After her daughters were shot in the playground, a mother calls for solutions to gun violence
2 little girls wounded in brazen daylight shooting last month
Stacey King heard the gunshots on June 14 as her daughters played outside.
"I said, 'Oh my god, my children have been hurt.'"
She was right. When she went outside, King says she panicked, passed out and fell to her knees.
In the playground at McCowan Road and Steeles Avenue East, her five-year-old had been shot in the abdomen and was drifting in and out of consciousness, King said. Her nine-year-old was shot just above the ankle. King says her seven-year-old was screaming.
"My five-year-old was saying, 'Oh mummy, am I going to die? Am I doing to die?'" said King.
"She was screaming in the ambulance."
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King hadn't hesitated to let her children play outside after school on a sunny day in June. Their Scarborough neighbourhood was quiet and safe, she says.
But gun violence "can hit anywhere," says King.
Little girls living with trauma
There were 11 children in the playground when the shooting started, police said, as well as a man believed to be the intended target.
Police have issued Canada-wide warrants for the two men believed to be involved. Police have already arrested Sheldon Eriya, 21, who is suspected of driving the vehicle that took the suspects to the playground.
King's five-year-old and nine-year-old both underwent several surgeries.
The little girls are home from the hospital, but the family still lives with trauma and fear.
She and her daughters have nightmares, King says. They assume fireworks are gunshots. Their neighbourhood is like a ghost town — neighbours are shocked and kids won't go outside to play, King says.
More police not the answer, King says
Now King wants to help end gun violence in the city, and is calling for better education and community support programs, not an increased police presence.
"Having more officers on the street, it's not going to solve it," said King. Officials needs to look at the source of gun violence, she said.
King spoke at a Toronto Board of Health meeting Monday, saying Toronto must reduce the number of young people who turn to crime.
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Officials need to look at the reasons why some youth pick up guns and others don't, King told city councillors.
Children should be taught about issues that lie at the root of gun violence — including bullying and mental health — by Grade 3, King said.
"We have to have more mentorship programs, we have to have more resources, we have to have more jobs for youth, we have to have more trades for them," she said. "Having more cops is just going to cause more problems."
"We've got to bring these kids in from the margins to the centre. They're in the periphery, be it Jane and Finch, Regent Park, Alexandra Park, Rexdale, Malvern. These kids are from the periphery looking in."
Mayor John Tory and the city's police chief recently announced there will be about 200 extra police officers on patrols between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m., the hours when most shootings occur in the city.
It's part of a new, $15-million "gun violence reduction plan" in the wake of a wave of shootings in the city.
Tory also recently announced that at least part of that money would be going to community programs aimed at preventing youth from joining gangs.
Police data shows gun violence has killed 27 people and injured 82 so far in 2018, compared with 17 deaths and 80 injuries at this time last year.
Public health approach
Community advocates have also penned an open letter to the board, saying gun violence is a symptom of deeper social issues, including a growing gap between the rich and poor, a lack of services and support in low-income areas, troubled relationships with police, and the availability of handguns.
The group urges the board to address these issues, and take a public health approach to end to community violence.
Kelly Whetter, one of the signees on the letter, knows the pain of losing a child to gun violence. Her teenage son was shot and killed at Yonge and Bloor in 2016.
Her son's death affected her own health: she lost hair, lost and gained weight, developed severe depression, and jumps at loud noises, she said.
Whetter says early intervention should be part of a public health initiative.
Perpetrators "weren't born with guns in their hands," said Whetter, who is with the organization Communities for Zero Violence.
"They were somebody's beautiful little baby with a smile on their face. What happened?"
Board hears submissions
On Monday, the board of health heard several submissions from support workers and concerned citizens as it considered a progress report on research into community violence.
The research, which began in March, examines the extent to which people who live in the city are exposed to violence and how it affects their mental and physical health, a report by city staff said.
The project will seek out "effective evidence-informed interventions" to mitigate community violence and its health effects. Research findings will be brought to the board of health by late 2019, staff said
Meantime, Stacey King's family is seeking therapy, but their lives will never be the same.
"My kids have the scar, and I'm always going to remember this day, June 14, for the rest of my life."
With files from The Canadian Press