As It Happens

Toronto shooter was 'picking off people' at random, says witness

Jo-Anne Saunders was enjoying a beautiful Toronto summer evening when suddenly she saw a man dressed in black shoot three people, including a little girl eating ice cream.

Jo-Anne Saunders says shooting was 'like a terrible movie that you just don't want to be a part of'

Police officers stand watch at the scene of a mass shooting in Toronto's Greektown. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

Jo-Anne Saunders was enjoying a beautiful Toronto summer evening out with friends when she saw a man dressed in black shoot three people, including a little girl eating ice cream.

Two victims are dead and 13 others are in hospital after the shooting at busy intersection on Danforth Avenue Sunday evening.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, which probes police-involved shootings, said the suspected gunman, identified as 29-year-old Faisal Hussain, is also dead. His family issued a statement saying that he had "severe mental health challenges, struggling with psychosis and depression his entire life." The family also extended their deepest condolences to the families of the victims. 

Saunders was in the neighbourhood with a friend, sipping drinks on the Louis Cifer Brew Works patio when the gunfire erupted.

At first, she said, she wasn't sure what was going on.

"Then as the noise came closer, you realized that there was a sense of panic and people were running," Saunders told As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch.

"And I then saw the gunman."

'Corralling the crowds with the pistol drawn'

Realizing that others deeper inside the restaurant couldn't see what was going on, Saunders and her friend sounded the alarm.

"We yelled at everybody to get down, that there was a gun," she said.

"And we all just fell down to the ground and made our way to the back when we could."

Witnesses describe terrifying moments during Toronto shooting

4 years ago
Duration 1:18
'And then he came in the restaurant and he shot the girl right in front of me,' says restaurant patron. 1:18

Saunders said the gunman — dressed in all black with a "blank" expression on his face — was about 10 metres away from her. 

"He was just standing, just corralling the crowds with the pistol drawn, scanning and just shooting people at random," she said.

"Just looking at people that had gathered and were trying to run away or going to patios that were full and just picking off people."

Little girl shot 

She witnessed him shoot at least three people, she said.

"One person I saw was the small girl that was eating ice cream," she said. 

It's an image she said will stay with her for a long time.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said Monday the two killed were an 18 year-old woman and a 10 year-old girl. One victim, a young girl aged eight or nine, is in critical condition.

People leave an area taped off by the police near the scene of the deadly attack. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Eventually, Saunders said she realized the gunman was facing away from her and she made a run for it.

Police officers, including some who showed up at the scene in their pyjamas, took her to a nearby shelter, where they reassured her and took her statement, she said.

"It was like a movie — like a terrible movie that you just don't want to be a part of," Saunders said.

"And it's just a sense of numbness that you just don't believe that you're seeing what you're seeing, because it can't be real."

'Shouldn't stop people from going out'

Despite the trauma of the situation, Saunders said she'll "absolutely" return to Greektown — one of her favourite neighbourhoods to visit in the summer.

Jo-Anne Saunders was having dinner and drinks on the Danforth with shots ran out on Sunday night. (Submitted by Jo-Ann Saunders)

"That shouldn't stop people from going out and doing things. I think that's some of the intention of things like this," she said.

"I think everybody should rally together and support the businesses on the Danforth."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview with Jo-Anne Saunders produced by Jeanne Armstrong.