A gap of almost 40 hours between the abduction of a 14-year-old North York boy in broad daylight and his safe return home has left people in his neighbourhood with concerns about the way the incident was handled.
“We feel like, if it was another community, they would have been on top of that,” said Marlon Morgridge, a community worker who has spent his entire life in various at-risk neighbourhoods along Jane St.
“The father called police after 5 p.m. Why was it hours later that the Amber Alert went off?
“That’s a big problem.”
The 14-year-old boy, whom the Star is no longer naming because he is a minor, was forced into a Jeep Wrangler steps away from his home near Jane Street and Driftwood Avenue about 8:25 a.m. Wednesday.
A witness called police, who told the Star they canvassed the area for most of the day.
An Amber Alert was issued at midnight Thursday, six hours after the boy’s father reported him missing.
The Toronto District School Board put four staff members on home assignment after the boy’s absence from Newtonbrook Secondary School near Yonge and Steeles was not recorded properly and his parents were not notified until 6:09 p.m.
The teen was found safe late Thursday in Brampton.
Police say he was abducted as “retribution” for his stepbrother Olalekan Osikoya’s $4-million drug debt, involving “hundreds of kilos” worth of cocaine. Court records show Osikoya was sentenced Feb. 3 to 36 months probation and community service after pleading guilty to multiple counts of fraud for attempting to open a credit card and bank account under a false identity last year.
The suspects in the abduction remain at large.
Paul Nguyen, a local filmmaker and decorated community activist, said, when crises such as this crop up, the typical knee-jerk reaction is for residents to be angry, and skeptical about how police, and, in this case, the school district, reacted.
Much of this mistrust stems from historic and persisting “bad blood” between the Jane-and-Finch neighbourhood and police, Nguyen said.
“It happens to be a Black kid in Jane and Finch, so all these red flags pop up,” he said about the abduction.
He encourages residents to wait for facts to emerge and have informed opinions, “then we can pressure the system to make changes.”
Nguyen won a national Volunteer Award in the community leader category for his website Jane-Finch.com. He created it in 2004 to fight the negative reputation of his neighbourhood, which has been historically plagued by crime, low employment and poverty.
He said a common sentiment among some residents in the neighbourhood is that their well-being and concerns aren’t given the same level of priority as those of more affluent parts of the city.
“I think a lot of people feel that way,” he said.
Police Chief Mark Saunders pledged Friday morning to “aggressively” investigate the abduction and find those responsible.
As the investigation continues, few details about the timing of events have been released.
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Police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray told the Star on Friday that the Amber Alert was issued after police were able to link the Wednesday morning call about the person forced into a vehicle with the report of the boy missing later in the day. Once they were able to link the boy to a burned out car in Caledon late Wednesday, the need for an Amber Alert became clear.
“In general, there are specific criteria that need to be met in order for (an Amber Alert) request to be considered and approved. So when a call comes in, an initial investigation is done to determine the circumstances,” Gray said. “After the boy’s parents reported him missing on Wednesday evening, an investigation led us to believe there was a legitimate concern for his safety. It was at that time that an Amber Alert was requested of the OPP.”
Signs of what is believed to be the abductors’ route were seen Friday afternoon at Forks of the Credit Provincial Park in Caledon. A vehicle found burning in the park late Wednesday matched the description of the one used in the abduction, police said.
The remains of the burned car — a door handle, some melted wiring and a spark plug — could still be seen on the edge of the laneway leading into a parking lot near the park’s entrance Friday.