In June, 1999, doctors told Jonathan Wamback's parents to say goodbye to their son. Savagely beaten by a gang of teenagers, Jonathan's skull was shattered, and he almost died three times on the way to surgery. He spent his 16th summer in a coma, while his parents wondered if he would ever recover.
More than two years after that ordeal, Jonathan is back in action. His parents stood by him as he struggled to relearn how to walk and talk. And while his attackers have yet to be punished by the justice system, the 18-year-old says he's got a sense of peace after his suffering.
"Living is the greatest revenge," Jonathan says.
Such positive thinking helped him through the long and difficult rehabilitation process. The only negative note that comes through during an hour-long interview is his belief that bullying will never end.
"A person is smart, but people are stupid," Wamback says, quoting a line from the movie Men in Black. "People will never be able to live together."
Today, Wamback looks like a typical teenager, dressed in baggy clothes, a baseball cap and with headphones wrapped around his neck. His smile also betrays little about the day that changed his life and the struggles that followed.
It was June 29, 1999 - the beginning of summer holidays. Thoughts of golfing and his first job filled Wamback's head as he walked through a neighbourhood park.
Wamback doesn't believe it was fate but more like "determined reality" that he stopped at the public washroom in the park, where he was confronted by a group of menacing teenagers known in the neighbourhood as troublemakers.
One teenager in the group urged Wamback to run, but he didn't, and the others attacked him. Wamback managed to get away and tried hiding between two houses, but the gang found him and kicked him repeatedly in the head, finally leaving him bleeding on a lawn.
Wamback stumbled home, where he lapsed into a coma shortly after, his brain swelling from the blows of boys believed to be wearing steel-toe boots.
It was a story that made headlines across the nation and is now the focus of a CTV Signature Presentation Series called Tagged: The Jonathan Wamback story. It airs on CTV on March 11 at 8 p.m. ET.
"The film explores Jonathan's story, his father's attempts to have the Young Offender's Act reformed and the issue of youth violence which has become so disturbingly pervasive in today's society," says producer Mary Young-Leckie.
Wamback says he enjoyed the movie during the first screening, but now finds it too difficult to watch. He says it brings up too many emotions about the attack and his injuries.
It was more than two-and-a-half months after the beating that Wamback awoke from his coma. His mother says after that, he never stopped talking about learning to walk again. One year later, that's exactly what he did.
Wamback says his biggest motivation was to recover his life.
His parents, Lozanne and Joe, helped him remain focused and positive during his recovery. Part of that recovery was also learning to forgive his attackers.
"Positive-thinking has gotten me through what I've gone through. But you can't always think positive and you can't forgive the people that did this to you right away."
Wamback made two cameo appearances in the movie and gave the actor who plays him, Tyler Hynes, some tips on how he walks and how he gets in and out of cars. His parents also appeared in the film.
He hopes his story will help others think twice before they beat up or bully someone else.
"Maybe an offender will think, you know, 'Look what happened to that Jon Wamback kid. I don't think I should do this," Wamback says.
Wamback is focused on finishing high school and going to college. He wants to become a writer and has already started on a novel.
As for his attackers, charges against two of the teens were dropped from attempted murder to aggravated assault. For that charge, they were sentenced to one year of closed custody, one year of probation, 100 hours of community service and anger management courses. Both are appealing their sentence and to date, only one of the attackers has spent 48 hours in custody.
Wamback's father is trying to get the Young Offenders Act revamped to ensure greater victims rights, rehabilitation for convicted criminals, bail reform, and early intervention.
For now, Wamback is just looking ahead to his future.
"You focus on what's in front of you. And that's about it. That's all you can do."