Residents of north Ajax are calling a string of violent carjackings "very disturbing," and gathered at a community meeting Tuesday night to demand police do more to catch the perpetrators before they strike again.
Police, local politicians and residents gathered at Romeo Dallaire Public School to discuss the seven violent incidents, the first of which occurred on Oct. 12.
Raquel John-Matuzewiski has lived in Ajax since 2001, and has always "felt confident" walking the streets freely and letting her children play outside well into the night in the summertime.
"So to go from that confidence level and that sort of level of safety to this, it's very disturbing and very uncomfortable," John-Matuzewiski told CBC Toronto outside the community meeting. "And it's created a lot of anxiety."
She grew up in Toronto and "never felt like this." She has altered how she comes and goes from her home in the wake of the attacks.
"It's very scary that there's such a heightened sense of, 'Buckle down and run into your house,'" John-Matuzewiski said. "We never thought we would get to a place like that here in Ajax."
Many of the victims have been ambushed while sitting in their vehicles upon arriving at their home or as they are getting set to leave, Const. George Tudos told CBC Toronto before Tuesday's meeting.
The two suspects are armed, either with a handgun, a knife or a hammer, and demand cash and the keys to the vehicle. In three of the seven cases, the victims were driven to a nearby ATM machine and dumped on the side of the road after cash was withdrawn, Tudos said.
On Nov. 16, a 56-year-old male refused to give up his personal belongings, and was pistol-whipped and punched. He was taken to hospital with serious facial injuries, Tudos said.
Police believe the same two suspects are responsible for all seven incidents.
Investigators are looking for two black males, standing between 5'8" and 6' tall. In most of the incidents, the suspects were wearing dark clothing and had their faces covered.
The incidents have all occurred within an area bordered by Taunton Road in the north down to Kingston Road, and from Ravenscroft Road to Audley Road.
All of the cars were recovered, including after an incident on Nov. 13, when a 17-year old was approached by the suspects as she was getting out of her car at her home in the Westney and Rossland roads area around 9 p.m.
She was forced into the backseat at gunpoint and driven to a nearby bank, where the suspects allegedly used her bank card to withdraw cash. The teen was eventually let out of the car, which was recovered nearby.
"It is rather disturbing," Tudos said Tuesday. "And I know that there are a lot of community residents who are very concerned for their well-being."
'We're just sitting ducks'
Rob Tyler Morin is head of a local neighbourhood watch. He moved to Ajax in June of 1992.
"It's always been a safe neighbourhood," Tyler Morin told CBC Toronto. "You always felt safe in the town of Ajax … and it's the first time that we've ever felt uncomfortable and we're looking over our shoulders and it's not a good feeling."
He said residents feel preyed upon because victims have been attacked as they've been going about their daily business.
"It makes me feel like we're just sitting ducks," he said. "That's the thing that makes some feel most frustrated."
He, like other residents, would like to see an increased police presence in the area.
"It's not to say the correlation is tight: more police cars, less crime," he said. "But it's a deterrent."
Residents warned to 'be vigilant'
Aidan McClean said he isn't so much scared as "concerned." He's lived in Ajax since August of 2010.
He drops his son at daycare in the morning when it's light out. But his wife picks him up at night, when it's dark.
"Loading a kid into a car with a car seat, it's tricky, it's 45 to 50 seconds with your back to the world while you're buckling in the 17 buckles and straps that you have to do on these modern car seats these days," McClean said outside the meeting.
"And I've warned her to be careful."
While an increased police presence might deter the suspects, McClean said, it won't solve the problem. The suspects will only move on to another neighbourhood, he said.
"Solving the problem is catching the people."
Police did not offer too many specifics about their planned response, other than to say that the investigation is a high priority. Officers are appealing for residents to come forward with information, including security camera footage.
Police also want residents to "be vigilant" and call 911 if they see anything suspicious.
"If you are by yourself, especially in the dark hours, late at night getting home from work or you're getting out of your house to go out, make sure you look around, make sure you have your keys in your hands," Tudos said.