What sparked Danforth shooting? Police chief says investigators 'aggressively' trying to understand

A week after two people were killed and several others wounded in the Toronto Danforth shooting, police Chief Mark Saunders says investigators are "aggressively" trying to understand what sparked the gunman to attack eateries in the Greektown area.

Week after deadly attack, Mark Saunders told Metro Morning that probe will take 'tremendous amount of time'

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders called the Danforth shooting 'incredibly brutal,' telling CBC Radio's Metro Morning that investigators are 'aggressively' trying to understand why the deadly incident happened. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

Just over a week after two people were killed and several others wounded in the shooting in Toronto's Greektown area, police Chief Mark Saunders says investigators are "aggressively" trying to understand what sparked the gunman's rampage.

"What was done was incredibly brutal — the loss of life, the amount of people that were shot and the impact it has on the city is tremendous — regardless of motive," Saunders told CBC Radio's Metro Morning.  

Many in the community are searching for answers about why the gunman wandered five blocks of bustling Danforth Avenue late on July 22 and indiscriminately shot into eateries.

Friends of a Danforth shooting victim, Desirae Shapiro, right, and her mother, Gina, mourned Reese Fallon's death. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Saunders said there isn't an easy answer and it will take investigators a "tremendous amount of time" to determine one. Officers are probing the gunman's background and where he might have obtained his weapon. 

But he said that to truly scratch the surface, city and law enforcement officials "need to talk about that elephant in the room" — what services and support are in place to prevent vulnerable people from picking up a firearm. 

"If we're going to hide under the carpet and continue to do what we do, and then be shocked when we have these outcomes, then we're doing a disservice to the communities we serve." 

Julianna Kozis, 10, left, and Reese Fallon, 18, died July 22 after a gunman indiscriminately fired several shots into eateries along Danforth Avenue. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)
 

Reese Fallon, 18, of Toronto and Julianna Kozis, 10, of Markham both died in the attack. Thirteen others were shot, with some suffering life-changing injuries.  

The gunman, Faisal Hussain, 29, was found dead nearby of a gunshot wound. A police source told CBC News that Hussain had turned the gun on himself following an exchange of gunfire with officers.  

Following the attack, Hussain's family released a statement that said he had mental health problems for much of his life, including psychosis.

According to a family friend, mental health issues were behind two interactions Hussain had with Toronto police in previous years. He was never charged with a crime.

Court records show Hussain's older brother, Farad, had a troubled past, including a litany of criminal charges. A police source previously told CBC News that the 31-year-old had ties to a street gang in Toronto's Thorncliffe Park area, and may have once possessed the handgun his brother used in the Danforth shooting.

What was done was incredibly brutal.- Mark Saunders, Toronto police chief

Last week, police searched the Thorncliffe Park apartment where Faisal lived with his parents. Investigators seized a firearm and a computer, a police source told CBC News. 

Police said Wednesday they have "no evidence" that the deadly shooting was connected to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), though the group had claimed responsibility.

When asked about Hussain's rumoured connection, Saunders said: "There's no evidence that suggests that and I don't want to diminish the lives that were lost."

"My biggest concern is what motivates a person to want to shoot another person." 

Faisal Hussain seen in a Victoria Park Collegiate 2009 year book photo. (Victoria Park Collegiate)

Toronto has had 228 shootings this year, 29 of them fatal. The number of deadly shootings in the city has already grown from 17 compared to this time last year. 

Before the Danforth attack, other high-profile shootings in Toronto public places — including the entertainment district, popular downtown destinations and a playground where two young sisters were wounded — thrust gun violence into the spotlight, grabbing international attention.

In the last three months alone, the city has been rocked by two mass casualties — a van attack that left 10 people dead and the Danforth Avenue shooting.

"This is an unfortunate situation, but there are some huge benefits that can happen as a result of this if we really are brave enough to have a full-some discussion and not just say, 'Police fix this,'" said Saunders, noting the force responds to 27,000 calls annually.  

He said the aftermath of these tragedies can be used as an opportunity for city and law enforcement officials to address the "flaws" in Toronto's mental health system and explore other preventive measures to curb gun violence, before someone even picks up a gun. 

"We need to sit down and have these candid conversations from a multi-layered perspective to get it right," Saunders told Metro Morning.

"Right now, police are the de facto for everything. Lets all take equal ownership and move this thing in the right direction for the first time."

Police Chief Mark Saunders says officials need to develop measures that prevent people from picking up a gun in the first place. (Tony Smyth/CBC)

Days after the Danforth attack, city council voted to tentatively move forward on new anti-gun violence initiatives after Mayor John Tory highlighted a growing problem of people improperly acquiring guns that were originally purchased legally.

The motion included new measures, such as enhanced surveillance and security, youth programming, and community violence prevention strategies.

It's hoped the various programs would be supported by some $45 million in federal and provincial funding, although none of the money has yet been secured.

Council also OK'd a plan to purchase ShotSpotter, an audio surveillance system that detects and tracks the sound of gunshots in cities and neighbourhoods. 

While Tory championed the device as a much-needed tool in the fight against gun violence, Saunders said it's not a catch-all solution.

"If we're using and relying on Shotspotter to define success then we've missed the mark," he said. "Success is when we actually prevent someone from firing that shot."   

Toronto police also added 200 uniformed officers earlier this month to patrol high-priority areas between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. as part of its gun violence reduction plan. During that time, the force has seized over 110 firearms, Saunders said. 

"We need to do our best to calm the city so we can start building up again," Saunders said. "I certainly don't want to be going to more vigils."

With files from CBC Radio's Metro Morning

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