National Column: “She’s a hero. She saved people tonight”

by Rosie DiManno

Tanya Wilson was locking up her tattoo shop on the Danforth, heading out for dinner with a friend.

It was just before 10 p.m.

She heard shots.

“I thought it was firecrackers.” She pauses. “No, that’s not true. I thought it was shots.”

Because we think that way now in Toronto, at the sound of sharp cracks. Not firecrackers, not a car backfiring. Bullets.

Wilson glimpsed a white man with longish hair, the shooter, and hastily pulled back inside. “Honestly, it was all happening so fast, I didn’t know what to do.”

Suddenly, two people outside were banging on the front door, pleading to be let in.

In her panic, Wilson at first feared these individuals might have been allied with the gunman in some way, trying to force themselves into her business, Skin Deep.

Then she saw the blood.

Both the older woman and a younger man had been struck.

“They were freaking out, crying, ‘There’s a man with a gun!’ ”

Wilson hustled them indoors. Put each in one of her tattoo chairs and set about applying first aid, first fashioning a tourniquet above the bullet holes. Both – a mother and her adult son, she’d learn – had been hit in the leg, below the knee.

“I know how to handle blood,” Wilson told the Star. “I put on my medical gloves. Mostly it’s just using common sense.”

She turned off the lights, hoping the shooter would believe the premises were vacant, and ushered the victims into the basement. Then all of them huddled for the half-hour until Wilson was able to flag an officer and paramedics were summoned.

Four hours later, with the victims removed by ambulance, Wilson and her friend were still being held in place, waiting to be interviewed by police.

A block away, her tattoo teacher, Trevor Boucher, had pulled up in vehicle, trying to talk his way past a police cordon on Logan. But only cops and first responders were being allowed through. Even those who live on the Danforth, trying to make their way home on a Sunday night, were turned away, advised to find somewhere else to sleep on this maddened night.

Boucher worked the phones in three-way conversations, attempting to calm Wilson. “I’m covered in blood!”

“Let me get my girl,” Boucher implored officers, to no avail. “Or let her come to me. She’s terrified.”

To the Star, he said: “She’s a hero. She saved people tonight.”

“It’s just so weird,” said Wilson, when the Star reached her. “I mean, we’re all aware of the shootings that have been happening around the city. But this is the Danforth, you know? It’s a beautiful neighbourhood with always lots of people on the street, walking around, going to restaurants, sitting on patios.

“How did it get so crazy?”

Wilson’s thoughts were with the little girl rushed to emergency in critical condition. That 10-year-old child, as police Chief Mark Saunders disclosed at a Monday morning press conference, did not survive.

“Just a little girl,” said Wilson sadly. “That’s where my head is right now.”

Also killed was an 18-year-old female, identified as Reese Fallon, who hailed from the Beaches area.

And the shooter. Police sources told the Star that 29-year-old Faisal Hussain died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, although the Special Investigations Unit would not confirm that detail.

After an exchange of gunfire with officers, he fled and his body was discovered on Danforth, the SIU reported. An autopsy was to be conducted Tuesday morning and ballistics conducted on the bullet.

How he died is a critical part of the investigation undertaken by the SIU, which is called in whenever a civilian is killed or seriously injured in an incident involving police. But the larger investigation, involving a crime scene that extends for several blocks, is the responsibility of Toronto police, led by veteran homicide Det. Sgt. Terry Browne.

At Second Cup, on the corner of Danforth and Hampton Aves., the owner pointed out three bullet holes that had punctured the front window.

The small sidewalk patio had been full of patrons, enjoying the mild evening.

“I was in the back so I didnít see what happened,” said one employee. “But suddenly all these people were running through here.”

Directly in front of the Second Cup, police had placed upturned coffee cups, marking the spots where shell casings had been found – a dozen of them in that chunk of sidewalk alone.

Nobody inside had been injured.

Jessica Young, an employee, told the Starís Wendy Gillis that sheíd seen the shooter. “He was probably no taller than me, wearing a black baseball cap, dark clothes … That’s all I could make out,” Young said, adding that the man appeared to have a pistol or handgun.

“I was shaken, terrified. Itís not every day you almost get shot.”

Another man: “I heard at least 20 shots, in intervals. Reloading, clipping spent, reloading, clipping spent.”

Other witnesses said the man had his shirt sleeves rolled up, had walked back and forth across Danforth, shooting indiscriminately, assuming a shooterís stance, as if he knew how to handle a firearm. It appears to have been a semi-automatic, with a magazine, given the volley of shots – multiple bang-bang-bang – with pauses in between.

“He was skinny but he had this horrible look on his face,” another witness told reporters, “like he was under the influence or something.”

The shooter was only some 10 feet away.

“I fell down. He ran across, kept shooting and ran down the street.”

Thirteen victims wounded, some with “life-changing” injuries, said Browne. Men, women and children running, ducking, taking cover behind a fountain before bystanders and employees of local business ventured out with towels and rags to staunch bleeding.

On a night of unimaginable horror, there were heroes too.

In the small hours of Monday morning and into the day, video captured on cellphones began surfacing on social media. The shooter is seen firing into storefronts and cafÈs, walking purposefully westward through Greektown. A man on a mission, it appears.

Police said warrants had been sought to search the shooterís home. If investigators retrieve computer files, those and any social media footprint will be invaluable in uncovering a motive.

Why did he concentrate his fire on some establishments while bypassing others? Why did he tell one man, “I’m not going to shoot you,” and stride on by?

“I canít speak to what was on this individualís mind,” said Browne. “We’ll certainly dissect everything. We’re going into the background of this individual.”

Before the sun rose on an eerily depopulated Danforth, usually so vibrant a neighbourhood, dozens of officers and crime scene reconstruction experts worked the area, filming and measuring. The bomb squad also conducted a controlled detonation of a package, which may have been the bag the shooter was carrying, slung over a shoulder.

“We’re going to blow up a package now,” an officer warned onlookers milling around the Danforth-Broadview intersection.

The thump of that detonation could be heard for blocks around 1 a.m.

Saunders and Mayor John Tory tried to reassure the public. They’ve done a lot of that over recent weeks and months as blood has been spilled on the streets, in a playground, on the Entertainment District sidewalk, in Yorkville, in Kensington market, at a church fair.

But this mass shooting has more a feel of random terror and malice, bringing to mind the van attack along Yonge St. in North York in April – 10 dead, 16 with non-fatal injuries, some of them grievous.

What in God’s name is happening?

Murders, van attack, a lone gunman rampage, in a city that has always boasted of its safeness. Rightly or wrongly, it feels profoundly less safe now, the violence as brazen and senseless one-on-one as one-on-dozens.

Madness descending.

With files from Wendy Gillis

Twitter: @rdimanno
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services

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