Christopher Michael Lawrence was born on July 21, 1998, in Red Deer, Alta., to Nicole Blauel and Michael Lawrence. Nicole was a stay-at-home mom and Michael worked in construction. His parents divorced when he was five and he moved to Blackfalds, Alta., with his mother and older brother, Trevor, after she remarried.
Christopher was a fun-loving child with a rambunctious side. Nicole knew he would be a handful, even when he was a toddler. “He did things his own way, the way he wanted to do them,” she says. When he was two, he taught himself how to get dressed and wouldn’t let anyone help him. For one month straight, he wore rubber boots and green swimming goggles with every outfit.
“After he first learned to walk, he only did it for about a week and then he started running,” Nicole recalls. It was hard for her to keep up with him and he was always bumping into things. At 18 months, he broke his thumb after pulling a post right over and it landed on his hand. “The doctors put him in a cast and, the next morning, he got right back up and was outside playing again,” says Nicole.
That certainly wasn’t the last of his injuries. When Christopher was 11, he was playing on the monkey bars, showing off to the other kids on the playground. He missed one of the bars, landed on his arm and broke it.
One of his favourite places to spend his time was the skate park near his house. He loved to skateboard and ride BMX bikes with his friends. “When he got up in the morning, he was at the skate park,” Nicole says. “He would come home, eat, and then he’d be gone again.” Every summer, he had road rash, all the way from his shoulders to his legs, from wiping out at the park. He was constantly landing face-first on the pavement after trying new tricks; he had to get stitches five times on the same spot on his chin. He would also get into trouble at the skate park with his friends, doing things he shouldn’t. Nicole says that when Christopher was out and she heard the phone ring, she was always expecting bad news about him on the other end.
When his mom and stepdad, Dave Sutherland, were first married, he was angry and couldn’t understand why his parents weren’t together. He didn’t want anything to do with his stepdad. “They started butting heads when Christopher was 12 years old,” says Nicole. So, after Christopher turned 13, he went to live with his father and grandfather back in Red Deer. He didn’t get along so well there, either. Shortly after the move, his dad was sent to jail, and it was just Christopher and his grandfather. He rebelled when his grandfather tried to impose a curfew and make him go to school. “Overall, he wanted to do his own thing; he didn’t want anybody telling him what to do,” says his grandmother, Doreen Mardian.
At 15, Christopher started couch surfing between friends’ houses while he went to high school in Innisfail, Alta. On the bus to school one morning, he met Kristina Kinder, who was two years older. Kristina remembers Christopher was very shy at first. After hanging out at a mutual friend’s house one night, they started talking and shared their first kiss. “He was everything I didn’t want in a guy,” she says. “He didn’t have a job, he didn’t have a place to live, but I gave him a chance and it was the best risk I’ve ever taken.” They started dating, and Christopher just wanted to make her happy, she says. He wanted to earn enough money to get them a place of their own, away from their families.
This summer, he got a job at a gravel-processing company based in Calgary. He shovelled gravel from under the conveyer belt and cleaned out the machines. Sometimes he would have to stay overnight in Calgary, which he didn’t like. But it was his first job and he was proud that he was hired without any experience. “He told me he got a job and asked me if it was okay,” Nicole says. “I said yes. I knew that’s what he wanted to do and I told him to be safe.”
After a month of work, Chris rented an apartment for himself and Kristina. They were excited to start their new life together. He spent one night there before travelling back to Calgary for work. On July 19, Christopher was at work when he became entangled in the rock crusher’s conveyor belt. He was pronounced dead at the scene, two days before his 16th birthday.