A rift within an entrenched east-side Toronto gang and a chance encounter between feuding members were the trigger points of the deadly rampage at the downtown Eaton Centre Saturday night, police and public-housing sources say.
Accompanied by a lawyer, former Regent Park resident Christopher Husbands, 23, surrendered at the 52 Division police station in the early hours of Monday morning. Later in the day, he appeared at Old City Hall and was remanded in custody, charged with one count of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder.
No other suspects are sought in the explosion of gunfire that traumatized hundreds of shoppers at the landmark Eaton Centre complex on Yonge Street, and only one gun was involved, police said.
Both the accused killer and his alleged victim had serious unresolved run-ins with the law. One was supposed to be under house arrest, the other was a fugitive.
Along with killing 24-year-old Ahmed Hassan, Mr. Husbands is charged with wounding six other people, including a 23-year-old companion of Mr. Hassan, who remained in critical condition Monday night with bullet wounds to the neck and chest.
Police said the pair were together when they were confronted by Mr. Husbands at around 6:30 on Saturday.
Beyond saying the accused and two of his alleged victims belonged to the same street gang, homicide investigators would not discuss the motive for the violence.
But a public-housing official familiar with the Sic Thugs gang, based in the Regent Park public-housing complex, said the catalyst was an alleged stabbing incident in an empty apartment on Feb. 28 in which Mr. Hassan and several others allegedly bound Mr. Husbands with duct tape, stabbed him multiple times and robbed him of $450.
And then on May 28, according to the same person, shots were fired outside Mr. Hassan’s Regent Park apartment on Dundas Street, prompting him to move out and stay with friends in Alexandra Park, another public-housing project close to Spadina Avenue.
A separate shooting incident at Alexandra Park on Saturday, shortly before the rampage in the Eaton Centre’s food court, is being scrutinized to see if the two incidents are linked, acting deputy police chief Jeff McGuire said in a brief interview.
Five bystanders were also wounded, including a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head and was listed in fair condition at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.
A pregnant women was also trampled and slightly hurt as panicked shoppers fled, and the incident instantly evoked the shooting death of Toronto teen Jane Creba, murdered on Boxing Day in 2005, just metres away from Saturday’s crime scene, as rival gang members exchanged fire.
Mr. Husbands, Mr. Hassan and the third man were all affiliated with the Sic Thugs gang, according to a person familiar with the public-housing complex – Canada’s oldest, and in the throes of a major facelift. Comprising roughly 30 members and associates, including some aspiring rappers, the Sic Thugs were formed about three years ago, and grew out of the older Point Blank gang.
When he surrendered to police at around 2:30 a.m., Mr. Husbands was under house arrest, on bail for an unrelated sexual assault.
On Monday afternoon, he appeared in court at Old City Hall on the murder and attempted-murder charges.
Clad in a grey jacket and navy blue hoodie, he stood erect in the prisoner’s box and paid close attention.
He nodded often to his lawyer and at one point gave her a thumbs-up as she held a notebook in front of his face.
He spoke only to give his name and to agree that he understood the proceedings.
The court remanded him in custody until Aug. 15, when he will appear again by video link.
He will also return to court June 25 for a hearing on the sexual-assault charge, which dates back to November, 2010.
Court ordered him not to contact any of the people involved in the Eaton Centre shooting and imposed a publication ban on the names of the six people who were wounded.
A Toronto Star report said Mr. Husbands is of Guyanese descent with a 5-year-old daughter, and that he had moved out of Regent Park two years ago to an apartment near King and Bathurst Streets.
Mr. Husbands’s father lives in a semi-detached house on a quiet, tree-lined street in east Toronto.
Norma Blacklock, who lives across the street, said she knows the family, which includes two younger boys.
“They’re a nice family,” she said. “I’m just shocked.”
Outside the house, mountain bikes sat locked up on the porch. A child’s chalk drawing was visible on the front of the brick wall.
A man who identified himself as a cousin of Mr. Husbands declined to open the door to a reporter Monday evening.
“I can’t talk right now, sis,” he said through a window.
Before he died Saturday night, Mr. Hassan, too, appears to have had difficulties with the law.
A man matching his name and age was charged in 2008 in Fort McMurray, Alta., with extortion using a firearm, unlawful confinement, robbery with a firearm, assault with a weapon, assault, uttering threats, unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful possession of a restricted firearm.
Those charges stem from an incident involving a man being confined and assaulted at an apartment.
How those charges were resolved is unclear, but two years later an Ahmed Hassan and five others were charged in Alberta with cocaine trafficking, among other things, and at the time of his death two arrest warrants were outstanding after he failed to appear in court.
Edmonton lawyer Gordon Collins would not say whether he had acted for Mr. Hassan, save to say: “I’m fully aware that he was the victim in the shooting, yes, I am aware of that.”
Gang-related violence commonly involves struggles between warring factions, most commonly over drugs, but Detective Sergeant Brian Borg, the lead investigator in the Eaton Centre case, said that does not appear to be the case here.
“I believe there’s personal aspects involved,” he told a news conference.
“Our investigation continues to suggest that this is a targeted shooting and not a random act of violence against members of the general public, Even though there are several persons who have been identified in this case as being known gang members, or who have gang associations, I do not believe this to be a gang-motivated shooting.”
Mayor Rob Ford also addressed the news conference, where he described Toronto as “the safest city in the world,” marred by an “isolated incident” that has no bearing on most people’s daily lives.
The Eaton Centre was closed all of Sunday but most of it reopened Monday, with the Urban Eatery food court, where the shootings took place, expected to resume business Tuesday.
Retailers said they felt reassured that an arrest had been made and voiced no great concern about returning to work.
Det. Sgt. Borg thanked the public for aiding the investigation and urged more witnesses to come forward.
Toronto police have set up a website where witnesses who recorded video and photographs can upload the data for use by police in the investigation.
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With reports from Stephanie Chambers, Kim Mackrael and Carys Mills