Looking back at the Danforth shooting as Toronto marks anniversary

On the evening of July 22, 2018, after steady rain moved through the Toronto area earlier in the day, it was seemingly the perfect time to enjoy the slightly cooler than average summer weather conditions.

For Danielle Kane and her partner Jerry Pinksen, a nursing student and a nurse, respectively, the evening was supposed to be a lovely meal out on a Danforth Avenue restaurant patio celebrating a friend’s birthday.

“We had ordered, like, quite an array of different Italian foods,” Kane recalled in an interview with Global News.

“We were, I think, two-thirds of the way through our meal when I heard gunshots — or, well, I heard what I didn’t realize were gunshots. It sounded like fireworks to me.”

The sounds she heard were just some of the many rounds fired off that night by a 29-year-old man identified by Toronto police as Faisal Hussain.

In a horrific attack that occurred over the span of 10 minutes and several blocks heading west from Logan Avenue on Danforth Avenue, two people were killed — 10-year-old Julianna Kozis and 18-year-old Reese Fallon — and 13 injured before officials said Hussain fatally shot himself in the head.

9:56 p.m.: First shots fired at Alexander the Great Parkette

In a report released by Toronto police last month, investigators outlined what are believed to be Hussain’s final movements. Police said that at around 9:56 p.m., Hussain shot six people — including Fallon — at the parkette near Logan and Danforth and one at a nearby restaurant after leaving his North York apartment about 35 minutes earlier.

Calls began coming in to 911 at 10 p.m.

“As more information was received, it was determined that Faisal Hussain had traveled westbound along Danforth Avenue, firing his weapon as he walked. Victims were strewn along the street and in businesses between Logan Avenue and Hampton Avenue,” the police report said, noting he kept walking west while firing a gun.

Officers said he fired multiple shots into Pappas Grill, injuring a person inside, and Caffe Demetre. It was at the cafe where Kozis was killed and two others were injured. Others were injured as Hussain continued crisscrossing Danforth Avenue and other side streets while occasionally firing his gun.

According to the Toronto police report, officers travelling north on Bowden Street saw Hussain running away from them before turning west onto Danforth Avenue.

“A short time later, Faisal Hussain was found deceased on the sidewalk in front of the Danforth Church,” police said.

Investigators said Hussain lived with severe mental health issues since childhood and had a history of harming himself along with a fascination with death and violence. The motive behind the shooting remains unknown.

The aftermath of the shooting

After hearing the shots, Kane recalled how a staff member told them there was a shooter on the street and how the patrons on the patio should go inside for safety. She said a woman came in to say someone was injured outside. Kane said Pinksen wanted to go help the victim, adding she told him she would come to help.

“I only took one or two steps outside when I saw a man just standing across the street,” she said. “He looked very strange to me and I thought … I didn’t have enough time to dwell on who he might be because there was a bright red flash and I heard a gunshot and I had just enough time to kind of turn when I was hit in the mid-chest and I collapsed immediately in the doorway.

“It took a few moments for Jerry to realize I was hit, but once he did he helped push me back inside and he closed the door. But immediately I could sense that I didn’t have, like, a feeling in my legs. It was like a numbness and I was bleeding profusely from my gunshot wound.”

Pinksen said he was taken aback at how calm Hussain was when he saw him across the street.

“That’s when I heard the click of a magazine, which was a familiar sound, and I turned back and all I heard was just screams and then I ducked,” he said.

“And then I heard someone say that Danielle was shot and then that’s when I got up and I just went into survivor mode and went to help Danielle.”

Kane, who became paralyzed from the waist down, had to have four surgeries to treat injuries sustained from the bullet that went through her stomach and hit part of her spine.

Ali Demircan was at the Alexander the Greek Parkette having coffee with friends when the shooting began.

“First we thought they were firecrackers, but it was gunshots, unfortunately,” he said. “The shooter, he just stopped for a few seconds to change his magazine. At that point I just stood up and tried to understand what’s going on.

“The first thing that I was thinking was actually my daughter. She was nine years old at that time and I said I cannot leave her. I’m not going die in here. And then I tried to hide myself from him.”

Demircan recalled how he came into contact with Fallon at the parkette. He said he saw her hold her arm after she was shot once. But a short time later, Demircan said she was shot multiple times in the back. He said a bullet grazed his back in the gunfire.

“I saw [Fallon] was lying down beside the tree and there was a bunch of people trying to help her — they were doing CPR and were trying to stop the bleeding, but for unfortunately they weren’t successful,” he said.

“Within a few minutes, the first responders — the first police car — arrived here and the people point them to where the shooter was going and they followed him. And after the first police car arrived, like maybe 30 seconds, 40 seconds, the second one came and within a few minutes, the first fire department trucks came. And then the emergency responders came here and the first thing they did is to reach [Fallon] and they tried to save her and they checked the other people too.”

‘This was different’: Surgeon reflects on shooting, mood inside hospital

Dr. Najma Ahmed, a trauma surgeon and surgeon-in-chief with St. Michael’s Hospital, was on call the evening of July 22, 2018, and was paged to come in as part of a code orange, meaning “there has been a catastrophe in the city” and increased resources are needed.

She told Global News in an interview that when she saw the vast number of police cruisers and ambulances, she knew she would not be having a routine night.

“Every single person that I saw that day had that look on their face something serious has happened, and I just had to bring my best and do my best to get these people for this horrible thing — that was the overall mood. And then there was a mood of uncertainty. There was a mood of what could happen next,” Ahmed said.

“I could tell you as a trauma surgeon the things that I was thinking about as the hours went by, the minutes raced by, was, ‘Is this an isolated incident? Has the gunman been neutralized? Is there another gunman potentially? Is this part of something larger? Are there other soft targets in the city that we should prepare for? What else is happening out there?’”

Ahmed reiterated that she and other medical staff at St. Michael’s Hospital and the other institutions that responded train for situations such as this, but serious questions remained about how the shooting was impacting hospital resources and if the facility could cope amid the influx of patients.

“We think about how much blood are we going to need? Do we have enough blood? Do we have enough instruments in the operating room? Do we have enough surgeons and surgical teams? Do we need to call in more nurses and not beds in the ICU? Should we be decanting our ICUs to other hospitals? Are we there yet?” she recalled.

“That’s all part of a mass casualty plan that the city has organized and the trauma centres and the acute care hospitals co-ordinate with, God forbid such a terrible thing should happen. We have those ideas and plans. And as a trauma surgeon, you start to go down the algorithm and think, ‘Where are we?’”

Ahmed personally treated three of the victims of the Danforth shooting. She said she wasn’t able to get into their specific cases for privacy reasons, but reflected generally on how victims of trauma and gun violence are profoundly impacted.

“Although we do our best to help the patient recover physically, they’re never the same. Their bodies are never the same. Very often they require multiple operations — three and four operations — before they’re discharged from hospital. And then even in the recovery phase, they may require further surgery for, you know, to assist in the rehabilitation. They require months and years of rehabilitation,” she said.

“Very often they never go back to school, they may never resume their previous employment, they become more dependent on their loved ones, and psychologically I don’t think that that moment and everything that happened from that moment on ever leaves them. That’s the patient, and then there’s a ripple effect for their families. Their families are never the same. And their communities are never the same.”

Since the mass shooting on Danforth Avenue, Ahmed has increased her advocacy efforts. She has been a driving force behind the grassroots group Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, which is calling for a ban on handguns and assault weapons.

“As I panned and scanned the room (after the shooting) — the emergency department and then upstairs in the operating room — I had this sense that this was different and this was going to change the way that the people of Toronto and perhaps the people of our country, of the whole country, thought about gun safety and gun violence,” she said.

“I think as a society, as a community, we have to think about what kind of society we want to live in and do we want to keep repeating this story over and over again knowing that these things are potentially preventable with better laws.”

Reflections on the Danforth shooting

“When I’m having a really bad day and like my spasms are kicking off and there’s nothing I have done, like no interventions I’ve tried to do — position changes, medications, what have you, when none of those things work — yeah, I curse [Hussain], of course I do. But I mean, for the most part, I don’t. Like, I really pity him because especially when the police report came out that he had struggled with his mental health from such a young age and throughout his life, I just wonder how much he suffered and how terrible it was that he didn’t get any help in that he came to this, that he acted out in this way. So yeah, I do have a lot of empathy for him.” — Danielle Kane

“At first I felt like I was good. But as time passed, you know, every day you are thinking what’s really happened here. And it is creating some damage on your psychology. At first, I was thinking I am OK, but now I guess because of that incident I am having some hard times sometimes. Like concentrating on what I am doing. And sometimes I feel nervous without a reason. And sometimes I feel like something’s going to happen bad to me. Before I was not having these kinds of feelings but this is the effect of what I lived in here because you’re not expecting something like this in your life. You never know that someone is going to come and try to kill you.” — Ali Demircan

“We thought this could never happen in our city and in our beloved country and here we are talking about a mass shooting in the centre of the city. And what goes through my mind is that we’ve got so much work to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again. What I think about is the sadness that the families must be feeling and the tragedy they must be experiencing again as we come to the one-year anniversary of that horrible day.” — Dr. Najma Ahmed

— With files from Caryn Lieberman and The Canadian Press

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