Amid the bedlam that followed the sound of gunshots during last Monday’s mammoth celebrations for the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship, some people stepped up and helped others to calm down and stay out of danger.
Investigators are still looking into the violence that interrupted the afternoon celebrations at Nathan Phillips Square. Four people were injured in the mayhem, three people were subsequently arrested, two firearms were recovered and a person of interest is still being sought, according to police.
Emergency responders and medical workers were key to the city’s response. Toronto Paramedic Services said that 10 patients were treated and transported to local hospitals from the area of the rally. A spokesperson from Toronto General said the hospital experienced a surge in walk-ins from people who suffered dehydration due to long hours standing in the sun.
Days after the incident, acts of kindness are coming to light — tales of strangers helping those in distress even when their own safety was not assured.
Rob Fox was inside the Eaton Centre when he heard what sounded like gunshots, and immediately people started running everywhere and falling all over the place, he said. He was trampled and got bruised. As he got back up, he saw a woman desperately trying to protect her two children from the running crowd.
“I love my children so much, so when I saw this woman yelling ‘stop, I have children, help me,’ I didn’t really think anything. I just had to act as if it was my own kids,” said Fox, a father of three daughters whom he had left at home.
Fox, 34, from Pickering, had arrived at the square around 7:30 a.m. but left when the area became too crowded. In the chaos after the shooting, he pushed off people who trampled the woman, lifted up the two children and led them away to a less crowded corner. Then when he started talking to them as a way of calming them down, he realized things were worse than he thought.
“She said, ‘No, I’m not OK, I’m missing six kids.’ At that point I thought, this is life and death right now,” said Fox. The woman had brought her four children to the parade, plus four children of her friend. Now two of her children and the four from her friend were missing.
While the rest of the crowd continued following celebratory events at the square, Fox spent an hour looking for stranded children and bringing them back to the woman to see if they were hers.
“It was hectic. I was just looking for kids who are on their own,” he said, remembering how he didn’t even know their names or what they looked like. But all the children were eventually found and reunited.
Fox said the woman and her family have since reached out to thank him — a message posted on Facebook by Fox’s cousin Brendan has since gone viral, collecting thousands of shares. The two cousins even hosted a Facebook Live event Wednesday night, to talk about the importance of being kind to one another.
Meanwhile, as hordes of fans scattered in fear near Bay and Queen Sts., Mo Hussein said a group of young adults he had just met helped shield his 3-year-old daughter from the crowd.
Hussein had gone to the rally with family members, including his niece and nephew, and ran into some of his niece’s friends, whom he did not previously know. His daughter had just fallen asleep in her stroller when shots set off a wave of panic in the packed square, he said.
“All of a sudden the crowd started running towards us,” he said. “Fortunately I didn’t panic, my first thoughts were to protect my daughter who was asleep in the stroller. I just told people around me to come help me protect the stroller.”
Hussein said his niece’s friends formed a semicircle around the stroller, protecting his daughter, who remained blissfully unaware of the commotion around her. When the crowd dispersed, “there were strollers around, there were shoes strewn all over the place, peoples’ hats and personal possessions all over the place,” he said.
That selfless act from the group prevented what could have been a terrible outcome, said Hussein, noting many children were put at risk at a purportedly family-friendly event.
“It basically means that even at the most evil point, humanity prevails,” he said. “(My niece’s friends) were afraid themselves and they were shivering after the fact, a lot of them had tears in their eyes and the fact that they were brave enough to actually help protect my daughter is something I really appreciate.”
Some who received a helping hand also witnessed other acts of kindness.
Kimi Marfa, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said they were separated from friends moments after the shooting, which occurred steps away from their group.
“It was so scary not knowing if my friends were hurt or if they were safe,” Marfa said.
The 16-year-old said they ran into the nearby Old City Hall courthouse and saw children who had lost track of their parents. The kids were crying and looked scared, particularly when security announced the building was under lockdown, Marfa said.
Other parents who were still with their children stepped in to console those who were alone, Marfa said. “There were mothers acting as mothers to these others kids, hugging them and singing to them,” Marfa said.
Marfa was also helped through a panic attack by a woman in the courthouse, they said.
Suzanne Bernier said she ran into a nearby Canadian Tire where employees told distraught Raptors fans to come inside and stay calm. Store employees acted professionally and with compassion despite not being prepared to deal with dozens of terrified people seeking shelter, she said.
“It was so nice to see people stepping up to help each other,” she said. “It was just everyday citizens coming together to help each other out.”
With files from The Canadian Press
Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo