What happened in a few minutes after 18-year-old Sammy Yatim pulled out a knife on a Toronto streetcar in the late evening of July, 26, 2013, has had lasting consequences. Mr. Yatim was fatally shot by a Toronto police officer, leading to a high-profile investigation and now second-degree murder charges against Constable James Forcillo.
Aaron Li-Hill, who was on the Dundas streetcar in downtown Toronto when Mr. Yatim pulled out the knife, said he remembers hearing screams and then three girls darting past him toward the front of the vehicle. He says he soon realized that someone at the back of the vehicle had pulled out a knife.
“He [Mr. Yatim] stuck his arm out and the knife was sticking straight up in front of me,” Mr. Li-Hill told The Globe and Mail just days after the shooting. Mr. Yatim screamed at passengers not to get off the streetcar. “I was backing up holding my bike saying, ‘Please just let us off the streetcar. Just let us off the streetcar.’”
But then, according to Mr. Li-Hill, Mr. Yatim began yelling at people to get off the vehicle. Mr. Li-Hill got off with the driver and other passengers; Mr. Yatim remained on the streetcar.
Why Mr. Yatim pulled out a knife remains unclear. The teen, who came here from Syria, had no history of mental illness according to family and friends. Five years ago, he left his home country to move in with his father in Toronto. And while their relationship was fraught, and Mr. Yatim eventually moved out, friends say he was excited to turn 19 and to start college in the fall.
Police won’t say exactly when they received the first phone call about a man wielding a knife on public transit. However, Martin Baron, who was returning home around midnight that Friday night, says he saw people running off the streetcar. He said as he got closer, he saw Toronto police officers approach the vehicle.
A video that emerged shortly after the incident shows Mr. Yatim walking toward the front doors of the streetcar. Officers can be heard yelling at Mr. Yatim to drop the knife. Someone is heard swearing back at the police. An officer issues a warning to Mr. Yatim: “If you take one step in this direction with that foot…,” according to enhanced audio obtained by the National Post.
Then three shots are fired by an officer, and Mr. Yatim suddenly falls to the ground.
According to a Globe and Mail source, the officer who shot Mr. Yatim had requested a Taser before he fired his gun. Only sergeants and members of the Emergency Task Force are permitted to carry Tasers.
Six seconds after the first three shots were fired, and as Mr. Yatim lay on the floor with his legs moving, the officer fired six more times into the vehicle. Less than forty seconds after that, videos show another officer running onto the streetcar. The Toronto police union confirmed that officer was a sergeant and he tasered Mr. Yatim.
Toronto EMS says it received a call at 12:01 a.m. for a man with multiple gunshot wounds. Mr. Yatim was transported to hospital with life-threatening injuries and was transferred to the care of an emergency physician. He was pronounced dead early in the morning on July 27.