Slain Toronto teacher Abshir Hassan represented "all that's good" about Toronto, according to the principal of the school where the 31-year-old taught.
Hassan was shot in Lawrence Heights — the neighbourhood where he grew up in and taught — at around 12:15 a.m. Tuesday. A car pulled up alongside an apartment building on Flemington Road near Lawrence Avenue West and Allen Road and fired more than a dozen shots, according to police.
A 22-year-old man and 18-year-old woman were also shot multiple times at close range.
Paramedics treated all three as they were lying at the front steps of the four-storey apartment building while distraught neighbours looked on.
They were taken to a trauma centre, where Hassan later died.
David deBelle, principal of Lawrence Heights Middle School, spoke to CBC Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway on Wednesday about his friend.
DeBelle met Hassan a few years ago through the program Model Schools for Inner Cities. The program ran for a few hours each day after school in the “priority” neighbourhood.
As a recent graduate from the faculty of education, Hassan was hired as a staff member and program co-ordinator.
“He made a huge impact on the students during those two years,” deBelle said.
Hassan was later hired as an occasional teacher and supply teacher at various Toronto public schools, including at Lawrence Heights Middle School.
"He could connect," deBelle said, fighting back tears. “He was intelligent, sensitive. He had the people skills, he had knowledge, and he got my students, my school community… He was a good friend.”
'We all should be concerned'
Toronto police Insp. Tim Crone condemned the act of violence in a community that has has been working hard to improve safety and security.
"This is a very brazen, cowardly act to a community that has made great strides in the last few years to bring a sense of calm and safety to the area," Crone said at a news conference Tuesday.
Police said several scenarios could have taken place, but according to Det. Sgt. Steve Ryan, "for certain it was not a targeted attack" on Hassan.
He said there are "plenty of cameras" in the Lawrence Heights area, but said police want to hear from witnesses.
"This is a crime we all should be concerned about," said Det. Sgt. Ryan.
Teacher raised, worked in Lawrence Heights
Hassan was from the marginalized community, which helped him to understand and empathize with his students, according to deBelle.
“I think Abshir was successful in any community that he worked in, but I think at times it helped that he’s walked in the shoes of these students,” he said. “It is a marginalized community. He didn’t talk about his own experiences that much or the challenges he faced, but he could appreciate whether a student was having difficulty.”
As police search for answers, the students and staff continue to remember their mentor and friend.
The school opened up Tuesday as teachers – many coming back into the city from vacation – and students came together to mourn their loss.
“I know a lot of my kids who came into the school yesterday were very upset and we are going to open up the school today, and I think it’s really healing to come together and have a chance to talk,” deBelle said.
“He represented all that’s good about people, all that’s good about this city,” he said.