By Susan Ponting and Anson Liski
Keaton Austin, pastor of Abundant Life Assembly Church has lost four parishioners this year alone to gun violence.
Calvary Church on the Danforth to hold a vigil tonight, followed by a prayer walk.
Many thought that Toronto would never be the same after the Toronto Van Attack just a few months ago. Now we’re asking all over again, as many of us ask God, “How can we heal? How could something this tragic this happen… again?”
The young 18-year-old woman, gunned down in a vibrant part of Toronto called, Greektown has been identified as Reese Fallon, her Facebook page still active, full of youthful, active, animated pictures. Her life was just beginning. She was going to be a nurse, study at McMaster. Her friends and teachers said she had a dry and quick wit, and beautiful, loving nature. Her English teacher used to shop at the local grocery store where she worked, and would kid her about being vegan, working at the butcher counter.
A 10-year-old girl, not yet identified, also lost her life to this senseless act of seemingly random violence, that ended in murder.
And, 13 others were injured – all of whom are either in critical or in stable condition four different hospitals around Toronto – lives changed forever, in less than 10 minutes.
The shooter is identified as Faisal Hussain who died in an apparent shootout with police. His family, from Thorncliffe Park, a cluster of tall apartment buildings north west of Greektown, released a carefully worded statement saying their son had struggled with mental illness, and “psychosis” his entire life.
It has been a violent year in Toronto.
The Canadian Press reports, of the 52 homicides in Toronto so far this year, 23 have been gun related.
The mass shooting on the Danforth has left many feeling hopeless, helpless, shocked, and angry.
From Queen’s Park today, Ontario’s new premier, Doug Ford, said, “What happened last night is tragic and it should be a cause for anger. It reminds us that the status quo is not good enough, we must do everything we can to bring criminals to justice, while preventing other potential shootings. As premier, my commitment is that I will do everything in my power to keep our neighbourhoods safe. We will make sure police have the tools and resources they need to do their jobs, and we will work with our municipal and federal counterparts to identify, apprehend, and convict those who commit, or plan to commit violence. The shooter is dead but that will not delay or deter us from seeking justice.”
Speculation as to why the gunman went on a shooting rampage abounds, as it did in the early stages of learning about the Toronto Van Attack earlier this year. The victims of this tragedy appear to have been selected at random, but an eyewitness account has implied the shooter may have been targeting women. In a Global News report, Andreas Mantzios, said, “He was shooting mostly women, I only saw a couple of guys. I saw him execute a lady, point blank,” Mantzios said.
In a CBC report, Toronto’s Mayor, John Tory said, “this incident hasn’t given much time for the city to heal after 10 people were killed just a few months ago in a van attack.” Alek Minassian, the killer in the Toronto Van Attack, has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. Minassian’s motives appeared to have been due to the “Incel” movement – an online subculture that blames women for their sexual inactivity. Authorities have not made any claims that the 29-year-old shooter in Greektown had the same motives.
The pastor of Abundant Life Assembly Church, Keaton Austin, organized a protest earlier this month to advocate for better gun-related policy in Toronto. In an interview with Context, Austin says that his community in Etobicoke lost four people to gun violence in 2017 – and to date, another four people have died as a result of guns this year – he’s adamant something has to change.
He said people in his community are always, “going home early to stay safe,” and after this most recent shooting, people are badly shaken up, “How many more shootings are going to occur for something to change?”
Austin also said he believes that churches have a particular responsibility to get involved in advocating against gun violence, “I think all churches should get out and be present in their communities; that is one thing the church lacks, is involvement in issues like these.”
Austin believes there will be more that people can get involved in soon when a petition pastor Austin is going to present to the city will be available for Toronto residents to sign once it is posted live in the coming days – Check the Church’s Facebook page for more information.
Austin, like many others, says he would like to see, “better surveillance, more attention to metro housing, and better policing in the areas most affected by violence.”
Chris Stackaruk of Neighbourly Faith – an organization that works for inter-religious engagement and equips Christians to love and lead like Jesus, is based out of Greektown. Currently in Spain, Stackrauk said by email, “It feels extremely tragic. We’re just not used to this kind of violence.”
Stackaruk echoes the shock of other locals on the Danforth and says, “I have lived in some rough neighbourhoods in Chicago, but you just don’t expect this in Toronto.”
Whether this is another Summer of the Gun – or worse an indication that too many guns are on the streets to control, or not enough police on the streets, the situation in Toronto the Good – is beginning to sound more like a city that is infamous for its gun violence, Chicago, Mexico City, or San Pedro Sula, to name a few.
Gun violence is horrendous no matter what city it is in Austin says, “I have buried a lot of people because of gun violence. I know their family members… I say to Mayor Tory, we need change.”