Andrea Magalhaes will remember the gentle smile and determination of her 16-year-old son, who police say was killed in an unprovoked stabbing at a west Toronto subway station over the weekend.
Gabriel Magalhaes was an adventurous thrill-seeker who was always smiling while snowboarding and swimming, his mother told The Globe and Mail in an interview. The family often hit the slopes at Blue Mountain, a ski resort two hours north of Toronto, but Ms. Magalhaes said her son was eager for more.
“He was doing it to be with the family, but he used to say he wanted to go to crazy places,” she said. “We were planning a trip to Europe to snowboard in the Alps.”
He was training toward his goal of working as a lifeguard this summer along with his younger brother Lucas, 15. The family went on a trip to Cancun, Mexico, in February where much of their time was spent swimming or running on the beach to prepare. On the day he died, Ms. Magalhaes booked a lifeguarding test for her son scheduled for next month.
Mr. Magalhaes was stabbed and killed in what police described as a random act of violence while he was sitting on a bench with a friend at Keele Station just before 9 p.m. on Saturday.
Jordan O’Brien-Tobin, 22, who is facing one charge of first-degree murder, has an extensive history of criminal convictions in both Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador, according to court records obtained by The Globe and Mail. Police said he doesn’t have a fixed address.
The fatal attack is the latest in a spate of violent incidents on Toronto’s transit system in recent months. In December, a woman was fatally stabbed on a subway train at the adjacent High Park station.
Ms. Magalhaes said she was able to speak with witnesses Monday who told her that right before the attack, her son and his friend were sitting on the bench “in their own little bubble” talking and laughing.
He was a Grade 11 student at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute and is remembered in a letter to families as a “kind student who enjoyed school and spending time with family and friends.” He was preparing to apply to universities to study astrophysics after graduating.
On Monday, a growing memorial at the subway station’s entrance included messages from friends and the public, bouquets of flowers and stuffed animals.
Court records in Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador show a long list of charges and convictions involving a defendant with the same name and date of birth as the Keele Station suspect.
In Ontario, Mr. O’Brien-Tobin appears to have spent the entire pandemic being jailed and being released from jail, according to the court records.
Last summer, Mr. O’Brien-Tobin was arrested on charges that he had assaulted a Mississauga man with a boxcutter knife. Charge sheets filed in Peel Region indicate he pleaded guilty to this last September and was sentenced to 150 days.
In March, 2022, Mr. O’Brien-Tobin got a reprieve from a slew of charges when an Ontario Court of Justice judge ordered him freed from Maplehurst Correctional Centre.
The judicial order indicated that Mr. O’Brien-Tobin would face probation conditions for two years and that failure to live up to them could result in his being re-jailed for up to four years. That resolution settled a string of outstanding drug and property crimes, but also several criminal charges involving allegations of assault and assault with a weapon.
The probation order from March of last year directed Mr. O’Brien-Tobin to stay away from five alleged victims – including a man he allegedly confronted with a knife in April, 2021. Mr. O’Brien-Tobin was also given a lifetime weapons ban and an order to surrender his DNA.
Ontario records suggest that Mr. O’Brien-Tobin was never supposed to have been in the province during his crime run. During an earlier set of release conditions, he had told a Newfoundland judge he would not be leaving that province.
Criminal records from Newfoundland and Labrador show Mr. O’Brien-Tobin had 28 convictions in a one-year period. Kelly Dunne, a court officer in St. John’s, said Monday that an arrest warrant was issued in April of 2021 for breaching probation and it remains active.
A user on Twitter named Jennifer O’Brien, who had previously identified her son as Jordan O’Brien-Tobin with the same date of birth, posted in August of last year about her son’s experience with drug overdoses and struggles with mental health. The post said her son was unable to get help. The Globe’s attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.
Former mayor John Tory had called earlier this year for a national summit on mental health in response to violence on the TTC.
Toronto Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie and TTC chair Jon Burnside expressed their shock and sadness over the killing but warned that solutions will take time. They pointed to increased funding for transit special constables and social supports as steps being taken to address violent incidents on transit.
At the Ontario legislature, Health Minister Sylvia Jones said on Monday that she’s “incredibly proud” of the government’s recent budget announcement that community-based mental health programs will receive a 5-per-cent increase in funding – even though the Canadian Mental Health Association asked for a minimum 8-per-cent increase because of the demand for services.
TTC spokesman Stuart Green said that agency figures for serious criminal incidents on transit were down in January and are expected to be down in February as well. But he acknowledged that “this is cold comfort” in the wake of an incident such as Saturday’s stabbing.
In late January, in response to the several violent incidents on the public transit system, Toronto police assigned more than 80 extra officers to patrol TTC stations and vehicles. Those overtime deployments ended on March 13.
With a report from Laura Stone