The screeching of children — but a good screeching, high-spirited and joyful.
Kids at William G. Davis Junior Public School on Friday morning, enjoying recess, burning off energy.
So much more soothing, normal, than: “SHOW ME YOUR HANDS! SHOW ME YOUR HANDS! SHOW ME YOUR HANDS!”
And then “BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!”
Just as we do not know the identity of the 27-year-old man — he was seemingly carrying a rifle, which turned out to be a pellet gun — who was shot dead by Toronto police officers some 24 hours earlier, almost directly outside the school, just beyond the parking lot where parents will soon be retrieving their youngsters.
A John Doe for all intents and purposes who on Saturday was to be laid on a slab at the morgue.
Although his name is known to the Special Investigations Unit, they won’t release it because the man’s family hasn’t consented.
That’s a dreadful state of concealment — the SIU’s self-imposed confidentiality mandate, since copied by other civilian law enforcement oversight agencies across Canada — as a city clamors to understand what the hell happened and why.
Which isn’t a knock on the cops, certainly not at this point, who fired their weapons and killed the man witnesses say had been walking to-and-fro outside the building, carrying what appeared to be a long-barrelled gun.
After multiple residents in the Scarborough neighborhood had called 9-1-1 to report a male with a gun, in broad daylight, on foot, moving around the quiet tree-lined streets.
Just two days after an 18-year-old shot and killed 19 children, most of them Grade 4 students, and two teachers inside a Texas classroom, as distraught parents pleaded with police to rush the school, save the kids, take down the gunman , reportedly an hour of time wasted while horrors unfolded inside.
So yes, the situation here was surely fraught with tension when the man was confronted by police. And yes, another Toronto police officerCons. Ken Lamb, did famously arrest the van killer who barrel-housed down north Yonge Street four years ago, deliberating striking pedestrians, without a shot being fired.
But what would you have done in these circumstances?
In the moment, with lives potentially at risk, when this is the time of killing innocent children, if not on our doorstep, our schools, then definitely all over America.
Because there’s always an awful first time.
“I saw a gentleman with what seemed to be a rifle, a shotgun on his shoulder, pacing back and forth,” Steve Matthews tells the Star.
It was about 1 pm and Matthews was driving past the school that both his son and daughter attend.
“I drove past, did a U-turn at the first street, and I kind of watched him for a moment as I tried to call 9-1-1.” He was put on hold. “I didn’t want to wait, so I drove back past him to the school, parked my vehicle, ran inside and told them to go on lockdown, there’s a guy with a gun outside the property.”
The principal was actually on the phone, receiving a call from 9-1-1, says Matthews, being told of a suspect in the area.
“That’s when we are locked down.”
Other schools in the area likewise pulled students inside and locked their doors.
Matthews stayed inside the school’s office for the lockdown, about 90 minutes, with his kids still in their classes. “The principal made it apparent to the kids that this is not a drill.”
The man with the apparent gun didn’t look so agitated that Matthews had noticed. “I didn’t look too much at his face. I was focused on the weapon over his shoulder. And it had a scope, I could see that.”
Matthews, 43, had no doubt that it was a genuine weapon the man was hoisting.
“When you walk around with something like that in public, with what’s going on, it’s not to be taken lightly.”
His son heard the shots from his classroom. The father did not.
Allan Clements, who was in his backyard on Maberley Cres., just one door in from the East Ave. intersection that the school faces, heard the shots, too.
“I thought it was four shots, not three, the first two kind of simultaneous and the others spaced apart. I’d never heard gunshots before, I thought at first it was firecrackers. But then I realize, no, that’s not firecrackers.”
Clements, 67, is now aware that the weapon was a pellet gun, which the SIU confirmed to the Star on Friday morning. “But how could you even have been able to tell? And why would a young person act like he did and not drop the gun when he was told to do so?”
His immediate neighbour, says Clements, actually captured the entire incident on his cellphone, which has been turned over to the SIU.
Another couple who live nearby — they don’t want their names used — told the Star they had clearly heard at least one officer shouting at the man to show his hands. And then the shots: BOOM-BOOM-BOOM!
“I came down here the minute after it happened,” said the man. “He was on the ground.”
“The ambulance hadn’t even arrived yet,” added his wife.
“Nobody should be walking around with a gun,” her husband said, shaking his head. “It’s a school, for heaven’s sake… all those little kids.”
The couple, walking their dog on Friday, was still disbelieving. “This is such a quiet, safe neighborhood. We don’t even lock our door when we go out for a walk.”
The prevailing sentiment, along these streets, is that police were right to react as they did, with immediacy.
“Because of what happened in Texas,” said Bassum Nishat, who was cooking when the shots were fired. “We have all seen what’s going on in the US right now, in Buffalo last week. I don’t know if police are trained to recognize what’s a pellet gun and what’s a real rifle. But we all fear for the lives of kids.”
Several residents along Maberley have security cameras on their property. One of them showed the Star screen grabs from the surveillance video which captured the man walking up his street carrying what everybody thought was a weapon, although he’s still not sure that it was so obviously a gun. That evidence was also collected by investigators, later in the day.
It is certainly unclear at this early stage if the man who now lies dead was in a state of mental-health crisis. But a person holding what appears to be a gun is surely more immediately threatening to officers than someone lunging at them with a knife or a pair of scissors, as was the case a decade ago when a mental health patient who’d escaped hospital, then stolen two pairs of scissors from a convenience store, came at a Toronto police officer who shot and killed him after the man ignored commands to drop the weapon. The SIU found no criminal wrongdoing by police, but a coroner’s inquest was held into the fatal police-shootings of three mentally ill people.
The SIU has designated two subject officers in Thursday’s shooting and seven people as witnesses.
A pellet gun, airgun, BB gun, spring gun, are designated as firearms under both the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code if they have a high muzzle velocity (greater than 152.4 meters or 500 feet per second) and a high-muzzle energy, Thus subject to the same license and registration requirements as a conventional firearm. Lower-powered air guns in Ontario do not require registration or a license, classed as “imitation firearms,” but can only be sold to those over 18.
When asked, the SIU couldn’t or wouldn’t confirm what type of pellet gun the man had allegedly been carrying.
“By our definition, a firearm is defined as a barreled weapon from which any shot, bullet or other projectile can be discharged and that is capable of causing serious bodily injury or death to a person,” SIU spokesperson Kristy Denette told the Star via email .
Many questions will need answering from the SIU. Already on social media, commentators are taking sides, either vilifying or commending the swift action of these police officers involved.
But the core question should be this: If you’re a cop, would you rather be wrong about one guy on the street or a whole bunch of kids in school?
JOIN THE CONVERSATION