Hamilton

'What if that was a real gun?' witness told Al-Hasnawi, thinking it was a BB gun wound

In emotional testimony, George Catsoudas recalls telling Yosif Al-Hasnawi he'd been hit by a BB gun bullet. In reality, it was from a .22 calibre gun.

Dale King has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder

Yosif Al-Hasnawi, 19, was shot and killed near his mosque after an altercation with two people. (Al-Mostafa Islamic Centre)

What if that was a real gun?

Those are the words George Catsoudas uttered to a group of frightened teenage boys on Sanford Avenue North the night Yosif Al-Hasnawi was shot and killed. It was Dec. 2, 2017, and Al-Hasnawi, 19, was lying on the sidewalk, eyes turned to the sky, fingertips bloody from where he'd touched a single bullet wound on his abdomen.

Catsoudas, a Hamilton resident, had gone to the variety store at Main and Sanford with his son. It was an unseasonably warm December night, and their windows were partway down. Catsoudas watched two young men race down the street. Then he heard the loud pop! that he — at the time — thought was a BB gun.

"It looks like a BB gun," Catsoudas recalled telling Al-Hasnawi. "You'll be fine."

He wasn't. Al-Hasnawi died around 10 p.m. that night with a single bullet hole from a .22 calibre in his torso. Dale King, 20, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. Catsoudas was a Crown witness Friday on day three of King's trial.

Al-Hasnawi, the jury has heard, had taken a break from a religious ceremony at a Main Street East mosque. Al-Hasnawi, his then-13-year-old brother Ahmed and two friends — twin teenage brothers Haider and Mustafa Ameer — saw an older man being what the Crown describes as harassed by Dale King and James Matheson. Al-Hasnawi yelled at them to stop, leading to the case being referred to as the "Good Samaritan" case. King and Matheson crossed the street and exchanged words with Al-Hasnawi.

One of them punched Al-Hasnawi in the head, and Al-Hasnawi, despite having seen the gun, chased the two toward Main and Sanford, the court has heard. The agreed statement of facts shows King fired a single bullet at Al-Hasnawi as he was running, and the bullet hit Al-Hasnawi in the abdomen.

In his testimony, Catsoudas recalled going into the convenience store, where Ahmed was frantically pleading for the clerk to call 911. Catsoudas said it sounded like a BB gun. "He's bleeding," Ahmed said.

Hearing that, Catsoudas walked to where Al-Hasnawi was on the sidewalk. He told him he'd be fine, then asked the young men why they were chasing someone.

They said the person was "harassing some old man," Catsoudas recalled. "I told them 'what if that was a real gun?'"

'The poor kid was actually dying'

When he learned the next morning that Al-Hasnawi had died, "that floored me," he said. "You think of your own kids."

"I felt guilt for telling him he's going to be OK and to stand up now. I felt bad about that."

Catsoudas's son, Constantin, told a similar story. He too thought it was a BB gun injury, he said.

Catsoudas said he talked to Al-Hasnawi's friends with "kind of had an aggressive voice, saying 'what the hell are you guys doing chasing someone? This is Hamilton. What if this was a real weapon?'"

The wound was "like a flesh wound, kind of a skin break," he said. Al-Hasnawi "wasn't saying anything," he said. "He looked like he was trying to breathe ... I just thought he was in shock."

"Little did I know the poor kid was actually dying."

'My brother got shot'

Steve Ryan, meanwhile, was walking to the store to get cough syrup for his wife. He recalled four men running past him and hearing the words "what are you running for now, bitch?" but said he couldn't tell who said them.

Ryan went into the store, picked out some cough medicine, and met Ahmed Al-Hasnawi at the counter. Ahmed was panicking, telling the clerk to call 911 because his brother had been shot. He was too upset to talk, Ryan said, so Ryan took over the call.

"My brother got shot. My brother got shot," Ahmed says in the background of the call. "Tell them. Tell them."

Hear the call below:

The call included no mention of a BB gun. Patrick Ryerson, a Crown witness who was part of the gathering crowd, said someone in the crowd mentioned it. Ryerson heard the bang too. 

'They made that young man stand up'

"That was no BB gun," he told an officer.

Ryan said it took paramedics "an astronomical amount of time" to take Al-Hasnawi to the hospital. "Regardless, in my eyes, if it was a gunshot wound or someone punched in the face, they should have been treated immediately. Even if it was a pellet gun, there was a wound."

"They didn't even offload the gurney. They made that young man stand up."

Ryerson also testified that he saw two young men wearing dark clothing skipping down Sanford Avenue after he heard the bang. They seemed "sort of joyous."

The three-week trial is in superior court at Hamilton's John Sopinka court house. It resumes Tuesday.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca