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The Globe and Mail

Suspect in sexual assaults of two women turns himself in

Toronto Police Service released this image of a man they say is a suspect in a sexual assault at knifepoint in the Avenue Road and Lawrence Avenue West area. (Toronto Police Service handout photo)

A 20-year-old Toronto man accused of sexually assaulting and robbing two women at knifepoint in their own home turned himself over to police in the early hours of Wednesday morning, his mother at his side.

Alaa Hejazi is charged with multiple counts of sexual assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and threatening bodily harm, as well as break-and-enter, threatening death and possessing property obtained by crime.

Mr. Hejazi turned himself in to police at 12 Division shortly after midnight. Police credit the wide publication of security images – from a home security camera and a TTC bus – with prompting Mr. Hejazi to come forward.

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His first court appearance was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, but then delayed. Mr. Hejazi's mother was at the Toronto courthouse but drove away when told her son's case would not be dealt with until Thursday.

Police allege that Mr. Hejazi, pretending to sell newspapers, forced his way into the stately Woburn Avenue house. Armed with a knife, he sexually assaulted both women, police say, before leaving with a wound to his torso and several of the women's personal possessions.

Toronto Police said Wednesday they have no evidence indicating the home-invasion sexual assaults on Woburn Avenue, near the corner of Lawrence Avenue and Avenue Road, were targeted. "At this time it appears to be random," said Detective Sergeant LeeAnn Papizewski. "I have no information in regards to an approach to other houses."

But neighbours of the victims feel otherwise – they say the suspect didn't approach any other doors before walking up the steps to the victims' house. "This was really well thought out," said Debra, who lives close by and asked that only her first name be used. "He didn't knock on my door selling newspapers."

Violent sexual attacks like this – involving both a weapon and a home invasion – are rare. Sexual assault with a weapon can carry a sentence of up to 14 years.

Mr. Hejazi lives on a bleak stretch of Sheppard Avenue West, just east of Jane Street and a few steps away from the spot where 11-year-old Ephraim Brown was killed five years ago by a stray bullet to the throat, when two gunmen opened fire at each other. Mr. Hejazi's home – a three-bedroom, single-storey public housing unit – was sealed off Wednesday by yellow crime-scene tape, guarded by two police cruisers.

Mr. Hejazi had lived there with his mother and two younger sisters, aged 14 and 18, for about four years. Beyond the occasional sound of raised voices, there was no sign of any major conflicts in the Hejazi household, said next-door neighbour Lila Walizedeh, a 38-year-old mother of four who came to Toronto from Afghanistan. The family kept to themselves, she said. Mr. Hejazi's mother is from Liberia, while his father, whom Ms. Walizedeh never saw, was Lebanese.

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The accused man was quiet and rarely talked to anybody, Ms. Walizedeh said. A man named Alaa Hejazi is registered as a second-year student in business technology and management at Ryerson University. A Facebook profile for a Toronto man named Alaa Hejazi has Ryerson Class of 2015 marked as a favourite, and neighbours of Mr. Hejazi's family picked him out in a Facebook photo from a 2010 prom.

Several records of track and field results between 2005 and 2009 list a student named Alaa Hejazi in both shot put and discus-throwing events for Toronto's Sir Sanford Fleming high school. An Alaa Hejazi of the same age has a profile on a casting-call website for models. But a woman with the website said the account hasn't been touched since it was first opened in the spring of 2008.

Ms. Walizedeh was shocked to hear of her neighbour's arrest.

"I feel so sad for this boy. I hope he didn't do this. I hope they prove him not guilty. Because he's my neighbour. When you know somebody and something [like this] happens, it's no good. I feel so sad for the mother."

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