. Now he’s up for attempted murder.

NICHOLAS KÖHLER July 1 2006

HIGH SEAS, DEEP LOWS AND A SOUL ADRIFT

CRIME

As a boy he sailed the world. Now he’s up for attempted murder.

NICHOLAS KÖHLER

Jonathan Stuemer was nine years old when, with his parents and two brothers, he set sail from Ottawa on the Northern Magic, a 12.8-m, Dutch-built yacht, for what would become a four-year, round-the-world voyage. Triggered by his mother Diane Stuemer’s brush with cancer, the trip spanned 65,000 km and 34 countries and amounted to a boyhood idyll: Jonathan grew into adolescence dodging pirates on the high seas, wrestling baby orangutans in Indonesia, and enduring the teasing laughter of Polynesian children in Tonga.

By the time the family came hill circle, gliding home on the Ottawa River one rainy day in August 2001, the Stuemers had become local celebrities. A crowd of 3,000 people lined the riverbank, drawn to the returning Northern Magic by Diane’s popular weekly column in the Ottawa Citizen detailing her family’s exploits. Eighteen months later—just months after she published a book-length account of the voyage—Diane’s death from cancer at the age of 43 generated an outpouring of grief almost without precedent in Ottawa. A year after that, her husband, Herbert Stuemer, put the Northern Magic up for sale. “We have a lot of memories on that boat,” he said then. “For that reason alone, I would sell her.” The move appeared at the time to be a mournful closing note to the Stuemer story. But early on the morning of June 17, Jonathan, now 18, is said to have attacked Herbert with a hatchet as he lay asleep in bed.

Ottawa police came across the young man later that morning as he wandered in Orléans, a staid development just east of the downtown core where he lives with his father and two brothers, Michael, 20, and Christopher, 14. Herbert, who runs a charity foundation named after the Northern Magic, refuses to comment on the alleged attack, which left him with minor injuries. Jonathan, meanwhile, was last week deemed fit to stand trial for attempted murder and possession of a weapon for dangerous purposes, and remains in jail awaiting a courtordered 30-day psychiatric assessment.

Little is known of the young man Jonathan has become since his family’s return to Canada; he last attended an Orléans-area high school and lists “math tutor” as his occupation on online profiles. In a Citizen article in late 2001, his mother Diane alluded to

HE’S CHARGED IN AN ATTACK ON HIS DAD, BUT HIS WEB POSTS ARE A PORTAL ON A TROUBLED LIFE

her middle son’s difficulty adjusting to life “ashore,” as she put it. “Jonathan had a shakier start on the school year, as he learned to navigate through the eddies and whirlpools of a social context even trickier than the reef-strewn waters off Sudan,” she wrote.

“After his first week in Grade 8, he was disillusioned and asked whether we couldn’t just get back on the boat and sail around the world another time.” Sensitive and bright, slight and bespectacled, Jonathan was the most attached of the Stuemers to memories of their voyage. “Jonathan’s big heart and generous soul are helping him make his way through,” wrote Diane.

But Jonathan’s return to Orléans, particularly after his mother’s death, saw him withdraw into Internet role-playing games, a world of computer-generated ores, elves and wizards where he adopted such guises as Alora Deathblow and Vror Emeraldfury. The young man who now stands accused of attempted murder also left behind a string of often disturbing Web postings detailing his depression (he describes himself in one as “kinda emotionless”), his thoughts about suicide, and his concerns about how a parent might be affected by a child’s decision to take his own life. “I do have some heavy mood swings and people call me more serious than most,” Jonathan, using the online pseudonym “Ubergoat,” wrote in one such posting last year. “I dont mind saying why,” he adds. “My mother died over 2 years ago and I still havent gotten over it yet I guess.” As the years wore on, the Web postings suggest that Jonathan retreated deep into himself and his online gaming. “For a long time a few years ago,” he wrote, “I was completely obsessed over [the online game] diablo 2,1 had 5 hours of sleep every day (weekends included) didnt study at all (same now), no homework, didnt eat anything except when forced too...nobody really noticed and that was my own family.” When, in 2003, the city of Ottawa named an Orléans park after Diane Stuemer, Jonathan chafed under the presence of relatives visiting for the ceremony. “They’re leaving monday or tuesday so tuesday night latest I’ll be back to my normal über active self,” he wrote in explanation for his online absence. “In other news, there’s a ffeakin park named after me!” Then Jonathan’s online remarks took a more troubling turn. “I might be opening up a can of worms + pandoras box all jumbled up into some box of worms or something like that,” he begins before asking: “What do you guys think of suicide?” He continues by outlining what might motivate such a course of action. “Lets say theres nothing in somebodies life, dead parents and no other family, a social outcast (easily happens if the person is still mourning about the loss) and crummy job ... I don’t really think I could blame the person for ending his/her life,” he writes, adding too that “mental illness” could “make you think that suicide is the best thing to do.”

In another post he is more explicit: “Some people like gambling and others dont. Me personally I’d put my money in a bank before going out and gambling it away, so committing suicide is more like putting your life in the bank rather than continuing gambling and possibly ending up deeper in the hole than before.” But, he adds—there’s a rub. “Committing suicide would be kind of like dishonoring the parents which isn’t the right thing to do either.” In a subsequent and even more troubling post, Jonathan appears to solve the dilemma. “If the person believed there would be a better place waiting for him/her... it would be cruel to keep him/her on earth to be honest. Might as well put him/her on the rack while you’re at it.”

It is not clear how Jonathan’s Web postings will affect his case. But they follow a spate of Internet musings that have collided with Canada’s criminal justice system. In February 2005, the judge presiding over the first-degree murder trial in Toronto of a teenage boy accused in the slaying of his brother, a 12-year-old known only as “Jonathan,” ordered a mistrial after the National Post reported on a series of Web postings by the Crown’s star witness. This spring, Edmonton police requested that a popular website remove a series of disturbing postings by a 12-year-old girl accused along with her 23-year-old boyfriend in a triple murder. And with such communications now firmly a part of youth culture, the issue likely won’t go away. “It becomes a problem that people actually don’t think about what they’re saying before they post,” says Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young. “When you used to sit with a pen and paper, people always considered, what would be the implication of me committing myself to writing?” For a lonely and troubled young man like Jonathan, such considerations may have been the last thing on his mind. M