The distraught psychotherapist who jumped in front of a Toronto subway train, taking her six-month-old baby boy to his death, had two brushes with police in subway stations the night before that were warning signals of the tragedy about to unfold.
Minutes before 7 a.m. yesterday, as a northbound subway train loaded with commuters hurtled into the St. Clair West subway station, Suzanne Killinger-Johnson, 37, leaped off the platform with her infant son Cuyler clasped in her arms.
The baby was immediately crushed to death, but Dr. Killinger-Johnson was barely surviving with shaky, at times disappearing vital signs last night after spending at least a half-hour entangled underneath the subway train and hours undergoing emergency surgery at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
"It's pretty much a vigil in there now," Detective John Loughlin said at the hospital yesterday evening.
In the melee outside the subway station yesterday, bystanders described one traumatized man, who had witnessed Dr. Killinger-Johnson jump, stagger out of the station, sit down on the pavement with his head in his hands, and moan: "The baby. It's so sad. It's so sad."
Dr. Killinger-Johnson was a respected family physician and psychotherapist from a prominent family of doctors. Her father, Dr. Donald W. Killinger, is a specialist of internal medicine, at St. Joseph's Health Centre in London, while her mother, Dr. Barbara Killinger, has made a name for herself researching and writing about workaholics.
By all accounts, Dr. Killinger-Johnson would be one of the last people to be pegged as a candidate for a suicide attempt.
She lives in a charming corner house in tony North Toronto that she and her husband bought nearly three years ago for $635,000 clear of a mortgage. She drove around town in a 1999 Mercedes-Benz. Every Friday, a landscaper tended to the manicured lawn on Hillhurst Boulevard, an enclave of imposing homes and desirable schools between Avenue Road and Bathurst Street north of Eglinton Avenue.
Neighbours described Dr. Killinger-Johnson as slim and fashionably dressed, fond of gardening and jogging in the early morning. They would often see her walking her baby and chocolate-coloured Labrador dog, or sitting with her husband and son on their porch. That a woman so surrounded in medical expertise could resort to suicide -- and do so with her baby boy in tow -- has stunned neighbours and co-workers who never before noticed the slightest sign that she suffered from bouts of mental illness.
"She never appeared distraught when I talked to her," said Antoinette Wertman, a family doctor, recalling a conversation with Dr. Killinger-Johnson at a neighbourhood party in June about finding nannies.
"She certainly did not seem to be suffering from a mental illness."
A little more than six months after her son's birth, the only explanation co-workers could muster was that she had been suffering in silence from a severe case of postpartum depression.
Her boss Greg Koval, the executive vice-president at the private medical clinic where she worked, said the suicide attempt was "completely out of character."
"We're all shocked. There was no sign of depression or distress when she worked with us. I wonder if there was postpartum depression going on. I can't think of any other reason," Mr. Koval said in a television interview.
The night before her tragic leap with her only child, Dr. Killinger-Johnson had been ominously standing on the platform at two subway stations with Cuyler in her arms.
At about 10:30 Thursday night, Toronto Transit Commission officials called police to the Eglinton subway station where Dr. Killinger-Johnson had been standing on the platform with Cuyler in her arms for what police described as "an extended period of time."
When police asked her to leave, she did so willingly.
About an hour later, close to midnight, she was discovered by TTC workers standing on the subway platform at the nearby Lawrence station. This time, police officers spoke to her then escorted her back to her home where her husband, Douglas Johnson, was waiting.
Police "spoke to family members at length at that point and ensured she was in good condition and that she was turned over to responsible family members," police spokesman Sergeant Jim Muscat said yesterday.
"Police believed that she was in good care. She was going to be well taken care of at that point. Both her and her child were home and were safe."
The next morning, witnesses saw Dr. Killinger-Johnson race her silver Mercedes-Benz sports-utility vehicle up to the barricade in the driveway of the Loblaws supermarket on St. Clair Avenue just outside the entrance to the subway station.
One man arriving for work at Loblaws at about 6:45 yesterday morning said Dr. Killinger-Johnson hopped out of the SUV, and "she seemed to be adjusting something in the back seat."
A security guard approached and informed her that she was not allowed to park in the driveway, and that the parking lot would not open until 8 a.m. Ignoring him, she scooped up Cuyler and walked toward the subway entrance, leaving the SUV blocking the entrance to the parking lot.
Once in the cavernous St. Clair West subway station, Dr. Killinger-Johnson at first descended the stairs and ran down the southbound platform holding Cuyler. With what witness Alda Tsarouchas described as a "distraught" expression on her face, she climbed the stairs and crossed over to the passageway leading down to the northbound platform.
"I looked back, I saw her go down [to the northbound platform]and that was it. She looked like she was distraught. She was clutching the baby, the baby was sleeping. To me the way I looked at her there was something wrong.
"She had the child, the child was sleeping and had no bags, normally you have bags, diaper bags, a purse, when you're taking her to a babysitter."
Moments later, Dr. Killinger-Johnson jumped.
Several Loblaws employees were on the subway train heading for work when it lurched to a stop in the tunnel. "The train stopped and the lights went off," said one witness. "We were almost in the station and everyone was standing. I grabbed the rail and sat down," one said.
The passengers waited for about seven minutes before a TTC worker walked into the car and ushered everyone through the train until they reached a car that had entered the station, and could walk off the train.
"No one knew what was happening," said the witness, who works in Loblaws produce department. "I was trying to look and see what was going on. All I could see was all the fire guys going nuts."
Confusion reigned as passengers from subway trains heading in both directions and street cars leaving from the station were escorted outside.
"There was such a crowd. A lot of people came out pretty confused. It was pretty chaotic," said Gary Boirie, who was handing out newspapers outside the station.
"As the fire officials arrived they circled around to the east of the entrance to the station and then went downstairs," he said. "At first they were letting people go down with them, but a few minutes later they came up and closed off the doors and then it was quite a while before anyone came out again."
"I saw them bring a body out and put it in the ambulance."
Subway trains stopped running at about 7:15, and remained out of service for the next 2½ hours while buses shuttled passengers between stations.
All TTC supervisors in the area were called in to manage the crowd. One TTC supervisor was working at Jane and Steeles when he received the call to come down to help out at St. Clair. "We had everything under control within 15 minutes. Over the years we have dealt with several incidents of this nature."
In a tragic twist of fate, Dr. Killinger-Johnson leaped onto the tracks five years to the day after two subway trains collided and three people were killed on a stretch of track just south of the St. Clair West station, the deadliest crash in the Toronto Transit Commission's history.
In their leafy, upscale neighbourhood, the Johnsons seemed the perfect family.
"I'm horrified and shattered," said Gillian Wallace, who lives one street away from the Johnsons and would see Dr. Killinger-Johnson working in her garden and jogging in the affluent neighbourhood.
"I remember thinking she was a very attractive woman, very fit, but she was not a neighbourly neighbour," she said.
Ms. Wallace said the couple moved in to the spacious one-storey brick home about two years ago. "They had an enormous amount of work done on the house and landscaping," she added.
Another anguished neighbour described Cuyler as "a gorgeous baby, a delightful baby."
Though on maternity leave, Dr. Killinger-Johnson works at a posh downtown medical clinic called the King's Health Centre that caters to a high-powered Bay Street clientele.
Suicides are nothing new to the TTC, which deals with an average of two attempts every month -- one of which generally succeeds. Every time someone jumps in front of a subway train, TTC officials take pains to conceal it from the public out of fears of copycat attempts.
THE FINAL HOURS
1. Suzanne Killinger-Johnson is seen holding a baby on the platform of Toronto's Eglinton subway station at 10:30 Thursday night. Staff call police who find her to be cooperative. She leaves when asked. 2. She is next seen with her baby at about 11:55 at the Lawrence station platform. Police again talk to her and then take her home. 3. Just before 7 a.m. yesterday, she drives her Mercedes-Benz SUV to the St. Clair West station and gets out carrying her baby. 4. Security guard tries to stop her because her vehicle is blocking the driveway. She continues walking to the subway entrance. 5. Minutes later, clutching her baby, she jumps into the path of oncoming northbound train.