Stacey King will never forget the question her five-year-old daughter asked her in the moments after she was wounded in crossfire in a playground in Toronto’s northeast end.
“She was in a lot of pain, she kept screaming and she kept asking if she was going to die,” said Ms. King, whose nine-year-old daughter was also injured in the shooting.
Now Ms. King is working to make sure no parent has to answer that question again. She hopes that by sharing her story publicly, there will be a focused effort on outreach to at-risk youth in the city and tackling the root causes of gun violence.
The shooting of the two young children shook Toronto on June 14 and brought renewed focus to rising gun violence in the city. More than 275 people have been shot in Toronto so far this year, with 26 fatalities. Mayor John Tory has referred to the shootings as “90 per cent” gang-related and has vowed to put more resources into dealing with gun violence.
There were 11 children at the playground when gunfire erupted in the McCowan Road and Alton Towers Circle area around 5 p.m. that Thursday.
Her five-year-old was shot in the stomach, Ms. King said. Her nine-year-old was shot in her right leg. Both were rushed to the hospital. Another daughter, 7, was nearly hit, Ms. King added.
Police said that the children were not the intended target and that the perpetrators were targeting a man in the area.
One suspect, Sheldon Eriya, 21, has since been arrested and police have issued Canada-wide warrants for the other two allegedly involved, T’Quan Robertson and Tarrick Rhoden, both 23. The three face charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault and multiple gun offences.
The shooting was a shock to Ms. King and her family, who have lived in the “quiet” Scarborough community for the past 11 years. Her children visit the playground often, particularly during the summer months, and it had always been a safe spot until the day of the shooting. Now they are afraid of it.
“They’re emotionally scarred, my family is not the same,” said Ms. King, 42 and a self-employed mother of eight. “It’s a lot of turmoil. … All my kids have nightmares.
“Nobody goes in the playground to play; the area is like a ghost town.”
Ms. King remembers hearing the gunfire go off outside of her home. Her neighbour then knocked on her door and told her that her children were hurt. “I dropped on my knees and I passed out,” Ms. King said. Her children were taken to SickKids hospital in separate ambulances. The five-year-old was in surgery for seven hours, she said.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Tory said he paid visits to Ms. King and her family, both at SickKids when the children were being operated on and more recently at their home last Friday. “She’s very strong,” he said of Ms. King.
Mr. Tory said they spoke of what needs to be done to solve the problem of rising gun violence in the city. On Thursday, police chief Mark Saunders and Mr. Tory announced a plan to deploy an additional 200 officers across the city between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m.
But Ms. King said she believes the city needs to do more and focus on addressing the root causes of gun violence by providing more workshops for youth and programming for those who are incarcerated. She said poverty should also be tackled as a systemic issue that fuels an increase in gun violence.
Mr. Tory said Ms. King has plans of starting a mentorship program for the city’s at-risk youth and that he provided her with his encouragement and some advice. But he did not mention any funding for that. He also reiterated his commitment to more community programming by aiming to spend $12-million through a combination of municipal and federal funds to support youth most vulnerable to gun and gang violence.
He said Ms. King will be meeting with officials at city hall in the coming week.
Ms. King said her life has “turned upside down” after the shooting of her two daughters, but she has now developed a commitment to advocate against guns and violence in communities. She said she is also currently part of a team working on a documentary that hopes to shed light on victims who have been affected first-hand by gun violence in Toronto.
“Enough is enough,” she said.