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Shaquan Cadougan is not your typical gunshot victim.

For one thing, he's still in daycare: At four years old, just two weeks away from the big 05, he's as innocent as innocent comes. He renders even some of the other youngsters shot on Toronto's mean streets -- the most famous probably 11-year-old Tamara Carter, who took a bullet to the forehead late last year in a brazen daylight shooting on a city bus -- hardened veterans by comparison.

Shaquan was struck four times two nights ago when gunfire erupted in front of his mother's Driftwood Avenue townhouse in a public housing complex in the Jane Street-Finch Avenue West area.

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One bullet struck the instep of his left foot; another the left calf; another struck his right shin, fracturing the bone; the fourth entered the left side of his buttocks, travelled through his penis, and came to rest in the boy's right side.

"You have to thank God he's alive," Suzette Cadougan said yesterday in an interview at the Hospital for Sick Children, where her baby son already has had surgery to repair damage to his lower legs and foot.

But if she is grateful, the 42-year-old single mother is also furious and frankly terrified. "As I told the Chief today," she said of the visit from Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, "I want him [whoever shot Shaquan]to get hard punishment, no five years or something. I want to go to court to look at them, see who they are, how they can feel shooting a child."

And, she said, "I want him to see me, to see the mom. I feel so depressed, so stressful, scared. I am so nervous. I never faced this before, to see I could have been burying my son."

Ms. Cadougan is fiercely and properly proud of raising good children -- in addition to three boys, she has a 24-year-old daughter now living on her own -- in some of the city's hardest public housing complexes in some of the toughest areas. As she put it yesterday, "I grow my kids very well." When she moved into a two-bedroom apartment in another complex, it was at the time the toughest project in Toronto. "It was the baddest area, there were drugs, guns, everything."

"I spent eight years there and none of my kids was ever involved with the police."

When the bigger townhouse on Driftwood became available, she said, she leapt at the chance for a little more room. As a matter of course, she always keeps her head down, works like a dog, chooses her friends carefully, and she and her family did well and felt comfortable in the area. Shaquan thrived at the Yorkwoods daycare, and Junior became a full-fledged basketball star at Eastern Commerce High School, invited last year at the tender age of 14 to the development camp for Canada's junior national basketball team. A point guard, he has been rated, both in Canada and the United States, as likely the best player for his age in the country, and his mom is proud not only of how he has used "his gift" but also of what a polite young man he is.

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Now, Ms. Cadougan said, she will ask housing officials for a transfer. "Me, I'm so scared," she said. "I never faced anything like this. I see people, on TV, who were shot and I get so emotional. Now I know how they feel."

There were 13 of them gathered outside her townhouse on Wednesday night, she said. It was another steamy night in the big city.

Just a couple of hours earlier, Ms. Cadougan had come home from a 12-hour shift on the forming line at ABC Climate Control, where she has worked for six years; she was happy for the overtime because her oldest son, Kerlon, is going back to school this fall and the extra money will come in handy.

Now, with some neighbours and their kids, Junior and his neighbourhood basketball coach, Shaquan and Kerlon's girlfriend, Ms. Cadougan was finally relaxing and talking outside the house.

She stepped inside for a minute to phone her mother, and as she was coming back out, she heard "bang, bang, bang, bang and I saw my son lying on the ground." Virtually everyone was on the ground, for four people were hit in the rain of bullets -- Shaquan; Junior's coach, who was shot in the hand; Kerlon's girlfriend, who took one to the leg, and a neighbour, who was struck in the buttocks.

Others, including a slim teenage boy who with his mom came to visit Shaquan yesterday, were grazed by flying bullets.

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Shaquan was almost on top of his big brother's coach. "I just grab him and put him in my clothes," his mother said. Kerlon called 911. Toronto police and ambulances arrived quickly, and after a brief trip to an area hospital, Shaquan was transferred downtown to Sick Kids, where Ms. Cadougan has remained ever since.

She believes, and told The Globe and Mail flatly yesterday, that Junior, who is now 15, was the intended target, "because of basketball." In the summer, he plays for a local team, and as a member of the national team, is a big star who may as well be wearing a bull's eye on his shirt for the jealousy he inspires.

Shortly before the shooting, she said, she got a phone call from someone pretending to be with 31 Division, telling her to bring Junior to the station for questioning. "I know my kids very well," she said. "I'm so proud of the job Junior has done. He's so polite, so calm. My kids listen to me." She knew in her bones the call wasn't legitimate, but she was frightened, and phoned Junior's neighbourhood coach, who came over. They decided to call the station back -- no one was looking for Junior and no one there had called for him.

"It was a setup," Ms. Cadougan said. She believes now, if she had fallen for the ruse and left the house with Junior, "We would both be dead."

Instead, when the trick failed, she believes that's why a car pulled up in front of the townhouse and someone inside opened fire.

Police have charged 23-year-old Craig Reid, who is from the area himself, with more than 50 counts in that shooting and another later that night, including eight counts of attempted murder. Three teenagers were also taken into custody yesterday and police believe they may be linked to the shootings.

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As for Shaquan, he faces yet another operation, this to repair a leaking vessel in his most serious wound. "If you get to talk with him," she said, "you're going to be amazed. He's a very bright, brilliant boy." His first word after the shooting was "Daddy"; he is very close to his father, a long-distance truck driver who was en route to Pennsylvania when she reached him by phone to tell him the news, and was last night heading home. He asked Ms. Cadougan, she said, "You think this will change his life?" She told him, crisply, "No. He will grow more strong."

Shaquan was sleeping when I saw him, an utterly beautiful boy, sturdy and still with a hint of the toddler's lovely fat belly. A small Spiderman doll was at his side, and in a bag by the bed, a gift from Chief Blair, a stuffed bear, in uniform, I think, and a force ball cap. "He'll love that," Ms. Cadougan said, twisting the cap in her hands. "Shaquan loves police."

cblatchford@globeandmail.ca

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