Toronto police have shot and killed a man who bystanders said was carrying a rifle while walking around a residential area with several schools in the eastern part of the city.
The panic in Scarborough on Thursday afternoon prompted school officials to take protective measures by telling hundreds of schoolchildren to hide under their desks, in some cases for about two hours, until danger passed.
The incident took place just two days after a teenaged gunman killed 19 elementary-school students and two teachers in Texas.
Police and school officials caution that they have little information about the Toronto man or his motives. “The individual is deceased. The officers are doing as well as can be expected. It’s a difficult thing,” Toronto Police Chief James Ramer told reporters at the scene.
He cautioned the public against concluding that a school shooting was thwarted. “Due to the proximity to the school, I certainly understand how traumatic this must have been for staff students and parents, given the recent events that have happened in the United States,” said Chief Ramer.
But he characterized the event as an isolated incident with no lingering fallout for public safety. “We have no understanding at this point in time what was about to happen or what could have happened,” Chief Ramer said. “So I don’t want to speculate that it is something similar to what’s happened in the United States.”
Because Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, which automatically probes all police-involved shootings in the province, has been called in, Chief Ramer said he was prohibited from discussing details of the case. The identity of the man has not been released. Chief Ramer also did not respond to questions about what kind of weapon the man was carrying.
Shortly after 1 p.m., Toronto Police Service tweeted that it was receiving from the public “reports of man walking on the street carrying a rifle” in a residential area of Scarborough. He was described as being in his teens or early 20s wearing a ballcap and a three-quarter-length coat.
Several calls came in and three public schools, including William G. Davis and its 230 elementary students, were put in lockdown. In such scenarios, students and staff remain in their classrooms and are told to stay away from windows. Teachers also typically turn off the lights and tell students to hide under their desks.
Police confronted the gunman on a street around 1:30 p.m. ET and about 150 metres away from William G. Davis school. “This event did not happen on school property,” said Ryan Bird, a Toronto District School Board spokesman.
It is unclear what words may have been exchanged before officers shot the man dead. “They responded according to their training,” said Jon Reid, a police union leader. He said two officers were brought to hospital for a checkup but had no injuries.
The Special Investigations Unit will eventually release a public report about these events. “The SIU is urging anyone who may have information about this investigation, including video or photos, to contact the lead investigator,” the agency said in a statement.
Parent Mary Khaberian was at her small business Thursday afternoon when she got word that her nine-year-old son’s Grade 4 classroom at William G. Davis was locked down. “It was quite scary. I was like, what if this person gets into the school like what happened in Texas?” she told The Globe and Mail.
But news that police shot the suspect lowered her level of anxiety. So did an e-mail parents received from the principal just before 3 p.m. ET stating that parents could retrieve their children. And at 4:30 p.m. ET she received another e-mail from the principal explaining the actions that teachers took to keep their pupils safe.
Ms. Khaberian said her son told her Thursday evening that he wasn’t scared; he spent the time making a comic book under his desk.
Mass shootings where schoolchildren are killed inside schools in Canada are exceptionally rare. In 1975, an 18-year-old gunman killed one classmate and wounded five others in an Ottawa high school. In 1999, a 14-year-old high-school student in Taber, Alta., killed one student and wounded two others.
School officials in Toronto said they would send counsellors Friday to the affected schools. Toronto Mayor John Tory said police will be stepping up patrols in Scarborough. “I can’t imagine the fear felt by kids, teachers and parents until the lockdown was lifted,” he said in a statement. “... I’m so thankful everyone in the school was able to safely go home tonight.”
Ontario is in the midst of a provincial election where opposition parties are pressing the Progressive Conservative government to do more to stop gun crime. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath issued a statement thanking Toronto Police and saying that “guns have no place on our streets.”
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca also thanked police. “As a parent of two young daughters, this is any parent’s worst nightmare,” he said.
With reports from Oliver Moore and Dustin Cook
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