Eaton Centre shooting may be gang-related, police say

Toronto police say the Eaton Centre shooting that left a man dead and six others wounded on Saturday evening was likely gang-related, and they are closing in on a suspect.

Investigators believe they have zeroed in on the suspect

Toronto police say the Eaton Centre shooting that left a man dead and six others wounded on Saturday evening was likely gang-related, and that they are closing in on a suspect.

Ahmed Hassan, the 24-year-old killed at the scene, was almost certainly one intended target of the shooting, police said. They added that another man who was shot several times in the neck and chest was also likely targeted.

"It may be that [the two people] have gang affiliations, or it may be just the one of them, but we do believe that our deceased in this case may have had some gang affiliation," Det. Sgt. Brian Borg said at a press conference Sunday.

Borg said the youngest victim of the shooting — a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head — was almost certainly an innocent bystander caught up in the attack. The Grade 8 student was visiting Toronto with his family at the time of the attack.

"I am very pleased to say that he is responding well to treatment, and is described as being in critical but stable condition," he said.

The four other people who suffered gunshot wounds have all been released from the hospital.

Social media

Witnesses share accounts of Eaton Centre shooting. See their photos and videos.

Police said they are zeroing in on the identity of the gunman but would not elaborate for fear of influencing first-hand accounts, which were still pouring in a day after the attack.

Moment of silence

Several people, including shoppers who had been at the mall at the time of the shooting, gathered across the street from the Eaton Centre on Sunday for a candlelight vigil and a moment of silence at nearby Yonge-Dundas Square.

June Weekes, who attended the vigil, told CBC News she was close enough to see the smoking gun.

"This morning I kind of woke up and I was just in tears and hyperventilating," said Weekes. "Even though this was such a tragedy, it's not our city — it's not what happens in Toronto."

Karen Ho, who organized the event on social media, said it was important for those who were touched by the incident to get together in person to reflect collectively.

"Toronto is a place where people care about each other. Where people come together despite their differences, share their cultures and build lives," Ho wrote on the event's Facebook page.

"I firmly believe the city is [a] safe, wonderful place. Events like this are the exception, not the norm."

The Blue Jays also held a moment of silence before their game on Sunday. Third baseman Brett Lawrie was among those caught up in the chaos as scores of shoppers fled the mall. He was among the first to tweet dramatic images of the scene.

"It was instant panic," Lawrie said Sunday morning. "It was almost like as if you stepped on an anthill and then everyone just flooded right out of the whole place. It was one of those things that you almost think, 'was it real or was it not?'"

Det. Sgt. Brian Borg said police are investigating the possibility that the Eaton Centre shooting was gang-related. (CBC)

The Eaton Centre is a popular tourist attraction that receives roughly one million visitors a week. The shooting, which has attracted international attention, took place in the mall's busy lower-level food court.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was shocked and saddened by news of the attack.

"I offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the victim," said Harper in a statement.  "And wish a speedy recovery to those injured by this senseless act of violence."

"Canadians should be assured that such depraved and monstrous acts will be met with the full force of the law," he added.

Victim was dead at the scene

The mall was locked down immediately after the shooting, but Borg said police did not locate any suspects during their search.

While an autopsy has not yet been completed, Borg said the victim was shot "multiple times and was pronounced dead at the scene."

Borg said six other people were wounded in the shooting:

  • A 25-year-old woman was wounded in her left leg and has been released from hospital.
  • Nick Kalakonis, 22, was hit in the thigh during the shooting at the Eaton Centre on Saturday. (CBC)
    A 22-year-old man was also wounded in his left leg and also released from hospital.
  • A 23-year-old man remains in hospital after suffering "multiple gunshot injuries" to his neck and chest.
  • A 13-year-old boy who was visiting from out of town with his family was wounded in the head and remains in hospital.
  • A 30-year-old woman suffered a "gunshot-graze wound" to her abdomen and has been released from hospital.
  • A 22-year-old woman was wounded in the hand, but left hospital without treatment.
  • Additionally, a 28-year-old pregnant woman went into labour after being knocked down in the rush to flee the area. However, she was discharged from hospital on Sunday and did not give birth.

    Mall to reopen Monday

    A day after the deadly shooting, the Eaton Centre remained closed to the public.

    The mall website advised shoppers that the Eaton Centre and its parking garages would be closed on Sunday. A news release issued later in the day said that the facilities would reopen for regular business hours on Monday, though the food court won't open until Tuesday.

    Following the shooting on Saturday, police worked through the night, gathering information about the circumstances surrounding the violence that erupted at about 6:30 p.m. ET, while hundreds of people were in the mall.

    Nick Kalakonis, 22, was walking through the food court when the first shots rang out.

    "The first two, I didn’t really know [what was happening]," he told CBC News overnight Saturday.

    "But just when it got more repetitive and people started screaming and running, it was just like … someone’s getting shot." Kalakonis said he saw people hit the deck and he did the same.

    Brett Lawrie was in the Eaton Centre food court just moments before the shooting occurred. (CBC)

    He got hit in the thigh by one of the bullets but managed to flee the mall unassisted.

    After being treated in hospital, Kalakonis said he felt fortunate that his injuries weren't more serious.

    "I feel grateful that I’m alive," he said.

    Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and police officials pleaded for the public not to presume that Toronto is a dangerous place, based on the violence that occurred at the Eaton Centre.

    During the Sunday afternoon news conference, acting deputy chief Jeff McGuire said the shooting may have scared the public, but police are investigating and it is an isolated incident.

    "Pardon my phrase, but one idiot with a gun on a Saturday afternoon in downtown Toronto does not speak to the state of affairs of the city of Toronto," he said.

    Ford expressed confidence that the police will catch those responsible for the shooting.

    "We’re not going to tolerate this in our city and we will make an arrest," he said.

    On a personal level, Ford said he found the violence "very upsetting as the mayor and as a father."

    With files from The Canadian Press