A manhunt for a gunman was under way in Toronto on Monday night after a killer wearing the clothes of a construction worker walked up to the patio of a popular outdoor café in downtown Little Italy mid-afternoon and opened fire, leaving one man dead and a second injured.
Names were not immediately released, but Police Chief Bill Blair said in an interview “there is every indication it was a targeted attack.” He called the shooting, “a crime against the community,” adding that “our sense of safety is being taken away from us and we will not accept that.”
Separately, a police source confirmed that the victim, 35, was known to police.
Sources close to the family said the victim's name was John Raposo. Neighbours and friends of Mr. Raposo, well-known in the area, identified him with the nicknames Little John and Johnny Maserati, the latter because he had a penchant for cars and drove a Maserati, a BMW and a Volvo.
The execution-style killing at The Sicilian Sidewalk Café, a landmark ice-cream parlour on College Street east of Ossington Avenue, is nonetheless sure to strike a nerve and revive concerns about public safety.
Sixteen days earlier, two gang members were fatally shot and five bystanders wounded when a gunman opened fire at the crowded Eaton Centre food court on Yonge Street. Christopher Husbands has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the case.
Monday afternoon should have been a celebratory occasion in Little Italy after the Italian team beat Ireland to qualify for the quarter-finals of the European Championship. The many cafés that line College Street were filled as local residents watched that match and another Euro Cup game.
Instead, the neighbourhood – long regarded as one of the safest areas of downtown Toronto – was flooded with police seeking the identity of a killer who wore a white construction hat, a dust mask, and an orange safety vest with a green fluorescent “X” on the front and back when he strode onto the café patio around 3:30 p.m. and began firing.
He is about six-feet tall with blond hair, police said, but there was no other description.
The second victim suffered minor injuries, police said, but it was unclear whether he was struck by bullets or injured some other way.
“It could have been much worse,” Constable Wendy Drummond said. “The area was packed.”
Word of the shooting raced through Little Italy, and residents of nearby Crawford Street identified the slain man as an affable sort who owned a house about two blocks from the crime scene. They said he had recently renovated the home for his mother to live in.
“He was certainly good to her,” one man said.
Johnny told people he made money flipping houses, and that he rented arcade games.
Friends and relatives gathered at the victim’s nearby home Monday evening and asked reporters to leave.
The house is co-owned by a 35-year-old man and a woman with the same last name, property records show, and they bought the home for $280,000 in 2001.
The shooting raises Toronto’s homicide tally for the year to 23. At this time in 2011, there had been 25.
Constable Drummond said co-operation from witnesses had been “great.”
Homicide detectives quickly arrived at the scene after a series of 911 calls flooded in, and a throng of bystanders soon gathered in the afternoon heat as College Street was blocked off in both directions.
Bystander Dyane Campbell was sitting on the patio of Easy Rider Restaurant, directly across from the crime scene, when she heard five quick shots that sounded like firecrackers, stirring instant alarm.
“There were so many people there,” she said. “There were lots of families, lots of little kids.”
Ron Malekz, the owner of Mr. Soles Shoe Repair, a block from the shooting, also heard the gunfire.
He said that at first he didn’t know what the gunshots were, but when he looked out the window he saw people running in all directions away from the café.
He said he’s never seen anything like that in his community.
“It’s the first time,” he said, with a concerned look on his face. “I feel bad for the neighbourhood.”
With a report from Stephanie Chambers