The final moments of 1999 were also the final moments in the life of Henry Musuka, a Toronto man shot and killed by police soon after he carried a sick baby and a pellet gun into an emergency room.
"The only person who knows what he was thinking is God," Mr. Musuka's uncle said yesterday, as friends and family gathered at the dead man's house.
The 26-year-old had used the imitation handgun to take a doctor hostage after his infant son was refused immediate treatment for a respiratory problem.
A Toronto Ambulance Service spokesman says that in 25 years on the job he has never seen such violence in an emergency room. The act is more confounding, given that the emergency room at St. Michael's Hospital was not particularly busy at the time.
Friends and family could only suggest that some sort of paternal love caused Mr. Musuka, a father of four, to initiate the crisis.
"I've never in my life seen a man in love with his kids as much as this guy. Never," said the uncle, who did not want his name published. "He loved his kids to death."
Around 11:45 p.m. on New Year's Eve, a 911 call was placed to police. As downtown revellers on Yonge Street looked skyward in anticipation of fireworks, Emergency Task Force officers arrived at nearby St. Michael's and tried to negotiate with Mr. Musuka before he was fatally shot.
He was dead 20 minutes into the year 2000, on one of his daughters' birthday, the uncle said.
Sergeant Tom Sharkey of the ETF said that imitation handguns vary in strength, but are almost never lethal. However, pellet guns have caused deaths, most recently last October when a Vancouver man was hit by a pellet from an unknown assailant while driving to a friend's house. Cong Vu Tran was shot once in the back and died of major internal bleeding.
The province's Special Investigations Unit, which investigates all fatal police shootings, describes the weapon used by Mr. Musuka as an imitation .45-calibre pistol that fires pellets, which was made by Daisy Manufacturing Co.
Such guns are a recurring problem for the ETF, Sgt. Sharkey said. "If it was a .45 replica, you'd think it was a real .45. Unless you've got them in your hand, you really can't tell the difference."
The SIU said its investigation focuses on the conduct of two officers. Seventeen other officers have been designated witnesses.
The uncle spoke yesterday outside his nephew's small townhouse in Regent Park, a public-housing development all too familiar with violence. Earlier, Mr. Musuka's wife saw his body, which underwent an autopsy yesterday.
Neighbours knew Mr. Musuka for two things: He was, by many accounts, an excellent basketball player at the Regent Park Community Centre, located beside his house, and he was described as a quiet family man, most often seen with his children. Neighbours said he was not prone to anger, outbursts or erratic behaviour.
The uncle refused to describe what Mr. Musuka did for a living or say where he was born, saying the family would be making the details of his life public in a few days. "Everybody in Toronto will find out as soon as we release it . . . where he was born and what he has gone through."
The uncle did say that Mr. Musuka had one daughter from a previous marriage, and had two more daughters in his current relationship. He added the three-month-old son had a chronic breathing problem. The baby was treated at St. Michael's and is back in the care of the family. The doctor was not harmed.
The uncle said that on New Year's Eve, Mr. Musuka was at home with his children, their mother and his brother -- and that he intended to go to his mother's home later on. Around 11 p.m., "he was forced to take his kid to the hospital," the uncle said. "His older brother forced him. The kid wasn't breathing."
Mr. Musuka could not have waited for long in the emergency room before he took the doctor hostage, said Rick Boustead, spokesman for Toronto Ambulance Service.
"The hospital was on normal status at the time," he said. "From what I understand, this person wanted to go by everybody: 'Look at my kid first.' "
Mr. Boustead said hospital staff are used to grumbling and even shouting matches with impatient prospective patients. But in his 25 years, he has never seen anything approach the violence of New Year's Eve.
Sgt. Sharkey said the ETF unit has been responsible for about six fatal shootings since its creation in the 1960s -- but only two have occurred in recent memory. Before the New Year's Eve incident, the most recent was in 1991.
The unit responds to situations deemed life-threatening. It has about 75 officers and responded to 440 calls in 1999, Sgt. Sharkey said. The number of calls is increasing and situations can involve everything from hostage-takings to explosives to suicide attempts, with weapons ranging from knives to axes to guns.
No ETF officer has ever been killed in the line of duty, said the sergeant, who added he has seen no officers seriously injured in the 14½ years he has been part of the unit. He credits negotiation and training for minimizing injuries to officers and civilians.
Regent Park is frequently the site of violence. In November, a 32-year-old man was shot dead in an alley outside the centre where Mr. Musuka played basketball. It was the third killing that neighbourhood had seen in six weeks.
MODEL 288 SPIDER
An airgun thought to be similar to the one used in the hostage-taking incident at St. Michael's Hospital "The look and feel of a true semi-automatic in a repeater." -Daisy website Retail cost: US $19.95 Action: Single stroke, spring air Calibre: .177 BB Muzzle velocity: 64 m/s Max. shooting distance: 150 m Overall length: 30 cm Weight: 0.36 kg Source: