Police: Shots fired at Canada mall, 1 dead

June 3, 2012 - 1:57 AM
Toronto Eaton Centre Shots

Police set up a perimeter outside the Eaton Centre shopping mall in Toronto, Saturday, June 2, 2012. Panic broke out at the Eaton Centre Saturday after shots were fired at the downtown mall packed with weekend shoppers. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Victor Biro)

TORONTO (AP) — A gunman fired shots in a crowded food court in one of Canada's busiest malls Saturday killing a man and injuring seven others, police said.

Police Chief Bill Blair said the shooting at Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto targeted one individual and there were a number of innocent bystanders. Police constable Victor Kwong said two people were in critical condition after being shot at the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto, including a 13-year old boy. The 25-year-old man who was killed died at the scene, he said.

Kwong said six people were shot in all, including the deceased. Two people were trampled on and pushed, including a pregnant woman who went into labor after she was pushed, he said.

Blair said investigators have a description of the suspect.

"A lot of innocent people were hurt and a lot of innocent people were put at risk," Blair said. "We will be relentless in our pursuit of the individual."

Witnesses said multiple shots were fired in the mall's food court and that hundreds of panicked shoppers sprinted for the exits. The mall, which is popular with tourists, was evacuated.

Swarms of people watched from outside as an injured man with visible bullet wounds was wheeled out on a stretcher.

Toronto Blue Jays baseball player Brett Lawrie was in the mall when the shooting took place and was one of the first to take to Twitter to break the news.

"Pretty sure someone just let off a round bullets in eaton center mall ... Wow just sprinted out of the mall ... through traffic," he tweeted. "People sprinting up the stairs right from where we just were ... Wow wow wow."

He later tweeted that he was "Rattled right now."

Marcus Neves-Polonio, 19, was working in the food court when he saw a man pull out a gun and start firing. At least two people were on the ground, he said.

"All of a sudden a herd of people were just running toward us, a massive crowd of people screaming, running, freaking out," said Hannah Stewart, 21, a shopper. "We saw this girl, sitting on the ground, and she had blood on her toes." The girl appeared to have been one of the victims and told Stewart she had just been shot.

Another victim said he was hit in the leg by a stray bullet.

"We had just gone shopping. We heard shots and hit the ground. A couple of seconds later I got hit," said Nicholas, who declined to provide his last name in an interview on CP24 television as he left the hospital. "I actually ran. It was a survival instinct. I'm tired but I'm pretty good."

He said he didn't see the shooter. "Nothing surprises me, but out in the open? Come on," he said.

Tonya Mahmood said her sister was shot in the leg but is doing better.

"We're just waiting to see if she'll need surgery," she told CP24 outside the hospital. "She's one of the nicest persons in the whole world. She was just shopping with her friends and she got shot. It's just heartbreaking. We're so lucky. We're thanking God. My parents are thanking God that it was the leg. It could have been anywhere else."

Erica Solmes, who manages the McDonald's in the mall's food court, said she heard about 15 shots ring out before a stampede of people made a dash for the exits.

Blair called the Eaton Centre an iconic landmark in Toronto, Canada's largest city.

"Any place for discharging a firearm in Toronto is dangerous. In the food court of the Eaton Centre on a Saturday evening, it's not only dangerous, it's outrageous," he said. "I believe every Torontonian is shocked and appalled by this crime."

Toronto prides itself on being one of the safest cities in North America. Many Canadians have long taken comfort in the peacefulness of their communities and are nervous about anything that might indicate they are moving closer to their American counterparts.

In 2005, a 15-year-old girl was killed during the Christmas holidays just north of the mall in a shooting that shocked the city during a year of record gun deaths in Toronto. In that case, Toronto teen Jane Creba was shopping with family on busy Yonge Street when she was caught in the crossfire of a shootout between rival gangs.

"Today harkens back to that terrible moment," Blair said. "I am very sadly reminded of that. That was one of the most tragic and shocking events that ever took place in Toronto."

Kwong said police are in the process of reviewing security tapes. He said they had concluded a search of the mall.

"It's absolutely terrible," Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty called it a case of "senseless, tragic violence" and expressed his condolences to the victims and their families.

The area around the mall was quickly blocked off after the shooting and the Eaton Centre itself was evacuated and closed down. A portion of a major subway line, which services the mall, was also temporarily shut down.

Police spent much of Saturday evening trying to clear out thousands of people who were milling around outside the mall, mostly trying to figure out what happened.