If there were a Ten Commandments for gang members, "show respect" and "never snitch" would likely top the list.
Friday, as a five-year-old girl recovered from a stray bullet in the back, fired in an apparent gang-related attack at a family barbecue on Thursday, a neighbour tried to enforce a similar code outside the northwest Toronto high-rise where the shooting took place.
"You live here, you respect our building," the imposing woman shouted at an elderly neighbour, interrupting him as he spoke to a television reporter. "Don't speak if you don't know the truth."
Asked whether she knew the truth, the woman barked, "I'm not getting involved in something I don't know about" and retreated into the lobby of 5 Bellevue Cres., near Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue.
Inside the low-income building and on surrounding streets, police continued to probe the latest, and perhaps most disturbing, blast of gun violence in the 12 Division patrol area. So far this year, eight of Toronto's 20 homicides, including four shooting deaths in the past month, have taken place there.
The little girl, identified by a relative as Tanya Reynolds, was shot at about 7:40 p.m. on Thursday. Police said a man with a gun in each hand fired several rounds at a crowd of nine people gathered outside the ground-floor apartment, on a litter-strewn patch of lawn enclosed by a waist-high fence.
The girl, who was either outside or near the door leading into the apartment when she was struck, was sitting up and playing in her room at the Hospital for Sick Children Friday, said a woman who identified herself as Annette, the girl's maternal great-grandmother. "She'll be fine," the woman said.
In addition to the gunman, at least two guests at the barbecue fled before police arrived, Staff Superintendent Jeff McGuire of Toronto police said.
"Mostly what we need is some co-operation from people who know what's going on," Supt. McGuire said. "I've got a strong feeling that we do know who a couple of them are, and rather than us having to go out and hunt them, it would be a good idea if they could come forward."
As that hunt continued, tenants came forward with unnerving observations of Thursday night's violence and its gang-tinged overtones.
"We knew that this thing was going to come; there's always problems over there," one woman said, tilting her head toward the unit where the little girl lives with her mother, stepfather and younger sister. "The police come and they disrespect the police."
As for the unknown shooter, three of whose gun blasts the woman heard as she walked more than a block away, "He's a coward," she said. "A coward, and heartless."
Despite recent events, the same cannot be said of the wider neighbourhood, where community workers and volunteers have been waging a well-intentioned fight against factors that can lead young people into gang life.
Since 1987, Frontlines, a community drop-in centre on Weston Road, practically in the shadow of 5 Bellevue, has offered a slew of youth and adult programs, all funded by local churches and private donations.
The Strong Man program, for example, provides mentorship along with physical conditioning for boys, many of whom lack male role models. A nutritional program teaches children, many well under 10, to cook and eat healthfully on a budget.
Kristy Grisdale, director of Frontlines, said the programs have strengthened community ties in an area long challenged by poverty, crime and cultural hurdles faced by its many new immigrants.
"Within our community, when a kid does wrong, parents are going to find out, and when a kid does well, they find out, too," Ms. Grisdale said. Outside her office, a culturally diverse group of adults chopped ingredients and made bulk meals to take home to their families. "It hurts me that there are very few times that Weston is in the news, and that it happens for this reason," she said of Thursday's shooting.
Across the street at Weston Park Baptist Church, Pastor Alan Davey lamented that the neighbourhood is "lost" to the minds of many Torontonians, who don't know where it is or what it looks like. It has no city-run community centre, but Mr. Davey hopes to find private partners to help him build an arts and athletic complex for youths on a vacant lot the church recently acquired next door.
"Obviously, if you carry a gun, you get respect," he said of the sense of belonging that gangs, for all their faults, offer their members. "We need to provide something that feels as good as a gun, but it's a process, and it takes a long time."
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