It was as if the shots were intended to underscore a debate already raging within the Greater Toronto Area.
Around 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, just as radio talk-show hosts were clearing their throats in preparation to discuss the surfeit of teen gun murders this year, police in Durham Region, east of Toronto, spread word of a quadruple shooting.
Four men were injured – one critically – when gunfire broke out at 101 White Oaks Court in Whitby, a 197-unit, 21-storey apartment building at the northeast corner of a four-building residential complex that towers over the surrounding strip malls. Local residents refer to the 3,000-person residential area simply as the Oaks. Pizza deliverymen refuse to enter the elevator at night.
The shooting created a chaotic scene in the building, with bullets flying over multiple floors, according to residents.
“I was in my apartment, heard the shots, bang, bang, bang, bang, I thought they were firecrackers,” said resident Wayne Murray, who has lived on the third floor of the high-rise building for more than three years.
“Then I went out into the hallway and there were all kinds of shell casings on the floor, and by the elevator there were gunshot holes.”
Durham Regional Police Sergeant Nancy van Rooy confirmed that the shooting took place over “a number of locations.”
“Essentially the building itself is our scene at this point in time,” she told reporters. “We continue to canvass throughout all floors of the building trying to ascertain a number of occurrences that occurred prior to the shooting happening and victims being struck.”
Police were still searching for suspects in the shooting. Sgt. van Rooy would not say whether any suspects may have been struck by gunfire. She also declined to say whether the victims knew each other.
The most seriously wounded man, who is 19, was taken to a hospital in nearby Ajax and then rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto by air ambulance, said James MacDonald, a spokesman for Ornge air ambulance service. Sgt. van Rooy said the man is listed in critical condition.
The other three victims sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
The shootings follow the gun-related deaths of three 15-year-olds in Toronto this year.
A perimeter was quickly set up around the crime scene and officers were scouring the area for evidence and speaking to witnesses.
“I heard shots above me and screams and shots below me,” said Kevin, who said he was staying on the fifth floor and wanted to be identified only by his first name. “They must have been using the elevators or something. I wanted to get out, but a cop come up the stairs and frisked me and told me to wait in my apartment.”
That squared with what Mr. Murray heard. “I think some people got shot on the seventh floor too, I think that’s where the cops are going to be baffled too, it’s pretty crazy, it was a pretty weird day.”
Residents said a fire alarm had sounded that morning around 7 a.m. and that a loud party could be heard on the 17th floor throughout much of the night.
Much of the building’s sinister reputation seemed undeserved until now. Durham Police have said the complex has normal amounts of crime for such a high-density residence. The building features a large daycare on the first floor and many residents on Thursday said there had been little to fear in the area.
Ahmad Zahoor Awan, who has lived on the fifth floor for just two months, returned home shortly after 1 p.m. to find the parking lot flooded with emergency vehicles.
“It was a very big shock. I’ve never seen anything like it before,” he said.
“Now I worry about this building.”