Rival gangs opened fire during a crowded street party after a member of one of them was turned away, Toronto police said Thursday as they announced first-degree murder charges in the worst mass shooting in the city’s history.
Two people were killed and 23 others were injured in the summer when “a number” of people opened fire at a street barbecue on Danzig Street in Scarborough. The mayhem was swiftly blamed on local gang violence.
Staff-Inspector Greg McLane confirmed that the violence was the result of an altercation between members of the Malvern Crew and the Galloway Boys, notorious Scarborough street gangs. A Malvern Crew member was denied entry to the party - which the officer said had been taken over by the Galloway Boys - and went to get reinforcements.
Shaquan Mesquito, whose street name is Bam Bam, is facing two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, 24 counts of aggravated assault and one of reckless discharge of a firearm.
“The person came to the event with the sole purpose of discharging a firearm,” Staff-Inspector McLane told reporters.
Mr. Mesquito was already in custody when police laid the charges Wednesday.
He was arrested shortly after the barbecue shootout and charged with uttering threats that would cause “serious bodily harm.” He was also found to be in possession of a loaded .22-calibre handgun, police said at the time, and was charged with a number of other firearms offences..
Those charges stemmed from a shooting at his Malvern home a few hours after the gunfire erupted on Danzig Street.
Staff-Inspector McLane said the investigation is continuing and that more charges, including murder charges, are expected. Also Thursday, composite images of two people were released. A police news release said that the second person of interest has a noticeable scar under his left eye. Police said they wanted to speak with these two to see what role, if any, they played.
Shyanne Charles, a 14-year-old girl who died in the shooting, was the oldest of four children who was described as a top student and avid athlete. The other fatal victim, 23-year-old Joshua Yasay, was a basketball-loving Ajax resident. A 22-month-old infant was among the many wounded but survived.
A former co-worker of Mr. Yasay said that she had been following the case closely and was pleased the new charges had been laid.
“I feel a sense of relief, for sure, knowing that the suspect, if they’re guilty, is off the streets,” Samantha Power said in a phone interview. She is calling for justice, which she defined as including consequences and also, importantly, rehabilitation. “That’s what Josh wanted, for these people not to turn to violence.”
The shooting came after a mid-July neighbourhood barbecue in Scarborough that the organizer said became inundated with strangers. An altercation in the crowd - which police on Thursday pegged at between 100 and 150 people - led to an exchange of gunfire, sparking panic.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford came out strongly in defence of the city’s safety in the wake of the shooting, which left the city’s police chief saying he could remember no worse violence.
“Toronto’s the safest city in North America,” he said at the time. “I assure you, Toronto is not like Detroit. People should come here and enjoy this great city.”
The shooting happened on Toronto Community Housing property. Gene Jones, president of the social housing provider, said at the time that the party was not approved, as required, by TCHC staff.
Police Chief William Blair also addressed the media conference and agreed there has been some reluctance among witnesses to help police in the investigation, but said he hoped that would now change.
“I understand people’s fear and it is fear that keeps people from coming forward, but I want them to know that we need them to come forward,” he said.
“The only way we can keep our neighbourhoods safe and our kids safe is by working together.
“The City of Toronto is safe, but Danzig (Street) wasn’t safe on that night. On that night, some individuals took guns there, took two innocent lives and put a lot of people at risk. Great trauma was experienced, not only by the people that were hurt but by an entire community.”