Abshir Hassan's death investigated as police canvass Lawrence Heights

Toronto Police are canvassing an apartment building in the Lawrence Heights neighbourhood looking for clues in connection to the fatal shooting of Toronto teacher Abshir Hassan.

Beloved Toronto teacher's death shocked the community

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)

Toronto police are canvassing an apartment building in the Lawrence Heights neighbourhood looking for clues in connection to the fatal shooting of Toronto teacher Abshir Hassan.

Hassan, 31, was a much beloved supply teacher at Lawrence Heights Middle School in the neighbourhood where he also grew up.

On July 8 at around 12:15 a.m. 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.

Hassan was just exiting the building to move his car. Two others, an 18-year-old woman and a 22-year-old man, were also standing outside at that time and were hit by several bullets.

Hassan died as a result of his injuries and the others remain in hospital.

Police say they are looking for two suspects who fled the scene in a silver vehicle. The suspects are described as male and black.

"This is a crime that is disturbing and outrageous," said Det. Sgt. Steve Ryan in a police video released on Youtube Saturday.

On mobile? Watch the Toronto Police video here

"It’s a crime that I think we all should be shocked by. It’s a crime that’s solvable with the help of the community."

Police, as well as family, friends and colleagues of Hassan, are also pleading with the public to offer any information that could help bring the shooters to justice.

"We live in a city where we often hear about these things happening and never really feel the impact until it’s like close to you," said a tearful O’Neil Williams, a friend of Hassan’s surrounded by others.

"We lost someone that was dear to the community, our brother, a dear friend, a son and someone that was well respected."

Since his death, there has been an outpouring of grief from the community for the loss of a man that principal David deBelle described as "represented all that was good about this city."

On July 11, hundreds gathered to mourn after he was laid to rest earlier in the day, drawing busloads of students, friends and colleagues. More than 1,500 filled the mosque, while hundreds more prayed outside. 

"He was committed to young people who deserved equal opportunities having those opportunities," said Chris Penrose, executive director of Success Beyond Limits, a program for students in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood where Hassan volunteered. 

What he meant to children

"Abshir was, as a testimony of what everybody says, he was a very pleasant person to be with," his father Ahmen Hassan said in the police video. "When he was scheduled in a classroom as a supply teacher, children used to cheer because Abshir would be there for them to teach. That’s the kind of person he was."

"He was helping me with my anger," student Tashalya Price told CBC News. "Now I know … my education comes before anything so I have to make sure I keep my anger calm." 

Abdi Mohamed, a Lawrence Heights resident and Somali community activist, said that Hassan’s family — originally from Somalia, just like his own — had lived in Lawrence Heights for years. After high school, Hassan’s family moved north of the city to the Richmond Hill area, but Hassan came back to the neighbourhood with an education degree 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."

Now family, friends and police are asking that very community for anything that could help with the ongoing investigation.

"He definitely devoted all his life helping people," Ahmed Hassan said. "And it would just be fair to ask if we could just give him the help back that he gave and help him find who his killer was. If you have any information that would help, please help to find Abshir’s killers."

Police said they would be canvassing the neighbourhood from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and set up a mobile command centre in front of the building, where investigators will be handing out pamphlets.

They also ask that anyone with their own surveillance cameras from Lawrence Avenue to Flemington Street — and all the neighourboods in between — to review footage from shortly before and after midnight on July 8.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at (416) 808-7400 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at (416) 222-TIPS (8477).