Survivors recall terror of Toronto street party shooting

Residents of the east-end Toronto area where a street party shooting left two dead and 23 wounded are dealing with changes to their lives and their neighbourhood as a result of the violence.
A member of the forensics team searches for evidence on Danzig Street. (Tony Smyth/CBC)

When shots were fired on Toronto's Danzig Street last week, the violence left two people dead and 23 others injured.

Nine days later, the crime scene has been cleared, but the shooting has left an indelible mark on the lives of the people who live in the east-end neighbourhood.

Phineas Mwabi stepped off a bus last week and into the middle of the shooting aftermath.

The teenager had just finished work and was riding the bus home to Danzig Street, where he lives with his family in Toronto's east end.

'The cops, you know, they circle around and they are smiling, but it’s kind of menacing in the same way.'—Phineas Mwabi, Danzig Street resident

Mwabi had been reading a book and didn’t realize what happened until he stepped onto the street.

"I just got off the bus and the first thing I see is a man with a bullet in his chest and he’s just crying and he’s bleeding," Mwabi told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

"And then I see another man. He has a bullet in his leg and he’s crying and people are carrying him."

Mwabi said that people were yelling and screaming in the midst of a "frantic" atmosphere.

"I didn’t know what to do, so I thought the smart thing to do was just to run with everyone else, you know, because maybe the shooter was still around," he said.

Mwabi said he hid in a store and called for his parents to come pick him up. When he got home, he find out more about what had happened.

Within hours, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair had announced that two people had been killed in a shootout that began when two men got into an altercation.

Blair said that others had been wounded, including a toddler.

Youngest victim

Devontae Thomas, a 22-month-old boy, was rushed to hospital after the shooting. A bullet had grazed his head and cut open the skin.

Doctors told his mother the bullet was only an inch away from ending his life.

"Nothing is wrong with his brain, no bone is broken or nothing," the boy’s mother, Dana Thomas, told CBC News.

Thomas said she and her son had happened upon the street party when they were out taking a walk together.

When the shots were fired, Thomas looked for her son. He was in the arms of one of her friends. Blood was pouring from his head.

While her son is okay, Thomas said that the shooting has left her unable to return to her home in the neighbourhood.

"I am so traumatized by everything…I could have lost my son," she said.

Leaders react, but street uneasy

The sheer scale of the July 16 violence prompted a swift response from of police and political leaders.

Blair said the reckless nature of the shooting called for a "relentless pursuit of the individuals responsible for this violence." 

Mayor Rob Ford called for a crackdown on gangs, which police suspect may have been involved in the Danzig Street shootout.

Earlier this week, Premier Dalton McGuinty pledged stable funding for the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS), a special police unit charged with addressing the root causes of violence.

Since the shooting, Mwabi said that the Danzig Street shooting has left its residents uneasy.

"Everyone is just really quiet. People look very sad… the vibe isn’t there anymore," he said.

"You go outside and people just look depressed all the time. You know, nobody is really talking outside. Everything is just really down now."

Mwabi said he doesn’t necessarily object to having extra police on hand, but he also sees how a heightened police presence can make a neighbourhood feel under siege.

"I’m not too concerned about it, but it’s kind of awkward. You know, it just gives the neighbourhood a bad look," said Mwabi.

He said the presence of extra police officers in a particular location could give the impression to visitors and outsiders that the area is not a safe place to be.

"The cops, you know, they circle around and they are smiling, but it’s kind of menacing in the same way…it kind of makes me feel uncomfortable," he said.