Barbara Turnbull, Toronto Star journalist and victim of high-profile shooting, dead

Barbara Turnbull, who spent several weeks on life support after a 1983 shooting left her paralyzed from the neck down, died on Sunday, her employer said.

Turnbull was left paralyzed from the neck down after 1983 convenience store shooting

Toronto Star journalist Barbara Turnbull has died, the newspaper reported Sunday evening. 

Turnbull had been writing and reporting for the Star since 1990, with her byline most often found in the Life section of the newspaper.

The Star said Turnbull died of "complications related to pneumonia" on Sunday afternoon. She was 50 years old. 

Turnbull was a high school student working a night shift at a convenience store in Mississauga, Ont., on Sept. 23, 1983, when she was shot in the throat during a robbery. The bullet shattered her fourth vertebra and left her a quadriplegic.

She spent several weeks on life support and over a year in hospital and rehabilitation facilities.

The Star's features editor Janet Hurley sent an email to employees on Sunday informing them of her passing. 

"If there ever was an example of someone who didn't let life's challenges get in the way of living that life as fully as possible, it was Barb," the email said. 

"And many others — for organ recipients to those with disabilities — have had better lives due to her sheer determination."

A number of her colleagues tweeted about what her loss meant to them.

Star reporter Mitch Potter tweeted that he was "gutted" by her passing, calling Turnbull "the inspirational light" of the paper's newsroom.

Former lieutenant-governor David Onley tweeted he was "deeply saddened" to hear of her death.

"She was a courageous person who inspired us all. May she rest in peace," Onley said.

Turnbull's fight to recover from the shooting resonated across the Toronto region, and about $175,000 was raised for her recovery, which supplemented the maximum allowable provincial award at the time for victim of a crime — a $7,500 lump sum payment and $500 per month for the rest of her life.

Turnbull by 1985 was planning on postsecondary education, having learned how to operate telephones and computers with a mouth device. She testified that year in the trial of four men charged with attempted murder in the shooting.

She would eventually decide to get away from the region and attend Arizona State University for journalism, admitting later in the decade, ''it gets a bit much always answering questions."

Her autobiography, Looking in the Mirror, was published in 1997, with more than half of the proceeds going towards spinal cord research.

She would go on to champion issues of accessibility and the use of medicinal marijuana, although she admitted in a 2006 speech that for many years she was reluctant to be considered an activist, until eventually embracing the role.

"The circumstances of my life provided not only an opportunity, but an obligation to make a difference," she said.


  • A previous version of this story said Barbara Turnbull was shot in 1982. In fact, the incident happened in 1983.
    May 11, 2015 12:00 PM ET


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