Tom Sharkey was the Emergency Task Force's hostage negotiator during one of Toronto's most tense standoffs at Union Station in 2004. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)
January 18, 2019
On Aug. 25, 2004, an armed man took a stranger hostage in front of Toronto’s main transit hub. After an intense standoff, police Sgt. Tom Sharkey gave the order for a sniper to shoot the man dead. Fifteen years later, he says it was 'the only solution.'
This story is part of CBC's One Bullet series. Each instalment takes a close look at a shooting from somewhere in Canada — who was hurt or killed; who was held accountable; and how did the fallout impact friends, family and first responders.
On Aug. 25, 2004, at the height of the morning rush hour, Sugston Anthony Brookes, 45, grabbed a complete stranger at random by the clock tower outside Union Station, Toronto’s busiest transportation hub.
His hostage, Nicole Regis, a 20-year-old university student, had just left the station and was on her way to work at the Royal Bank down the street. It was the last day of her summer internship.
In 2004, Sugston Anthony Brookes, took Nicole Regis hostage in front of Union Station in downtown Toronto. (CBC)
Only minutes before, Brookes had tried to kill his estranged wife Marlene in a nearby underground food court. The couple had separated months earlier, and there was a restraining order against Brookes for threatening her with a knife. He had a long history of violence, court records showed.
She had filed for divorce a month earlier.
As his wife headed to work at Preeners Custom Fabricare, where she pressed shirts, Brookes fired two shots, including one that grazed her temple.
Closed-circuit TV showed Brookes chasing after her down a hall in the underground mall and catching up to her when she tripped and slid on the polished concrete floor. He then pistol-whipped her, striking her four times as bystanders ran away.
He took a few steps away to leave but then returned to strike her motionless body once more before fleeing to street level.
By this time, someone had called 911 saying there were shots fired in the underground mall, by the McDonald’s.
Const. Jeff MacDuff, who was directing construction traffic on the street outside, heard the police bulletin come in at 8:05 a.m. and asked the dispatcher for a description of the suspect.
“The only description so far is a male, black, 30 to 40 years, heavy build, wearing a green-and-beige shirt, black pants,” the dispatcher said.
The constable spotted Brookes and followed him as he headed toward the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, opposite Union Station.
The officer ordered Brookes to stop but he didn’t listen. Seeing he was armed, MacDuff hollered “Gun!” to all the pedestrians crowding the streets on their way to work.
Brookes glanced back and aimed his rifle several times at the officer, who had drawn his Glock pistol. He then crossed the street to the busy sidewalk outside Union Station and grabbed Regis, the first person he saw.
Sgt. Tom Sharkey and his Emergency Task Force (ETF) team were already at work that morning and about an hour into their mandated daily 90-minute workout when the call came in.
The ETF tactical team usually responds to high-risk situations — calls involving people with weapons and incidents of extreme violence.
Sharkey revisited Union Station in 2018, standing near the area where he attempted negotiations with Anthony Brookes. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)
Union Station Toronto, pictured here in 2018, was the scene of the standoff. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)
“The information we received initially was that a woman had been shot by a man in the food court at the TD Centre,” said Sharkey, an ex-soldier with several tours in Vietnam.
As they prepared to go downtown, Sharkey said they got more information about the suspect and were told that the officer who had chased Brookes was trying to talk to him.
Sharkey’s second-in-command, Bob Gregory, made sure the team members had all their equipment before leaving the station: firearms, helmets, bulletproof vests, as well as the Arwen, which can fire tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.
We’re not going to do anything that’s going to cause this guy to kill her. - Tom Sharkey
Setting up ‘containment’
A number of police units — canine, marine and uniformed officers from multiple divisions — converged on the scene.
When the ETF arrived, Brookes had been holding Regis for about 20 minutes.
Sharkey ordered Gregory to “set up containment.” That meant getting some 100 officers on the scene to move bystanders back and clear the area as much as possible.
“There were literally thousands of people on the street — divisional officers trying to hold them back,” Sharkey said.
Among those people were Heidi Laverick, an HSBC account manager on her way to work, and Angela Naus, a CBC TV producer who’d been sent to check out the situation, which was unfolding just 600 metres from the broadcaster’s headquarters.
When the area was cleared, Sharkey’s next task was to establish communication with the hostage-taker.
His main concern was Regis’s welfare — “that we’re not going to do anything that’s going to cause this guy to kill her.”
Police surrounded Brookes, holding Regis at gunpoint in 2004. (Derek Oliver/Canadian Press)
Sharkey, middle, led the hostage negotiations, in 2004. (CBC)
The standoff snarled traffic and halted tens of thousands of commuters in Toronto's busiest transit hub. (CBC)
‘She was calm’
Regis, said Sharkey, appeared calm and collected.
“I was very impressed with her demeanour all the way through the situation.... She stayed perfectly still. Occasionally, I could see him talking to her,” Sharkey said.
“But she was calm. She didn’t do any rapid movement, and she made it so much easier for us to try and communicate with the man.”
Regis made it 'so much easier' for police to communicate with Brookes, according to Tom Sharkey. (CBC)
After Gregory set up containment and ETF team members got in position about 40 feet from where Brookes and his hostage were standing, Sharkey tried to establish a rapport with Brookes as he had done on “hundreds and hundreds” of previous calls.
He showed Brookes he had no weapons in his hands, only a radio, and tried to appear less threatening by wearing a cap instead of a helmet.
“I tried to talk to him,” Sharkey said. “I advised him we wanted to resolve the thing peacefully. Would he please speak to me? And I followed that particular route for a long time."
But Brookes was unresponsive except to say, “‘If you want to speak to me, come here.’ And that was the only conversation or the only words he said to me while I was trying to talk to him.”
Brookes was ”getting more and more erratic,” Sharkey said, “and he kept putting the gun on the girl’s shoulder, and he was aiming at me or aiming at my co-workers.
“Co-workers were diving down behind cover, and I felt that at any point he was going to open up on us.”
‘I gave the order’
Sharkey had already called in two snipers. One had set up across the street on the second floor of the Royal York Hotel. Then Gord Lusby — a member of the ETF known as a Sierra unit, who can be ordered to shoot to kill — got into position behind a railing near the front of the station.
At one point when Brookes pointed the gun away from the hostage, Sharkey reached a decision.
“I gave the order for the Sierra unit — Gord — to neutralize the threat 'cause I felt that was the only solution that was going to prevent somebody from being killed,” he said.
One officer later told Sharkey how quiet it was during this tense period — so quiet he could hear birds flapping their wings outside.
Sharkey was too busy trying to talk to Brookes and assessing the situation to notice the silence.
Lusby switched over to an encrypted band that only ETF officers could hear.
There was silence for about six seconds and then a blast pierced the air.
In 2004, police officers rushed to Regis after Brookes was shot. (CBC)
As soon as the shot was fired, Brookes dropped to the ground, releasing Regis, who crouched down as ETF officers stormed over to them. Sharkey rushed to her side and took her to another officer.
“The victim is safe,” a voice said on the radio transmission.
A dispatcher said, “10-4, victim is safe.”
It would be the only time Sharkey came face-to-face with Regis, who was unharmed. Regis was contacted for this story but did not agree to be interviewed.
Less than an hour after the drama began, the hostage-taker was dead.
Police later discovered that Brookes’s weapon had jammed earlier that morning after he’d fired at his estranged wife, who survived the ordeal.
As she approached Union Station, TV producer Naus could tell something was wrong.
Angela Naus covered the hostage-taking for CBC in 2004. (CBC)
She saw pedestrians running away and police officers with their guns drawn.
Naus entered the Royal York, across from the station, and went to a second-floor meeting room to look out the window.
The gunman had one arm wrapped around his hostage, his right hand holding a sawed-off .22-calibre rifle.
“I remember hearing ‘Put the gun down. Put the gun down,’ and the woman not making much sound aside from crying,” Naus said.
‘They shot him’
As she watched the scene, her manager called her for an update. Next thing she knew, Naus — who had never been on the air — was patched into CBC’s 24-hour news TV channel, Newsworld, and instructed by a producer to “just tell us what you see.”
She continued describing what she saw and stayed on her phone, waiting as anchor Harry Forestell did updates on other stories.
“And when they shot him I was like, ‘Holy shit, they shot him. They shot him.’"
I remember what it looks like when your brains are blown out of your head. - Angela Naus
Someone in the control room heard her and put her back on air.
“Harry, are you still there?” Naus said.
“Yes, I am,” he said.
“They have taken him down. He’s been shot in the head. The hostage is away from him,” she said.
Even after all these years, Naus said, “I remember what it looks like when your brains are blown out of your head.”
Police surrounded Regis, second from left, after the man who took her hostage was shot by a police sniper. (Derek Oliver/Canadian Press)
Sharkey, third from right, said he felt that shooting the hostage-taker 'was the only solution.' (CBC)
Heidi Laverick was one of the commuters on her way to work who witnessed Brookes holding Regis at gunpoint. (CBC)
‘I felt kind of sick’
When she left Union Station shortly after 8 a.m., bank employee Laverick wasn’t sure if she’d walked onto a movie set — a not uncommon sight in Toronto.
She saw police cruisers and a man holding a woman at gunpoint outside one of the main entrances.
She remembers hearing a police officer shout something like “Don’t shoot!” or “Stop!”
“It was actually pretty scary,” said Laverick, who saw that station security had locked the entrance. “I felt kind of sick when I realized it was real.”
She was let back into Union Station by security and rushed to work. She didn’t know what happened until later that day.
“It was sad that it came to that,” said Laverick, who avoided that area for a while and says she’s now more cautious of her surroundings. “Obviously, he was very disturbed and troubled, and it’s unfortunate that that’s what they had to do to stop it.”
The following month, Ontario’s police watchdog — which investigates all deaths, serious injuries or allegations of sexual assault involving police — concluded that Lusby’s actions were justified.
But for days after the shooting he was sleepless. Then the nightmares started. He kept dreaming he was looking at a head through the scope of his .308-calibre Remington rifle, he told CBC senior producer Joan Webber.
Lusby declined a formal interview but agreed Webber could share details of their conversation, saying it bothered him that it bothered him.
As a sniper, he trained every day for just such an emergency. But he’s come to believe we’re not wired to kill. He still works for Toronto Police and trains other officers. He said he’s fine now, but that day will always be with him.
Sharkey said the whole ETF team was required to meet a staff psychologist after the incident.
The shooting bothered Sharkey in a different way.
He felt his decision was legal and moral, but it was the only situation, out of hundreds of calls he’d made, that he was unable to resolve either by talking to the suspect or using other, less lethal tactics.
“That did affect me. I guess in the ETF we look at it almost as a failure if you do have to use lethal force — as do most police tactical units.... Even questioning myself, I can’t think of what I could have done different,” said Sharkey, who retired from the force in 2008.
“The results obviously were tragic, in a sense, a man died. But, you know, one of our objectives was to get that young lady free, no injuries to her,” he said. “I felt that was mission accomplished.”
One Bullet longform series | Radio producers: Joan Webber, Jessica Linzey | Copy editors: Kazi Stastna, Andre Mayer, Sherry Noik | Digital lead producer: Ruby Buiza | Web Development: Rebecca Viegas | Art director & animator: Ben Shannon | Statistics/research: Olivia Pasquarelli | Videos: Sinisa Jolic, Jessica Linzey (Justin Shephard), Peter Scobie, Jessica Linzey (Donna Irwin), Sinisa Jolic, Ruby Buiza (Tom Sharkey) | Video editors: Sinisa Jolic, Phil Leung |