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Police officers investigate the scene of a fatal crossbow shooting at the Main Street Library in Toronto.

John Hanley/john hanley The Globe and Mail

The circumstances of Toronto's 59th homicide of the year didn't fit the profile of a typical slaying. Not the apparent age of the victim (middle-aged), nor the location (inside a busy public library), or the time of day (late afternoon).

But the strangest detail of all was the weapon used: a crossbow.

The unusual killing unfolded shortly after 4 p.m. at a library on Main Street, near Gerrard Street East. A man walked into the branch, sprayed a substance - possibly pepper spray - and shot Si Cheng, 52, of Toronto, in the back with a crossbow in front of several witnesses.

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An Ottawa man Zhou Fang, 24, is due in court today to face a first-degree murder charge.

There's no word on what led to the altercation. Police say the two men knew each other.

After the attack, the suspect calmly walked out the front door with one elderly man in hot pursuit, witnesses said, got into a van parked in a nearby laneway and drove off. They said the elderly man took down the van's licence plate.

"If he was stronger, he would have gotten that guy," said Linus Smith, who was sitting in a Jamaican restaurant across the street.

Shaken library patrons poured out of the building, some with reddened eyes, some mothers with children in tow, as police and paramedics arrived at the scene.

Within minutes, police tracked down a suspect to a residential street in Scarborough. The man was taken to 55 Division.

Meanwhile, officers whisked witnesses away to several police stations for questioning and began searching nearby businesses for security camera footage.

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Both police officers and neighbours, who gathered across the street as evening fell, expressed surprise at the unusual, brazen killing.

"Kids are always in that library - that's not nice at all," said Eileen Cooper. "I'm surprised. I feel scared."

The library released a statement announcing the branch would be closed until further notice and offering its condolences to the victim's family.

Toronto police said Thursday evening they had not identified the man killed, nor a motive in his slaying, nor whether the attack was a targeted hit or the result of a fight. They would not say if the weapon had been recovered. Homicide detectives were questioning witnesses before heading to the scene of crime, where the body remained, face-down.

Both officers and EMS personnel said they had never seen someone killed with such a weapon before.

"We've heard of guns, knives," said police spokesman Tony Vella, "but a crossbow is unique."

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In 1991, Patricia Allen was shot dead by her estranged husband with a crossbow on an Ottawa street. Earlier this year, a man in Mission, B.C. was charged with attacking his son with such a weapon.

Crossbows that can be aimed and fired with one hand are illegal in Canada, as are bows shorter than 500 millimetres in length. Longer bows that must be fired with both hands are permitted without a licence.

With files from CP

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