Death of Abshir Hassan, role model 'filled with passion' leaves community shocked

The community of Lawrence Heights is still reeling from the tragic death of Abshir Hassan, a teacher and role model whose “heart was full of passion” and who police say was likely the victim of a random act of violence in a triple shooting early Tuesday.
Abshir Hassan, a 31-year-old Toronto teacher, died in a shooting in the Lawrence Heights area on July 8, 2014. (Submitted by Dennis Boateng)

The community of Lawrence Heights is still reeling from the tragic death of Abshir Hassan, a teacher and role model whose “heart was full of passion” and who police say was likely the victim of a random act of violence in a triple shooting early Tuesday.

“The community is shocked,”  Abdi Mohamed, a Lawrence Heights resident and community activist said on CBC's Metro Morning Thursday.

“Abshir was a role model, he was a leader, he was a great guy and they loved him. He was always available. His heart was full of passion, of how to support youth and children in an at risk community, especially at Lawrence Heights — that’s one of the 13 priority neighbourhoods where we live in.”

Helping the neighbourhood he grew up in was a goal for the 31-year-old Hassan, who was a part-time teacher at two community schools while finishing his master’s degree at York University.

Nombuso Dlamini taught Hassan as he was finishing up his master’s degree at York University. 

“I call him my shining star, very curious intellectually,” she said. “He just did not listen to negativity.”

Giving back to the community

Mohamed said that Hassan’s family — originally from Somalia like his own — had lived in Lawrence Heights for years. After Hassan finished high school, which he excelled in, his family moved north of the city to the Richmond Hill area.

But Hassan came back to where he’d spent his youth, with an education degree and a plan and passion to reach out and mentor neighbourhood kids. 

“His passion was how can we support our children, our youth within this neighbourhood,” Mohamed said. “He particularly loved this place... he came back to Lawrence Heights because this is the place where he grew up and he wanted to work.”

Educator Ramone San Vincente went to Lawrence Heights Middle School — the school Hassan attended and then later taught at — to mourn the loss of the beloved teacher Wednesday night.

“People who may have been involved in this are the same types of people that Abshir has spent his life to reach out too,” San Vincente said.

But police are still searching for the suspect.

Random act

Around 12:15 a.m. Tuesday Hassan was shot outside an apartment building on Flemington Road when he was going to move his car in order to avoid a potential parking ticket.

A car pulled up alongside the building 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. All three victims were treated on scene and taken to a trauma centre where Hassan later died.

"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," Police Insp. Tim Crone said at a news conference Tuesday.

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 police want to hear from witnesses.

"This is a crime we all should be concerned about," said Ryan.

Since Hassan's death, the community has rallied to remember him, praise his volunteer efforts and lament that more people like him are needed.

“He represented all that’s good about people, all that’s good about this city,” said David deBelle, principal of Lawrence Heights Middle School and long-time friend of Hassan. 

On Thursday morning the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, which represents more than 76,000 teachers, expressed their condolences.

“On behalf of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, I would like to express condolences and deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Abshir Hassan who died Tuesday in a senseless shooting incident in Toronto,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond.

“By all accounts, Abshir was a talented and dedicated young teacher, well-loved by his students. His commitment to young people went beyond the classroom and included volunteer work in his local community where he often worked as an occasional teacher. He was striving to make a difference in the lives of the young people with whom he worked."