As It Happens

'I just let him tell the story': Toronto Star editor fields call from alleged hostage-taker

When Doug Cudmore went to work at the Toronto Star on Wednesday morning, he did not expect to have the lives of multiple people in his hands.
Doug Cudmore, centre, speaks on the phone with the suspect in a hostage taking in the Toronto Star radio room. Reporter Victoria Gibson, left, takes notes, while Star managing editor Irene Gentle, right, listens in. (Tim Finlan/Toronto Star)

When Doug Cudmore went to work at the Toronto Star on Wednesday morning, he did not expect to have the lives of multiple people in his hands. 

The drama had already begun to unfold by the time the senior editor arrived for his shift on the paper's central news desk.

Fakiha Baig was working in the Star's radio room, the 24-hour news desk usually staffed by new reporters, when a man called and claimed he was holding a woman hostage at the Studio 9 spa.

When Baig heard a woman's voice in the background, she knew the guy was telling the truth, and she immediately alerted her senior editors, who called police.

While the newspaper's staff waited for police to respond, Star editor Jennifer Quinn asked Cudmore to go to the radio room and help the younger reporter out.

"So I just went into the room and I just saw the phone sitting there and I thought well, you know, I'm a senior editor here, maybe I should just jump into the situation," Cudmore told As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch.

"All I really knew at that point was there was a man on the phone who said he had a hostage and I just kind of jumped in and started talking to him."

The man, since identified as 35-year-old Michael Storms, claimed he'd been the subject of police surveillance that was ruining his life since converted to Islam at 20 and started going by the name Muhammed Islam.

A 2014 National Post story identifies a Muhammed Islam of Toronto as a Muslim convert who is among 90 high-risk travellers whose passports were seized by authorities. 

Storms repeatedly insisted to Cudmore that he does not support terrorism. He said his hostage was a woman he knew named Hannah and that he didn't want to hurt her. 

"I don't want to get hurt, I don't want to hurt Hannah," he said. "I really care about this woman. She's one of those people who's been super nice to me. I'm not joking. What's going on really actually breaks my heart."

Cudmore tries to convince Storms to let Hannah go, but he says he can't because he needs help and he's already exhausted every other avenue.

"It was a rough situation for me. I can only assume it was way rougher for her," Cudmore said.

Cudmore said his strategy throughout the call was just to let the man talk.

"I guess he felt this was the way he could get people to pay attention to what he wanted to say," Cudmore said.

"My thinking was I just want to keep the situation calm, I want to keep the hostage safe, I want to keep him safe, I want to keep the police who are responding safe, so I just let him tell the story that he had to tell."

Cudmore stayed on the phone with Storms for about 45 minutes until a police negotiator arrived at the newsroom and took over.

Officers were able to talk him down and arrest him. Nobody was harmed.

Storms has been charged with forcible confinement and uttering threats.

Storms had told Cudmore he had a weapon, but wouldn't specify what kind. Police later said he'd claimed he was armed with scissors, but that did not turn out to be the case. He is not facing any weapons charges.

Cudmore says he just let the alleged hostage-taker tell his story. (Tim Finlan/Toronto Star)

Cudmore said he relied on "gut instincts" in the heat of the moment, but now that it's over, the full weight of the situation is starting to sink in.

"I guess at the time it didn't really affect me, but after it was over and while I was waiting for the police to kind of finish things up, I kind of realized that there were potentially a couple people who had their lives in my hands and that it really, really mattered to me that everybody, both the alleged hostage taker, the hostage and the police who were on the scene, got out OK," Cudmore said.

"Then I guess the nervous tension started to let go and I realized I was kind to connected a lot people I didn't expect to be connected to when I came into work that day."

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