'I want to lose my fear': Toronto Danforth shooting victim still haunted by what he saw

Ali Demircan, who was grazed by a bullet during Faisal Hussain's shooting rampage on Toronto's Danforth Avenue in July, says a city program set up to assist people after mass casualty events failed to arrange the counselling he needed in a timely manner.

Victim Services Toronto says demand has risen 3-fold due to 'constant bombardment of tragedy'

Ali Demircan was shot on Toronto's Danforth Avenue on July 22. The bullet grazed his back. (Aizick Grimman/CBC)

For one month, Ali Demircan was left without support, reliving the moment a gunman tried to take his life along Toronto's Danforth Avenue. He claims a city program set up to assist people in the aftermath of mass casualty events failed to promptly arrange the counselling he needed to come to terms with what he saw.

"It's really hard because in your life, you never expect to see something like this," he told CBC Toronto. "I was having nightmares and I was afraid of going outside."

Now, he adds: "I want to lose my fear."

All it takes is a siren. Demircan describes being paralyzed by the sound while sitting at home with his family or standing on the sidewalk.

"I feel like I cannot walk, I cannot move. It creates a panic in my body," he said. "And you think: 'Oh, this is happening again.'" 

A gunman opened fire in Toronto's Greektown area, killing two people and injuring 13 others, before turning the gun on himself. (Tony Smyth/CBC)

The chaotic scene of that summer evening is burned into his mind. 

Demircan says he saw the shooter, Faisal Hussain, fire four bullets into 18-year-old Reese Fallon right in front of him. 

He was sitting with two friends on a park bench at Danforth and Logan avenues on July 22 when Hussain started his deadly rampage.

The 29-year-old calmly walked down a 400-metre strip of the bustling street armed with a black handgun, according to unsealed search warrants, spraying bullets into bars and restaurants in the heart of the city's Greektown neighbourhood.

One of those bullets struck Demircan. 

"I felt the bullet graze my upper back," said the father of a nine-year-old girl. 

"Then I was on the floor and I just tried to move forward."

He managed to pick himself up and run. 

"At that point, he was just shooting through us," he recalled. "I couldn't look back." 

Julianna Kozis, left, and Reese Fallon, right, died on July 22 when a gunman indiscriminately fired several shots into restaurants and cafes along Danforth Avenue. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

The attack claimed the lives of Fallon and 10-year-old Julianna Kozis. Thirteen other people were wounded, many of whom suffered life-altering injuries, according to police. Demircan was among them. 

"It's upsetting ... I always feel the same thing," Demircan said while standing at the spot where he was shot. "I will not forget that."

Nightmares and panic attacks

The terror of that night remains visceral two months later and Demircan explains it has affected his relationship with his family. 

"My actions at home are affecting their lives too," he said of the emotional impact on his wife and daughter. "Your actions are not stable ... You're reacting strangely and it's not something they're used to."

He started working with a psychotherapist one month after the attack. But Demircan says there was a lag between the time he met with Victim Services Toronto and started receiving the help he needed. 

"They should react faster than this," he told CBC Toronto. "You need immediate support." 

Victim services managing 350% rise in requests

Victim Services Toronto apologized for the delay and says it regrets not being able to help Demircan in a timely manner. 

"That concerns me that it took that long," said executive director Bobbie McMurrich.

The organization is responsible for assisting individuals and families in the immediate aftermath of a crime or mass casualty event. But McMurrich said the recent rise in demand has been "staggering."

The 'constant bombardment of tragedy' in the city has a 'staggering' effect on the programs offered by Victim Services Toronto, executive director Bobbie McMurrich says. (Aizick Grimman/CBC)

She estimates Victim Services Toronto has experienced a 350 per cent increase in requests since the city was rocked by the van attack in April that killed 10 people and injured 15 others.

The culmination of these high profile killings — that occurred just two months apart — and an "unprecedented" amount of gun violence, has given Toronto "no time for recovery."

"It's constant bombardment of tragedy," said McMurrich, noting the organization has brought in more staff on their days off to keep up. 

"We are there for the community and for individuals."

With files from Ali Chiasson