‘Gang involvement’ in Scarborough shootout, says police chief

July 17, 2012 - All News

Investigators suspect “gang involvement” in last night’s shootout at a Scarborough children’s block party that killed a young man and a teenage girl and injured 22 others, Toronto’s police chief said Tuesday.
“It is very, very clear both were completely innocent,” said Bill Blair of the 23-year-old man and 14-year-old girl who were gunned down shortly before 11 p.m. Monday at the Danzig St. barbecue.
Among the injured, all but one of whom were hit by bullets, was a 22-month-old whose head was grazed in the gunfire, Blair told a morning news conference at police headquarters.
The toddler will recover and many of the wounded were treated and released, but one man remained in critical condition, he said.
Blair said all the victims were innocent bystanders to the outbreak of violence which the chief fears will spiral into more bloodshed as people “seek vengeance for the violence that occurred.”
The shooting poses “a significant danger to the lives and safety of all of us,” he said. “We are sincerely concerned about the potential for retaliatory violence.”
The names of the dead and the details would be released later by investigating homicide detectives, Blair said. Their families had been notified.
A “person of interest” had been questioned by police since last night, but Blair stopped short of calling him a suspect.
One of the two handguns used had been recovered at the scene, a party behind a Toronto Community Housing block on Danzig St. near Morningside Ave.
Scarborough Guildwood MPP Margarett Best knows the teenaged victim and her family, she said.
“This is a tremendous tragedy for the family and those who were injured and killed,” said Best, who grew up the community.
“We have received some cooperation from witnesses at the scene,” said Blair. “I want to appeal to the many hundreds of people who may have some information to come forward as quickly as possible for the safety of their neighbourhood.”
He pledged to send “significant additional uniformed resources” to the Danzig St. area, elsewhere in Scarborough, into Rexdale and the Jane and Finch area where “retaliatory violence” might take place.
“This demands a response from the entire city,” Blair said. “This demands the relentless pursuit of the individuals responsible.”
What he called the “worst incidence of gun violence in this city” carried the “strong indication there may have been gang involvement,” but backed off from saying it was evidence of a gang war.
“Today is not a day to reflect on statistics or even to try to provide some context,” Blair said. “Today we’re focusing on the crime that took place last night and the pursuit of the individuals responsible for it.”
But, he said, “certainly the very brazen violence demonstrates a depraved indifference to the lives involved,” which is a hallmark of gang shootings.
“I believe that Toronto is a very safe and liveable city but last night, Danzig was not a safe place. That was a very dangerous place for innocent people going about their lives,” the chief said.
In Guelph, Premier Dalton McGuinty called the shooting “outrageous” said he has spoken to Blair and Mayor Rob Ford, inviting them to a meeting with his attorney general and ministers of community safety and children and youth services to brainstorm on anti-violence strategies.
“The actions that unfolded there saddened us and angered us,” McGuinty told reporters after touring a brake parts plant.
‘This is the safest city in the world,” said Mayor Rob Ford at a mid-morning news conference. He disputed Toronto Community Housing chief Gene Jones’s comparison of Toronto with Detroit.
“I can assure you Toronto is not like Detroit.”
Jones called the shooting his sad introduction to Toronto this morning, and promised to work with the neighbourhood to restore calm.
“Kids have guns and shouldn’t have guns,” said Gene Jones at the scene of Monday night’s gunfire at a public housing block that left two dead and 19 injured.
“You guys have stringent gun laws and kids are still getting the opportunity to have guns,” said Jones, who took over TCHC on June 18 after running the public housing corporation in Detroit.
“The sad thing about this is that is my introduction to Toronto.”
Jones said he understood witnesses’ reluctance to come forward after a block party turned deadly.
“They’re just scared. So many people are watching people in developments. They are scared.”
He promised grievance counsellors for the neighbourhood and promised to return Tuesday night to help restore calm.
“It’s just so senseless, these guns. Crime does not happen on my social housing sites – crime comes from outside these neighbourhoods,” said Jones, a 30-year veteran of social housing administration.
“Toronto is no different from Detroit and is no different from any other city. Kids have guns because it makes them powerful to have a gun. We just have to get those guns off of the streets.”
Ron Moeser, the city councillor for the Danzig St. area, said the scale of the shooting horrified him.
Moeser said he was notified of the shooting by a call from Mayor Rob Ford’s office around 11:30 p.m. Monday.
“The community is outraged, I’m outraged,” Moeser said in an interview Tuesday morning. “I can’t believe that, given the makeup of this community, something would happen on this scale where somebody would walk into a crowd and just start shooting. This could happen anywhere but it’s a terrible blow to the community.”
Moeser (Ward 44 Scarborough East) said crime has generally been down in the area since the early 2000s when the “Galloway Boys” and other gangs terrorized parts of Scarborough with deadly gunfire.
Moeser, a fiscal conservative on council, credits some of the crime reduction to financial resources poured into the area, including the rebuilding of Heron Park recreation centre, construction of a standalone public library branch instead of one in a plaza and new Coronation Dr. basketball facilities.
“We had a task force to engage the community and fight this back then and it looks like we’re going to have to establish something again given the scale of this shooting,” Moeser said.
The police responded with a massive investigation, dubbed Project Pathfinder, aimed at dismantling the Galloway Boys and rival gangs.
Michael Thompson, another Scarborough Councillor and vice-chair of the police services board, said, “We’re all shaken and we all want to express condolences to the families involved.
“This shooting is shocking, very disturbing and unprecedented. I’ve never heard of such a thing, with so many victims, in this city,” said Thompson (Ward 37 Scarborough Centre).
Thompson, who was invited to the Danzig St. block party but could not go, called this gunplay particularly disturbing on the heels of several other public shootings this year.
As economic development chair, Thompson is part of the Ford administration that has taken aim at parts of the so-called “priority centres” program established by Ford’s predecessor, David Miller, that puts extra money into troubled communities in hopes of turning young people away from crime.
But Thompson said Tuesday he personally supports targeted investment, while knowing that some youths will simply not avail themselves of the opportunities.
— Torstar News Service