Nearly 100 people gathered at the corner of Yonge and Bloor streets Friday evening to remember an 18-year-old man with a "huge smile," and to call for an end to the gun violence that claimed his life.
Gabriel Nikov, known as Gabe to his family and friends, was shot just outside a Tim Hortons restaurant near that intersection around 8 p.m. on Apr. 13, 2016.
A year after his death, his friends and family placed flowers at the site of the shooting and held a memorial with songs and poems.
"He had a huge smile, huge personality" said Nikov's mother Kelly Whetter. "He had all of his goals taped to the fridge. He wanted to go to Ryerson for business."
Much of the crowd was made up of Nikov's friends. Many had stories to share about him protecting classmates from bullies or encouraging others to follow their dreams.
'Even now it feels surreal'
"He's someone who I called my best friend growing up," said Nate Oberst, who was wearing a red T-shirt with Nikov's picture on it. "Even now it feels surreal. I feel like I'm going to bump into him on the street one day."
Nikov's mother says one of the ways she's been able to cope with the pain is by meeting other mothers who have lost their children to gun violence in the city.
Through a homicide survivors group at the Toronto Distress Centre, Whetter has met the mothers of Quinn Taylor, one of the victims of the January, 2016 Chinatown shooting, and Justin Bokma, a former skateboarder who died in a shooting near Kensington Market last July.
"We all understand each other," said Whetter. "We know what the other person is going through so we can talk to each other and lift each other up."
'We also have to get to the root of the problem'
Part of the gathering focused on finding a solution to gun violence in the city.
"We also have to get to the root of the problem," said Brenda McIntyre, the mother of Quinn Taylor. "Young people are so dead and cold inside that they would resort to gun violence."
Last year, there were 74 homicides in Toronto, as of the end of last month there have been 14 so far this year.
The three mothers are working with the Zero Gun Violence Movement and plan on taking their message to Ottawa in the fall.
Nikov's two hour memorial ended with a release of red balloons and a rap song that Nikov had recorded before his death. But it wasn't the end of the fight against illegal firearms in the city.
"One of the issues we have to deal with is the issue of gun supply," said Louis March, co-founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement.
"Why is it easier to get a gun than a job? We have to look at ways to get these people off the streets and not just give them a job, but give them careers that will direct them away from a life of violence."
"It's all a work in progress," said Whetter. "But we're putting our anger and our sorrow somewhere for change. So other families don't have to go through what we're going through. It's a lifetime of suffering."