Amid the chaos of Sunday night’s mass shooting in Toronto’s Greektown, Linda Falagario held an 18-year-old girl who had been shot and told her over and over that she wasn’t alone.
Hours later, police announced that young woman, Reese Fallon, had died, along with a 10-year-old girl. By the time the shooting stopped, 13 more victims, ranging in age from 17 to 59, had suffered gunshot wounds. Several of those people remain in hospital Monday night after undergoing life-saving surgery.
The gunman is also dead. Faisal Hussain, a 29-year-old Toronto resident suffered from severe mental health issues, according to his family. Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), is still trying to figure out whether he was killed in a gunfight with police, or by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Falagario, a long-time resident of the area, said she heard a number of gunshots — police said the shooting started around 10 p.m. ET — then people running. Her husband raced from their home to a nearby ice cream parlour, and she followed.
Soon, they were both holding Fallon, who had been shot.
“I was just talking to her… to this beautiful girl,” Falagario told CBC Toronto.
“I just talked to her, let her know she’s not alone. She’s not alone.”
Wiping away tears beside her own young daughter, Falagario said she hopes Fallon’s family knows their daughter was loved and cared for in her final moments.
Fallon had graduated from Malvern Collegiate Institute in Toronto just last month, and was set to attend McMaster University in Hamilton in the fall. She was also well known in the community for her work with the young Liberals group.
Police say the 10-year-old girl who was killed has also been identified, however her family does not want her name released at this time. Authorities have said only that she lived in the Greater Toronto Area.
Another man, Md Ashaduzamman, was trying to keep a girl of about the same age alive at a nearby cafe.
The shooting happened on the Danforth, a popular strip of restaurants and bars, close to Toronto’s downtown. Many witnesses described the crack of gunshots ringing out in the night, and then running for their lives when they realized what was happening.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said police don’t know what prompted the attack and he acknowledged there are concerns about ongoing gun violence in Toronto. He said police are working to restore a sense of safety in the city.
“There is no magic pill that we’re going to take to say all is well,” Saunders told reporters at police headquarters in Toronto Monday. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Saunders praised front-line staff for their quick response, suggesting the situation could have been much worse without their efforts. Police will maintain a heightened presence on the Danforth, he said.
Det.-Sgt. Terry Browne said the shooting, which he described as “very disturbing,” occurred rapidly and there are several scenes within the main scene. He said there were a lot of citizens who provided medical help to the “best of their ability.”
Danforth Avenue was closed for several hours Monday, but police announced around 5:45 p.m. that it had reopened.
‘Life changing’ injuries
Browne said some of the victims have “life-changing” injuries, while others will be released from hospital soon.
“We have control of the city. This is an incident that has occurred, it is a tragic incident, but there are many, many moving parts to this incident and many victims,” he said. “We will get through this,” he said.
Browne said police will conduct an investigation into the shooter’s background. Uniformed officers will canvass areas north and south of the Danforth.
Police said all families of the victims have been notified.
Earlier, Saunders urged the public to share any information they have about the shooting, including video of what happened. He said the investigation is still in its early stages.
“I’m looking at every single possible motive for this,” he said. “When you have this many people struck by gunfire it’s a grave concern.”
The SIU has towed a police cruiser from the scene, and a spokesperson for the agency said two officers who were inside will be investigated for their role in the exchange of gunfire with Hussain.
She said his firearm is now in the SIU’s possession.
“How the man sustained his injury and what transpired are part of the SIU’s investigation,” said Monica Hudon.
According to the SIU, the suspect walking along Danforth Avenue fired at groups of people several times at about 10 p.m. ET on Sunday. Saunders said Hussain was armed with a handgun.
The SIU said officers located him on Bowden Street, near Danforth and Broadview avenues, and an exchange of gunfire took place. The SIU said Hussain fled and was found dead on Danforth Avenue.
The SIU’s investigation will focus solely on what occurred on Bowden Street, while the Toronto police will investigate what happened on Danforth Avenue, Hudon said.
Police have not said how Hussain died but said no officers were injured in the exchange of gunfire.
Taken to trauma centres
Emergency crews were called to the scene near Danforth and Logan avenues in Greektown, part of which is located within Toronto’s Riverdale neighbourhood, shortly after the shooting.
Police spokesperson Mark Pugash said it is too early to say whether the shooting was motivated by terrorism.
Eight of the victims were taken to trauma centres in Toronto.
Hospital spokespeople said four people were taken to St. Michael’s Hospital and three to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
Najma Ahmed, acting medical director of trauma at St. Michael’s Hospital, said there are five patients at the hospital. Three underwent “immediate lifesaving surgery” after the shooting, she said.
All five patients are in serious and critical condition, she said.
Two body removal vans, meanwhile, left the scene of the shooting early Monday.
Mayor John Tory extended condolences to the families of the victims and thanked first responders for rushing to the scene to treat the injured. He said the shooting was an “unspeakable act” and an attack on the city.
“Our entire city has been shocked by this cowardly act of violence. As I said earlier this morning at the scene, I’m, of course, angry as we all are that someone would carry out such an attack, which really amounts to an attack on our city itself,” Tory told city council.