Toronto police have identified the two victims of last night’s shooting at an outdoor community barbecue in Scarborough as 14-year-old Shyanne Charles of Toronto and 23-year-old Joshua Yasay of Ajax.
Det. Graham Gibson of the homicide squad said Tuesday afternoon the families have been notified, and he also updated to 23 from 21 the number of people wounded in the crossfire of what is believed to be a gang shooting. One woman was also trampled.
Yasay was a co-owner of the Goodfellas Barber Lounge in Ajax. In his last message on Twitter, he welcomed basketball player Landry Fields to the Toronto Raptors, saying Toronto was “like no other.”
Charles, who was with her mother at the barbecue only a few blocks from her home, was a straight A student and had just completed Grade 9 at West Hill Collegiate Institute. She was described by her friends as outgoing and loved by her teachers.
Monday night’s shooting on Danzig Street was the fourth brazen act of gun violence to occur in a public space in Toronto in recent weeks, following shootings at the Eaton Centre, a Little Italy café and after a massive Canada Day fireworks display at Ashbridges Bay.
Gibson said that a complete canvass of the area is underway. Witnesses are being interviewed and surveillance video of the area is being gathered to piece together the events leading up to the shooting where upwards of 100 people had gathered for the barbecue.
He believes that there are people in the crowd who know the two men who shot at each other and then into the crowd and urged witnesses to upload pictures and videos to the squad’s website.
Earlier Tuesday, police chief Bill Blair, who called the violence “unprecedented,” expressed concern over the possibility of retaliatory violence.
“We will be providing significant additional uniformed resources into the community affected and into any other area where we believe retaliatory violence may take place,” he said.
The areas include parts of Scarborough, Rexdale and the Jane-and-Finch neighbourhood.
At least two people armed with handguns exchanged gunfire at the community event on Danzig, near Morningside and Lawrence avenues, just after 10:30 p.m. Monday. One firearm was found at the scene.
A person of interest, who was wounded, has been taken into custody in connection with the shooting. But no charges have been laid. Members of the homicide squad and the guns and gangs unit are “fully engaged in a relentless pursuit of the evidence required to apprehend and prosecute” those responsible for the shocking crime, Blair said.
He added there was a “strong indication there may have been gang involvement.”
The two victims were pronounced dead at the scene.
Twenty three others, including a 22-month-old child, were hurt by the gunfire. One person remains in critical condition, Blair said. All of the other victims, including the youngster, are expected to recover and some have since been released from hospital.
Just a few hours after the shooting, a visibly shaken Blair said that in his 35 years as an officer, he’s never seen a more disturbing shooting, involving so many innocent people.
“It is the most serious crime of its kind that has ever taken place in the City of Toronto,” he said.
“This is not only unprecedented in Toronto…this is the worst incident of gun violence in my memory,” he added.
Eighteen people this year were shot to death. That compared with 20 shot to death in the same period in 2005, the so-called Summer of the Gun.
Blair said investigators have received “some co-operation from witnesses at the scene” and he made an appeal to the people at the event to come forward and to submit images or videos taken throughout the day and night at the barbecue.
Meanwhile, Mayor Rob Ford insists that Toronto is still the safest city in the world and that this shooting and the June 2 shooting at the Eaton Centre are “a couple of unfortunate, isolated incidents.”
“This is the safest city in the world. … and the numbers show that,” the mayor said. “Everyone has to move on and carry on with their life.”
Ford toured the crime scene on Danzig on Tuesday morning.
Shannon Longshaw helped organize the Danzig party, which started as an afternoon barbecue for local kids. The crowd grew larger as the day wore on, she said.
“Nobody fought. There was no fighting. Nobody got into an altercation — none of that,” she said Tuesday morning, after spending much of the night being questioned by officers.
Local resident Leighton Robinson, whose relative was among those hurt in the shooting, said he was shocked that the shooting occurred so close to a police station.
“43 Division is just up the road. If something can happen three blocks away of this nature, what does that say?” he said.
Witnesses said parties of this size were unusual for the neighbourhood.
“There were a couple hundred people at the party…that rarely happens on this street,” said area resident Maria.
Maria has lived in the area for 10 years and did not want to give her last name to CityNews.
“I saw people running, I heard ‘crack, crack’ and I hit the ground,” said one man, who didn’t want to be identified out of concern for his safety.
“It was like a Quentin Tarantino movie,” he said, calling it the most frightening thing he had ever seen in more than four decades in the neighbourhood.
Victims were taken to Rouge Valley Centenary, Scarborough General, Sunnybrook and St. Michael’s hospitals. Paramedics from other parts of the GTA came in to assist Toronto EMS.
“I don’t feel like it’s people from our area. I feel like it’s people who came into the area…it’s an isolated incident,” said Maria, adding she felt the neighbourhood is still safe.
Eugene E. Jones Jr., the new CEO of Toronto Community Housing Corp., was at the scene on Tuesday morning and said a shooting of this magnitude is “a new one” for him.
The Detroit native has only been in the city for a month. He said he’s working on putting together a “strategy” for the community.
“I’m going to pull in extra constables here tonight. I’m going to go get grieving counsellors for our residents. I’m going to be out here tonight talking to my residents and trying to calm our neighbourhood.”
Blair wouldn’t comment on the greater context of Monday’s shooting, or the rise of brazen acts of violence in public places.
“There’ll be time to reflect on trends,” he said, adding his focus right now is on finding suspects.
The chief did address the federal government’s decision to scrap the gun registry.
“I certainly advocated very strongly for the retention of the gun registry and the retention of the information that was available to police officers. I believe it was valuable for public safety,” he said.
It is important, however, to “respect the will of Parliament,” he said.
Toronto councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said this fatal shooting highlights council’s need to rethink its anti-violence strategy.
“When a shooting like this takes place in Scarborough it actually really scars Toronto,” she said. “We’re going to have to ramp up our strategy at city hall in terms of our call for stricter gun control.”
City council has been debating the merits of banning bullets. The idea, first floated by Coun. Adam Vaughan in the wake of the Eaton Centre and Little Italy shootings in June, is set to go before the executive committee for consideration.
Hundreds of people ran for their lives when shots rang out inside the Eaton Centre food court on June 2. Ahmed Hassan, 24, and Nixon Nirmalendran, 22, were killed and five others were wounded. Christopher Husbands is charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
Last month, 35-year-old John Raposo was shot and killed on the patio of the Sicilian Sidewalk Café in Little Italy which was packed with soccer fans watching the Euro 2012 match between Italy and Ireland.
Dean Wiwchar, 26, is charged with first-degree murder in the case.
So far this year, there have been 142 shootings in Toronto —18 of those fatal —up 34 per cent over the same period last year.
In 2011, the number of shootings actually dropped 14.4 per cent to 225. Twenty-eight of those were fatal.
Police are asking anyone who witnessed or has information on Monday night’s shooting to call them at 416-808-4300 or Crime Stoppers at (416) 222-TIPS.
With files from Erin Criger and The Canadian Press