LGBT community hopes for answers from police team tasked with finding missing men
Meeting Tuesday night between community, police, family of missing man in Church and Wellesley area
The organizer of a community meeting that's expected to draw up to 200 people is hoping that Tuesday evening's gathering is a chance to dispel misinformation and allay fears over the recent disappearances of two men from the heart of Toronto's gay community.
Andrew Kinsman, 49, and Selim Esen, 44, were both known to hang out in the Church and Wellesley area and were both active on internet dating apps, according to police.
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Their disappearances — Kinsman's at the end of June, and Esen's in April — have set off waves of concern in the community and have led to speculation that the incidents may be connected to past unsolved missing-persons cases.
On Tuesday evening, a meeting at the 519 Community Centre, located at 519 Church St., will give the public a chance to question members of the recently announced team of police officers who are investigating the disappearances full time.
Disappearances lead to speculation, 'misinformation'
"The tough part is not knowing what happened. At this point it's all speculation," said Greg Downer, who helped organize the community meeting. "The lack of information is leading to misinformation … with a lot of fear and anxiety."
Downer said that initially, a line was drawn from Kinsman's disappearance to a number of others from past years.
"There was a picture that went around social media that had 12 faces on it initially, which brought a lot of attention to the issue," he said.
Half of the cases on the sheet have since been shown to be resolved, but Downer said concern lingers in the community all the same.
In a release on Friday, Toronto police said they had yet to determine any link between Esen and Kinsman or between those two men and a series of three other disappearances of men between 2010-2012.
Meanwhile, commenters on amateur sleuthing forums have been quick to suggest connections between the cases, noting that all five of the men are dark-haired, middle-aged and bearded.
Downer has since started a group called Toronto's Missing Rainbow People to help the community share information about missing persons cases.
'A wake-up call' for community safety
Downer, who worked with Kinsman three years ago at the Toronto People with Aids Foundation, was moved to create a safety tip sheet after his former colleague went missing.
Noting that Kinsman was tall, strong and street-smart, he wondered "how could he get himself into a situation he couldn't defend himself from?" he said.
The sheet encourages people to let their friends know when they go to meet someone new and avoid coming too close to cars that pull up next to them while they're on the street.
Downer also hopes to establish a working group to look at community safety and work with developers to make dating apps safer for users.
Steve Dawson, who owns Dudley Hardware on Church Street, said "there's been a lot of conversation" in the area about the missing men, and that safety is now a more significant concern.
Dawson, who knew Kinsman personally and recognized Esen from seeing him around the neighbourhood, said he hopes Tuesday's meeting is a chance to dispel misinformation and to show the family and friends of the missing men that the community is behind them.
"I think people are becoming more aware that bad things can happen," he told CBC Toronto. "It's a wake-up call for a lot of people."