The evening before 73-year-old Francesco Villi was to appear in a civil court to answer charges that he had engaged in a lengthy feud against his neighbours, he shot and killed five people who lived in his condominium complex north of Toronto, including three members of the building’s board, according to York Regional Police.
On Monday, the force told a news conference that officers had shot Mr. Villi dead in a hallway of the building on Sunday, after the killings.
In the years leading up to the outburst of violence, Mr. Villi had been embroiled in litigation with the condo board, court records show. And the board, in turn, had been seeking judicial orders to stop him from hurling insults and writing defamatory Facebook posts about residents, security guards and board members.
On Monday morning, an Ontario Superior Court judge in Newmarket stayed the scheduled hearing involving Mr. Villi after learning he had died. Lawyers for the condo board had been preparing to tell the court that the resident of Suite 104 at 9235 Jane Street in Vaughan needed to be evicted or even imprisoned to curb his years-long campaign of harassment.
Authorities told reporters on Monday that Mr. Villi had used a semi-automatic handgun in the shootings, but did not describe its model, how he got it or if it was legally registered.
As for the fact that three of the dead were on the condo board, “Obviously that will be investigated thoroughly,” York Regional Police Chief Jim MacSween said. A sixth victim is in hospital.
Police have not released the names of any of the dead or injured, but on Monday condo board president John Di Nino issued a statement after it was reported that his 66-year-old wife was the victim who survived the mass shooting. “This is obviously a very difficult time for my family, and I would ask that our privacy be respected,” he said.
Police on Monday (Dec. 19) confirmed three of the five people killed in a shooting at a Toronto-area highrise were members of the condo board. Authorities have identified the suspected gunman as a 73-year-old building resident who used a semi-automatic handgun on his victims before being shot dead by police.
The Canadian Press
Residents of the Jane Street building described acts of targeted violence.
“From my understanding he went through the building knocking on doors,” Anthony Cutrone, one of the condo’s other board members, said in an interview.
He added that he had heard the shooter may have been trying to hunt down past and present board members. “I feel guilty to be alive,” he said.
Building resident John Santoro said he opened the door of his unit Sunday night to see a pair of police officers armed with rifles by the elevators.
“I did hear a commotion in the corridor,” he said, adding that police were going floor to floor as they responded to the shootings.
Mr. Santoro said the building was soon surrounded by police and emergency vehicles.
“I saw body bags coming out, being loaded into ambulances,” he said.
Mr. Villi was not known to residents of the building as being violent prior to the shootings. Police appear to have been called to deal with him, but only rarely. Residents say that he would swear at neighbours and film them. Court documents say multiple property managers quit because of his harassing behaviour, and that security guards asked for reduced hours so they would not have to deal with him.
Such complaints date back at least to 2018. Court filings show that Mr. Villi was convinced that the condo board was conspiring against him, possibly even targeting him with electromagnetic waves emanating from an electrical room below his unit. (In Ontario, condominium buildings are corporations run by volunteer board members who hire professional property managers to oversee the day-to-day operations.)
Last week and on the weekend, Mr. Villi last posted several videos on Facebook, in which he spoke out about alleged problems in the building and described his enemies as demons. In a video he posted the night before the shootings, he denounced the “chest-tightening vibrations” and electromagnetic pulses coming though his floor.
Another video shows a speakerphone conversation from November, in which Mr. Villi calls a lawyer acting for the condo board. During the conversation, he pleads with the lawyer not to take him to court.
Though Mr. Villi spoke with an Italian accent, he was a long-time resident of Canada. In the 1970s, records show, he started a Barrie-based construction contracting company. He closed it in 2017, three years after he bought his condo unit in Vaughan, a fast-growing city north of Toronto.
The condo corporation began to consider him a major problem more than four years ago. In 2018, it sought a court order forbidding him from harassing the building’s staff and members of the board, in person and through social media.
Court documents say condo board officials at times tried to avoid him. A board vice-president “timed her exits and entrances to the building when she thinks he will not be there because he has been harassing and threatening her.”
Following litigation in 2019, Justice Paul Perell issued a formal judicial order against Mr. Villi. “This court orders that Francesco Villi shall not make any video or audio recording of the Corporation’s Board members, management, residents or employees” it says.
The order is still in effect. It told Mr. Villi that he could communicate with the condo corporation only in writing. But records show that in September, 2021, he was found in contempt of court for violating the directive. He was told to pay costs of $29,500.
Despite the penalty, the pattern of behaviour continued. This past June, a condo resident filed a security report saying Mr. Villi had “started calling me a demon and the devil.” The condo corporation started collecting evidence of other breaches, and wrote Mr. Villi several letters telling him he was violating a court order.
Court records also show that in July a resident of the seventh floor asked a security guard to call police. She alleged Mr. Villi had been calling women who were sitting outside of the building “bitches.”
“The police spoke to the resident,” says a report the condo corporation filed in court. “We have not heard further from the police since that time.”
In August, the condo board applied for a new court hearing. Lawyers argued in documents that the contempt citation had failed to stop the harassment. They sought a new court order finding Mr. Villi “in contempt of court for breaching the Order of Justice Perell dated October 24, 2019 and directing [him] to pay a fine or be imprisoned.”
Mr. Di Nino, the condo board president, wrote an affidavit supporting the bid for stronger measures.
“Nothing has worked,” he wrote. “I do not know what else can be done to protect us against Mr. Villi. We need the court’s help in getting Mr. Villi to stop his campaign of abuse and harassment. We need some peace. We need this matter to be dealt with through courts rather than in our building.”
The new court hearing was scheduled for September, but it was adjourned. The presiding judge, Justice Mary Vallee, wrote at the time that Mr. Villi was having difficulty following the proceedings.
“I explained to him that this hearing was not about his complaints with the electrical room or other mechanical equipment, his health or any steps that he believed the defendant should have taken to address his concerns. I explained that the only issue before me was whether the plaintiff had breached Perell J.’s order dated October 24, 2019.” (Mr. Villi is the plaintiff in the lawsuit because he initiated it.)
She added: “Nevertheless, almost all of the plaintiff submissions were focused on his complaints and the manner in which he believes the defendant has treated him. Despite my efforts to refocus him on the relevant issues, he continued in this manner.”
It was this case that was scheduled to be back in court on Dec. 19 – the day after the shootings.
Mr. Cutrone, the condo board member, said the board had hosted its annual Christmas party earlier this month. Mr. Villi attended, he said.
“We were cordial, he ate some food, and for a guy who hates the board, he seemed to enjoy the party and left,” he said.
With a report from Stephanie Chambers