A child toppling out of her stroller. Her brother screaming. Both kids trampled.
For a few terrifying minutes, Diane Weis, with a toddler in arms, lost sight of her two older kids amidst the scrambling panic.
“A stranger had picked up my 6-year-old and put her up against the wall. I picked up a kid myself, had no idea who it was.”
The family, abandoning the stroller, struggled to the main entrance of the Sheraton Hotel on Queen St. only to find the doors locked. They had checked out that morning.
“It was a stampede. My husband banged on the door but the security guard wouldn’t let us in,” Weis tells the Star, still deeply rattled by events that had unfolded Monday afternoon, on the periphery of the civic rally for the Toronto Raptors.
“My daughter was bleeding. We told the guard that we were guests and he finally opened the door a crack to let us in.”
At that point, Weis and her husband, Jesse, had little idea of what had happened, was still happening, though Jesse Weis had overheard someone hollering about a shooter as the pandemonium erupted.
It’s the contemporary version of shouting FIRE! in a crowded auditorium. But it’s guns, the crack of a firearm, that sends people scattering for their lives.
In the hotel lobby, Weis continues, pure havoc ensued with a second wave of fear: SHOOTER!
“People were hiding under tables, behind chairs. My kids took cover behind the (registration) counter.”
The Sheraton did not return the Star’s calls.
It was a horrific scene that has left Weis’ children traumatized and their mom boiling mad. Not just about the late afternoon shooting that marred what was otherwise a joyful parade and rally at Nathan Phillips Square.
“The city was not prepared for an event this big. No Porta-potties, no water, hardly any police that I could see. People were dehydrated, fainting. There were some nurses in the crowd who tried to help. We were yelling HELP! HELP! to police we could see on the rooftops.”
Diane and Jesse Weis thought they’d done everything right. Their kids, Raptors fans, were mad to watch the parade. So the family booked a hotel room, drove from their Markham home on Sunday, parked at the city hall underground lot.
Studied the parade route material and took their position on Queen St., at the southern edge of the plaza, at 8:30 a.m.
Nobody expected the Raptors’ arrival to be on time at 12:30, yet the hours wore on. When the water Weis brought ran out, a Good Samaritan offered her family more.
“Six hours we stood there. And then they changed the route so we never saw the parade at all.”
In congested downtown, the procession was supposed to turn right at Queen. Instead, with intersections jammed and thousands falling in behind the open-top buses as the vehicles inched along, the parade continued north to Armoury St. before doglegging towards city hall.
It was all for nothing, for the Weis family and so many others.
Most in the square were unaware of the shooting, knew only what emcee Matt Devlin told them, that a serious emergency had occurred, urging calmness. But that sea of humanity — estimated at 100,000, well over the Nathan Phillips Square capacity of 65,000 — had spent hour upon hour in the baking sun, with no access to washrooms, no water distributed, no garbage cans, no designated safe exits, not even a measly bit of entertainment to while away the time.
It was, frankly, a disaster, mismanaged along the seven-kilometer route lined by at least a million revellers and at steamy Ground Zero.
Officials claim they had only three days to prepare for the parade. If so, this is an absurdity. The NBA playoffs extended over two months, the public viewings at Jurassic Park and elsewhere an escalating phenomenon, the likelihood of a Raptors victory in Game 6 of the Finals darn high. The relevant authorities — from police to Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment — should have seen this coming far earlier and prepared appropriately.
Granted, Toronto had never seen anything like it. The city has scarce history of victory parades. But to be caught this off-guard?
Nobody can be blamed — other than the culprits — for a shooting. There are too many guns in the hands of too many reckless young men in this city. Gun violence has become a fact of life.
That’s a policing matter. But the rest of the mess is down to those who should have foreseen the practical problems. Yet all we’re hearing is excuses, lack of due diligence and deflection of liability. They’re actually taking bows for the wonder of a memorable day and, yes, it was all that. But drop the typically Toronto smugness.
It does not foster confidence. It was a monumental screw-up.
“I take full responsibility for the decision we made,” says Diane Weis, who has written to both the city and the police department. “And it’s the biggest regret of my life. But this isn’t a witch-hunt. I just can’t believe that nobody has taken responsibility.
“The terror in my children’s eyes …
“I’m so disappointed, angry and upset. Just a really, really bad memory.”
Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno