Hamilton

'It was like a bloodbath': Woman describes vicious stabbing at 541 Eatery and Exchange

Gael Koob was just sitting down to lunch at 541 Eatery and Exchange when a man ran into the restaurant, pulled out a knife and began stabbing the man sitting across from her in the head.

Warning: This story includes details some may find disturbing

Gael Koob fights tears as she recounts a stabbing attack on a man sitting directly across from her at Cafe 541 Eatery and Exchange Tuesday morning. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Gael Koob was just sitting down to a meal at 541 Eatery and Exchange when a man ran into the restaurant, pulled out a knife and started repeatedly stabbing the man sitting across from her in the head.

Koob, 64, said the cafe on Barton Street East was busy when she showed up around 10 a.m. Tuesday, but she found an open seat across from a man with shaggy red hair.

As she sat down, Koob said she noticed the man seemed scared.

"It was like somebody waiting at the principal's office. He had his hands between his legs and he was like this," she said, scrunching up her eyes and curling herself into a fetal position in her chair. 

There was all sorts of blood going all over.- Gael Koob , stabbing witness

Then, without warning, Koob said another man ran through the front door and began yelling and swearing at the man.

"It was very strange because there was no passion in it. It was almost like rehearsed lines," she explained. "He was  wearing a hoodie and he slid the sleeve of the hoodie up and he was holding a knife in his hand."

While the man in front of her tried in vain to cover up, the other man grabbed him and began plunging the small, sharp blade into his head.

"There was all sorts of blood going all over," said Koob, tears welling up in her eyes. "It was like a bloodbath."

Attacker waited for police

She froze. It wasn't until the table she was sitting at was knocked over by the struggle that she snapped out of her daze.

By then the attacker had left the restaurant, crossed a side street next to the building then sat down and crossed his legs.

"He took his knife and laid it down," Koob said, "then he took off his hoodie and laid it down, then he took off his T-shirt and did the same thing." 

Gael Koob was sitting at a Hamilton cafe when a man ran in and started stabbing the man sitting across from her in the head. 0:45

"Then when you heard the sirens … he laid down on the ground with his arms like this," she explained, closing her eyes, leaning back and extending her arms straight out.

Hamilton police confirmed a 52-year-old man has been charged with aggravated assault and mischief under $5,000 in connection with the attack.

A 35-year-old man with several stab wounds was taken to hospital, but has since been released.

Police believe a there was an argument between the men outside of the restaurant before the attack, according to Const. Lorraine Edwards.

"The investigation is continuing," she wrote in an email to CBC News. "It has not been determined if the two men knew each other."

'People need to be safe'

Susan Carr, executive director of the eatery, said staff had seen both men at 541 before.

"We never expected this from them," she said. 

Carr described the attack as "angry, broken, sad and frightening."

The restaurant is a registered charity and allows customers to buy buttons from a "pay it forward" jar at the front counter, which can be used by the less fortunate to purchase food.

541 Eatery and Exchange is a non-profit café on Barton Street East. Patrons can buy buttons, which less fortunate customers can use to purchase food. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Koob said she made a point of going there because she supports what they do, even after witnessing what she describes as a "violent man yelling and threatening a woman" there about three months ago.

But after the attack she doesn't think she can ever go back.

"I want to know if I'm going to go there, that people are watching my back," she explained. "People need to be safe there."

Cafe focused on building community

Carr said staff "keep a close eye on the cafe and everyone in it" and have asked people causing a disturbance to leave and in some cases, stay away for a period of time.

It leaves staff and volunteers feeling vulnerable, but we're not going to stop doing what we're doing.-Sue Carr, 541 Eatery and Exchange

She added some customers have echoed Koob's concerns about safety, but others have contacted the cafe to say they stand with staff and believe what they're doing is important.

The director said she also worries the attack will feed into negative perceptions about central Hamilton.

"It leaves staff and volunteers feeling vulnerable, but we're not going to stop doing what we're doing," she said. "It doesn't take away from our efforts to build community and be part of this community."

About the Author

Dan Taekema is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: daniel.taekema@cbc.ca