My daughter was downtown last Saturday, and even though she is a young adult I reached for my phone when I heard about the Eaton Centre shooting. Turns out my daughter was in a cab passing by the shooting site as people began streaming out in shock and fear. She said police were speeding down Yonge street in numbers she has never seen before. She presciently remarked to the driver that perhaps there had been a shooting, not believing it herself for one moment.
In that instant it appeared that Toronto had lost its innocence. A lone gunman walking into Toronto's busiest shopping area and wantonly fired on the hundreds of people at the food court. Whether the shooter was settling a gang score, or there was some other reason makes little difference. One person was gunned down, a thirteen your old critically injured, many more shot and hundreds will have this tragedy seared into their memory.
Yet it's not the first time Toronto has been faced with such angst.
Back in 1977, Emanuel Jacques -- a 12 year old shoeshine boy working the then-seedy Yonge street strip to help his immigrant Portuguese family -- was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered. It was a crime that stunned not only the city of Toronto, but the entire country.
It turned out that three men were involved in this gruesome crime: Saul David Betesh, Robert Wayne Kribs and Joseph Woods. During the trial, evidence showed that Betesh and Kribs actually drowned Emanuel. Eventually both Betesh and Kribs were found guilty of first degree murder, Woods of second degree murder.
And who can forget only a few years ago the 2005 boxing day gangland shooting only blocks away from the Eaton Centre? It was here where Jane Creba, 15 years old, shopping with her Mom was gunned down in a crude and brutal shootout with similar undertones to the latest tragedy.
Toronto is not immune to violence and tragedy. Yet despite the latest violent outburst, our city remains a safe place. In fact, statistics are quite clear noting that violent crime continues to decrease over the years. This brings little comfort to the families of the victims and we can all sympathize with their pain. However, in doing so, we must never allow our fears and paranoia rule the day.
On Saturday, during the height of the violence while many quite understandably rushed for the doors, there were others who, despite the threat to themselves, stayed to help. One story tells of a man who approached one of the wounded and, refusing to leave her, used the strap from his camera as a tourniquet, winding it above a bullet wound to her knee to stop the bleeding.
And of course there were the police. Arriving in streams not knowing at the time what they were confronting, they carried out their sworn duty to defend and protect.
I am always reminded of a police officer friend who once told me that while others are scurrying away from danger, the police are moving headlong into it.
And certainly the last few days has seen a maelstrom of frenzied activity. Armchair quarterbacks are critical of the police for not releasing identifying information of the potential shooter; questions about whether Toronto is safe, worries about whether people will dare go back downtown again are all quite normal after such a stressful and violent incident.
In the end, the police did their usual fine investigative job and apprehended a suspect; political leaders from the premier to the mayor stood their ground insisting Toronto is one of the safest cities on the continent. Perhaps the strongest indication that Torontonians will carry on is that today people are once again shopping at the Eaton Centre, where only 48 hours earlier mayhem erupted. One man summed it up well "I'm going back to the Eaton Centre because people like this lunatic aren't going to have control over our lives".
Those of us who live in and around Toronto are very lucky. To be sure, over the years tragedy has struck in many different ways, yet in comparison to many other urban centres in North America, crime and violence rarely touch us. When it does, every one of us is affected. We feel there but for the grace of God, and yet we carry on because in our hearts to do any less allows senselessness to triumph.