The subway train had just pulled into Queen Street station Friday night when Chris Godfrey heard an announcement – there was a service disruption. He turned to his girlfriend, who was napping on his shoulder, and told her it was time to take a walk.
It was then that he spotted a young man on the train, holding a black gun pointed at the floor.
“He looked at us and said ‘I don’t want to hurt anyone, just get off the train,’” said Mr. Godfrey. The young man had a calm demeanour, and “didn’t raise his voice [and] he wasn’t pointing his weapon at anyone.”
Gunfire erupted in the busy downtown Toronto subway station beneath the Eaton Centre, and sent terrified Christmas shoppers and commuters fleeing for safety.
An 18-year-old man was shot during an altercation with the Toronto police and was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries. Investigators with the Ontario Special Investigations Unit believe four officers discharged their weapons.
The SIU, an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police when there has been a death or serious injury, was called in to investigate. The police watchdog has so far interviewed three officers and over a dozen eyewitnesses, SIU investigator Carm Piro said, adding that some people have video footage of the incident.
The agency is currently looking for more witnesses to help unravel the incident that sent the young man to hospital with gunshot wounds.
Mr. Piro said nine officers – including four subject officers and five witness officers – responded to the call of an armed man at the Queen Street subway station.
Mr. Godfrey said he didn’t hear any gunshots, but saw police officers arrive at the station.
“Someone was telling them that there was a man with a gun, I interjected to tell them exactly where he was,” Mr. Godfrey said. “They went running down the stairs, we moved up to the street where more police officers were already pulling up.”
The victim was transported to hospital on Friday night with life-threatening injuries, according to Emergency Medical Services. Later that night, the SIU said the victim was listed in stable condition.
The family of the victim has not yet consented for his name to be released, said Jasbir Brar, a spokeswoman for the SIU.
Subway service between Bloor and Union stations resumed Saturday afternoon, after the SIU concluded their investigation at Queen station around 2 p.m. The Friday night shooting caused Toronto’s transit authorities to close the Yonge subway line between Bloor and Union stations. The SIU examined and collected evidence relating to the incident at the station throughout Saturday morning.
Like Mr. Godfrey, Ildi Gulyas was one of the passengers riding the train when the victim pulled out a gun. She was wearing headphones, but was sitting sideways so she noticed people reacting to something when the train stopped to let patrons exit at Queen station.
"I looked behind me and there was a kid, a white kid, kind of waving what I thought was a toy gun," Ms. Gulyas said, adding that as passengers exited the train, the man holding the gun walked up and down the subway cars.
"It was just a surreal thing. He started swearing and saying 'f---ing get off the train' or something along those lines. So all of a sudden the whole train cleared and he was waving it around ... I didn't think it was a real gun."
Kevin Chan was at Queen station and said he witnessed the shooting. He said he was frightened and was trying to get away as fast as possible, describing the scene as hectic.
“It was like people panicking, screaming,” Mr. Chan said. “Some people were even crying.”
Toronto Police spokesman Mark Pugash said Saturday morning he could not comment on the incident, citing the ongoing police and SIU investigation.
But he said that Toronto Police would be conducting its own investigation into the incident, as is mandated in all Toronto Police incidents involving the SIU.
Violence near the popular downtown shopping centre is not a new occurrence. Last summer, shots rang out in the Eaton Centre food court, leaving two people dead.
TTC head Andy Byford didn’t want to comment on details of the shooting, citing contradictory reports, but stressed that neither customers nor staff had been hurt.
Mr. Byford said that the transit system has multiple safety features but, ultimately, carries the same risks as other public places.
“It’s no different than the street, or a shopping mall,” the CEO said in a phone interview late Friday, adding that security in a public transit network can go only so far. “There’s no system in the world that I’m aware of that has metal detectors.”
Earlier this year, police were involved in another TTC shooting, when an officer shot and killed Sammy Yatim on a streetcar. An officer is facing charges in connection with that shooting.
It has been reported that a number of shots were heard by witnesses and the SIU is asking anyone with information to contact the lead investigator at 416-622-1898.
With files from Oliver Moore, the Canadian Press and Ann Hui