Sister hasn't 'given up' on accused Eaton Centre shooter

A woman whose brother is accused of opening fire in a deadly shooting at Toronto's Eaton Centre says she hasn't "given up" on him, despite the charges he is facing.
The sister of the accused Eaton Centre shooter speaks to CBC News. 4:37

Many lives were affected when shots were fired in a basement food court at Toronto’s Eaton Centre four months ago.

One man died instantlyanother was fatally wounded and would die of his injuries in hospital days later.

Five other people were wounded when they were caught in the crossfire. A pregnant woman was trampled by those trying to escape the shooting.

Hundreds of other people fled the food court in fear, or were left trapped inside the mall when it was locked down.

Within hours of the June 2 shooting, Toronto resident Christopher Husbands turned himself in.

His 19-year-old sister, Neola, heard about the shooting on Facebook.

When he was turning himself in, she got a phone call and a text message letting her know that he had surrendered.

"So I knew that he had turned himself in to 52 Division, but it is really different when you know and then when the world knows," Neola Husbands told CBC News in a recent interview.

Soon enough, everybody in Toronto and in other cities knew her family name. The story even made the news back in Guyana, where the Husbands family had emigrated from in 2000.

"It was in a lot of newspapers in Guyana. And my family is actually pretty well known in Guyana," said Husbands.

Husbands said the violence at the Eaton Centre didn't shock her, as it is the type of occurrence that happens in other parts of the city.

Parts of the city like downtown's Regent Park neighbourhood, where Husbands and her siblings first ended up.

Journey to Canada

Husbands was just seven years old when she landed in Regent Park with her father and siblings, coming from Guyana.

While Husbands says the move to Canada was a happy experience overall, it wasn't always easy, as she and her siblings adapted to their new home.

The weather was colder, the community was different.

"In Guyana, we focus more on the community raising the kid, so coming to Canada, you are more on your own, and kind of had to basically just stick to your family in order to really stay out of trouble," Husbands said.

The neighbourhood was tough.

"You really have to really stand your ground and stake out your boundaries in order to continue to progress in the community," Husbands said.

"One of the biggest things that I've always said is really not … becoming the product of your environment, but allowing your environment to become the product of your success." 

But Husbands would face many challenges in her environment during her teenage years.

Her father kicked her out of his home when she was 14, which prompted her to stay away.

"My dad and I were having a little bit of problems in the household," Husbands said.

"I am not going to say I was an angel of a kid, but he got remarried and there was a lot of altercation between myself and the family."

She chose to go into foster care and at one point lived in a group home.

During this period of her life, Husbands attended five different high schools.

Through all of this adversity, Husbands persevered and with the support of some key mentors, she finished high school and was granted admission to university.

Familiarity with loss

She also lost friends to violence over several consecutive years.

"It was all to gun violence, or stabbings or such, in a very short period of time," Husbands said.

Those deaths came years before Christopher Husbands got stabbed in February, and before he was charged in the deadly Eaton Centre shooting weeks later.

Neola Husbands said that she and her brother had gotten into a fight and were not speaking when he was stabbed eight months ago.

The attack on her brother put things into perspective.

"When somebody tried to kill him, it was devastating because that would have been potentially me losing my brother at what you would consider the wrong time in the middle of an argument when it is too late to apologize," she said.

With her brother in custody, awaiting trial for two counts of first-degree murder, five counts of attempted murder and a single count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, Husbands says the two remain close.

"I haven't given up on my brother, I never have and as much as people would like me to I never will," she said.

"I've been trying to do as much as I could, to like just influence him even in this time right now and just to basically remain positive."