Yet another 15-year-old Toronto boy has been shot dead – the third in a month, and like the other two, slain in a public-housing building.
At first glance it resembles an epidemic. Police Chief Bill Blair, always cautious about short-term crime patterns, is less certain.
“Each of these cases are individual tragedies, and they don’t necessarily indicate a trend,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
“But at the same time we are very concerned about the level of violence we’re seeing, and about the propensity of young people to resort to violence to resolve disputes. It appears that some young people have been desensitized to extreme violence.”
And the other component of the grief, Chief Blair and other police leaders agree, is the ready access to illegal guns, most of which are smuggled in from the United States.
The point was underlined Tuesday morning, at a press conference where police, friends and family of the newest teen casualty, Jarvis Montaque, appealed for public help in solving his murder.
The briefing was at 23 Division in the city’s north end. Supt. Ron Taverner told reporters that in his division alone – one of 17, city wide – 17 guns have been taken off the street so far this year.
The motive for Jarvis’s execution-style killing in Rexdale Sunday night is unknown but he looks to have been targeted – felled at short distance by a single bullet to the chest – Det. Sgt. Gary Giroux of the homicide squad said.
Jarvis had never had a run-in with the law, he added. Nor had any of the friends he was with that night.
Eight detectives have been assigned to the case, and large quantities of security-camera videotape are under scrutiny “But witness participation is going to be absolutely paramount,” Det. Sgt. Giroux said, and without it the investigation won’t progress.
Jarvis’s death has struck a major nerve.
So far this year Toronto has witnessed eight homicides and four of the victims were teen-agers – three of them aged 15, all living in Toronto Community Housing Corp. buildings, which house just 6 per cent of the city’s residents.
In addition was the Jan. 23 death of 9-year-old Kesean Williams in Brampton, just west of Toronto, killed at home by a bullet that pierced his living-room window.
Lauded as a quiet, diligent boy who always stayed out of trouble, Jarvis had been watching a basketball game on television when he and some friends stepped outside his home on Jamestown Crescent for a cigarette, shortly before 11 p.m.
A little earlier in the evening he and his pals had gone out to get food before returning home, and Det. Sgt. Giroux said it was possible that an altercation of some kind had occurred en route.
He was a Grade 10 student at Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School, and had been in Canada for less than two years after arriving from Jamaica, where he is to be buried this weekend, survived by his parents and 10 sisters.
A family statement described him as a kind, loving child, fond of music and dancing, and a regular church-goer.
He and his friends were standing on a paved walkway beneath a streetlight that wasn’t working when the lone gunman – a young black male, clad in dark clothing – walked up, fired a handgun and fled.
The unsolved murders of Suleiman Ali of Toronto, and Warsame Ali, of Vaughan – the two Somali-Canadians were unrelated – took place nearby in September, and Warsami Ali’s mother, Habiba Adan, joined Tuesday’s collective plea for witnesses to aid detectives in Jarvis’s death.
“We who have been there feel the pain of what the family is going through, to anyone out there who knows what happened, please come forward,” she said.
“People in public housing are vulnerable communities,” Chief Blair said. “Not only are individual lives lost, but communities lose their sense of safety. I never lose hope, and we’ve made progress over the past several years, but there still is work to do.
“We are working very closely with public housing and their security board, in fact there’s a meeting scheduled for later today in which some of our people have been invited to participate. We’re working very closely with them and we believe there are things that can be done.
“But it’s not just an issue of housing, and it’s not just an issue of policing. It’s an issue for the entire community – schools, community centres, youth workers, families – all of us who have an interest in the safety of those kids have to work together.”
At Tuesday’s morning press conference, Pastor Al Bowen described Jarvis a “remarkable young man” who was “incredibly loved by his family” and “a workhorse” when he helped out as a church volunteer.
On Saturday, the Abundant Life Assembly church will hold a memorial for the boy, Rev. Bowen said.
A trust fund has also been set up.