“Don’t be afraid. My love is stronger than your fear.”
The words of the hymn resonated with the dozens of people singing outside the Eastminster United Church on Wednesday evening. They were there to honour the victims of Sunday night’s mass shooting along a stretch of Toronto’s Danforth Avenue known for its Greek restaurants and lively nightlife.
This is the second vigil in the days after the attack by a lone gunman that killed 10-year-old Julianna Kozis and 18-year-old Reese Fallon and injured 13 others.
The dozens quickly turned into hundreds. The people who attended the multifaith event were as diverse as the city itself. They wanted to show support to the victims and their families – but they also wanted to prove something. This is their neighbourhood, they said. It’s a safe neighbourhood and they were going to show everyone what it was really about.
Terell Jervis and Sunni Rochelle
Terell Jervis and Sunni Rochelle moved to the neighbourhood from Kensington Market 2½ years ago, when their children were born. Ms. Rochelle said it was extremely sad to think this tragedy happened so close to home.
They said they hoped the legacy of this shooting would be one of policy change. Ms. Rochelle is in favour of a total gun ban, she said, but she doesn’t think solutions should end there.
“The overall well-being of people needs to be put at the top,” she said.
If issues such as mental health and poverty aren’t taken care of, tragedies such as this will continue to happen, she said, because guns can be acquired and “it’s hard to live in this world.” The shooter’s family issued a statement after the attack saying that he suffered from psychosis and depression.
Mr. Jervis stressed that mental health was only one part of the equation. Not everyone who uses a gun is mentally unwell, he said – some are just desperate to get by. That said, he’s in favour of stricter gun laws.
“If anyone’s found with a gun, I think they should be in jail for 100 years" to make an example of them, he said. “Because they’re making an example of us.”
Cathlin Martin and Rachelle Carrier
Cathlin Martin and Rachelle Carrier, both residents of the area, met at the vigil Wednesday night and appeared to become fast friends. They’re proud of the #DanforthStrong movement, and they said they hope more people will take this opportunity to connect with their neighbours.
“We shouldn’t just gather for the sad times,” Ms. Martin said. “We have to gather during the times when things are going well.”
Ms. Martin said the responsibilities shouldn’t only be on the politicians to make things better. She moved into the area in September, and while she already feels like it’s home, she wants more neighbourhood get-togethers, and more one-on-one connection in everyday life.
“People need to smile at each other on the street again,” she said, beaming at her new friend.
“We’re all one,” Ms. Carrier added. “We all have our own struggles, you know?”
While Ms. Carrier said there are no simple answers to gun violence, she’s hoping for more support for mental health initiatives, to make support available to everyone.
“Have you ever been asked ... ‘Are you mentally stable, is there anything we can help you with?’ ” she said. I hadn’t. “There you go! I’ve asked a million people and nobody’s ever been asked.”
Alexandra Enriquez, Cassandra Ma, Alana Sharpe
Alexandra Enriquez is a survivor of the van attack in April. She saw it come directly toward her, she said, and hit people in front of her.
What she’s feeling now is “strikingly similar” to then.
She’s feeling “sadness, feelings of loss, feelings of grief,” as she watched the same events play out, she said: people grieving, hugging, laying flowers, singing and praying together.
Now, like then, Ms. Enriquez is heartened by the community response. But she wants to do more.
Along with two law school friends, Cassandra Ma and Alana Sharpe, she started Toronto Against Violence (TAV) last week. Ms. Enriquez hopes the initiative will inform people what the various levels of government are doing to combat all types of violence, and what they can do to help.
Ms. Ma said the group wants “to make sure that when tragic events like this happen there’s a reaction that’s larger than just a hashtag, it stays longer in the public consciousness,” she said. “Because at the end of the day it takes action to make real change happen.”
Future plans for TAV include lobbying for adding mental health to Ontario school curriculums and hosting emergency first aid courses.
The main focus, Ms. Enriquez said, will be “bringing people together and empowering others to do something … other than just donating money, and making sure that these events aren’t forgotten."