At first, it sounded as if someone had tossed a firecracker or rock into the car where Jenas Nyarko and her two friends were sitting, talking after attending a funeral about how life is too short to hold grudges.
One of those friends said on Wednesday that it was only when she turned around that she realized that Ms. Nyarko had been shot, an innocent victim in the wave of gun violence sweeping through Canada’s largest city this year.
“For a few seconds she was quiet, and the first words, and the last words she said were, ‘I’m hurt,’” said the friend, who asked not to be named because she fears for her safety. She says she still is afraid to go outside.
She and the other friend ran out of the car screaming. She called 9-1-1 but couldn’t form words. A neighbour took the phone. Paramedics arrived and tried to stabilize Ms. Nyarko, but she was gone within four minutes.
Police said the killing was not targeted; video footage suggests gang members simply shot the first person they saw on a rival’s turf.
The death toll from Toronto’s wave of gun violence continued to mount on Wednesday, hitting 25 for the year as police announced a man shot on the weekend had died in hospital. Police have not said what is driving the recent wave of shootings, although Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders and Mayor John Tory have said most are gang-related.
Many victims, like Ms. Nyarko, have no gang connections.
Ms. Nyarko was returning home from a funeral when she was killed. As her friends and family prepare for her memorial, they are adding their voices to the call for an aggressive and immediate response.
“I want justice to be done. I want [the killers] to be caught,” said Ms. Nyarko’s aunt Mary Yeboah. “The government has to do something about this gun violence because so many precious lives are taken away too soon. And these are people who are loved, these are people who have siblings. They have parents. They have friends. And they leave their loved ones behind.”
Toronto Police spokesman Mark Pugash did not provide information about the most recent person to die, who was shot along with three others on Sunday night in the Kensingston Market area west of downtown Toronto. The shooting came less than 24 hours after gunfire on a crowded downtown street killed two men, including Toronto rapper Smoke Dawg who grew up in Regent Park.
Sureya Ibrahim, a mother of three who has lived in Regent Park in Toronto’s downtown for 20 years, said an ongoing cycle of violence has left those in the neighbourhood reeling from trauma.
“It’s heartbreaking, seeing all the mothers and what they are going through,” Ms. Ibrahim said. She started the group Regent Park Mothers for Peace, a support circle to help mothers who lost their children to gun violence grieve, plan funerals and receive continuous support and counselling afterwards.
Sounds of sirens now cause alarm, Ms. Ibrahim said, and mothers worry for their children and the social circles they fall into, as well as for the next generation of youth in the neighbourhood.
“Communities are getting overwhelmed by this,” Ms. Ibrahim said. “This needs to stop.”
As officials discuss how the city must respond to the violence, Ms. Nyarko’s friends and relatives struggle to find the words to explain how they feel now.
“The word senseless isn’t even adequate to convey how awful and destructive and just how this has really broken her friends and her family in ways that we never could have imagined,” said her cousin Karen Ameyaw. “It’s even more heartbreaking ... to know that other families are experiencing the same devastation and pain and unanswerable questions about why this is happening.”
“Whoever did this has destroyed my entire family,” said Ms. Yeboah. “We will never be the same without her. We are crushed, we are shocked, we are broken. Broken.”
Ms. Nyarko was born in Ghana and sent money back to support her family.
“Obviously the loss of her is the most difficult thing given that she was so young,” said Ms. Ameyaw, “but she had a family that was relying on her.”
Ms. Nyarko was “drawn to helping people,” said Ms. Ameyaw. She worked at the Salvation Army shelter and had registered to go back for her master’s of social work at Ryerson University.
Angela Hutchinson, the director of Salvation Army’s New Hope Leslieville Shelter, said it took her five minutes to decide to hire Ms. Nyarko.
“She was lovely. The clients really liked her. The other staff had nothing but positive things to say,” she said. “She was a lovely, caring and compassionate woman.”
The wave of shootings has prompted Toronto’s mayor to call for the province to demand stricter bail guidelines for people with previous gun offences. Mr. Tory’s office is conducting a review of city programs aimed at at-risk youth and curtailing gang activity.
Mr. Tory is calling for a meeting between the city, the province and the federal government on the issue, and said he spoke with federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale Tuesday night. Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Mr. Goodale, said the federal government is eager to “work together with the province to bring criminals to justice and enhance crime prevention efforts.”
With a report from Nadine Yousif and Molly Hayes in Toronto, Bill Curry in Ottawa
The Canadian Press