Ken Lee, 59, identified as victim of alleged 'swarming' attack by teen girls in Toronto

Ken Lee, 59, died in hospital after he was allegedly beaten and stabbed by a group of teenage girls in December. (Toronto Police Service handout - image credit)
Ken Lee, 59, died in hospital after he was allegedly beaten and stabbed by a group of teenage girls in December. (Toronto Police Service handout - image credit)

Police have identified a man killed in an alleged "swarming" attack by eight teenage girls in Toronto last month as Ken Lee.

Lee, 59, was pronounced dead in hospital after he was allegedly beaten and stabbed by the group of girls outside a downtown shelter in the early morning hours of Dec. 18, 2022.

Investigators said at the time they were working to notify Lee's next of kin of his death. Lee was from Toronto, police said in a news release Tuesday.

All eight girls, who range in age from 13 to 16 years old, were charged with second-degree murder. One was granted bail in late December, while the rest have bail hearings scheduled for later this month.

Their identities are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

At a Tuesday ceremony at the Toronto Homeless Memorial outside the Church of the Holy Trinity in the city's downtown core, Diana Chan McNally, harm reduction case manager at All Saints Toronto, said Lee's death is incomprehensible.

"Hearing something like that and the people who were involved, it's just something that's completely beyond my understanding," she said.

She said anecdotally, she is seeing an increase of violence against people who are actively living on the street.

"This is the most extreme example of that, but we see it all the time. I get people coming in with all kinds of injuries from being beat up by complete strangers," she said. "This isn't something that's new, it's ongoing, but I see it more and more.

"I think there's just so much hatred and dehumanization of people who are unhoused."

Muriel Draaisma/CBC
Muriel Draaisma/CBC

Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor and spokesperson for Sanctuary Toronto, which works with the homeless, said he learned that Lee had immigrated from Hong Kong and was working to get housing.

Those who knew Lee said he was a quiet man who had been defending a friend when the group of teens allegedly attacked, he said.

"Nobody was surprised that he would stick up for somebody like that," Johnson Hatlem said.

Gru, a former homeless individual who organized Tuesday's memorial, said he and others living on the streets had one thought come to their mind after hearing about Lee's death.

"That could be me," he said.

"Most unhoused people will tell you personal stories of being chased by people who are looking to beat them up ... We all know someone who died, we all know someone who was attacked."

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Police believe liquor bottle theft involved

A friend of Lee's who saw his alleged attack previously told CBC Toronto the girls had tried to take a liquor bottle from her and Lee had tried to stop them. The lead detective on the case later confirmed that police believe there was an attempted theft — "likely of a liquor bottle" — during the initial phase of the deadly encounter.

The attack happened at about 12:15 a.m. local time, near the corner of York Street and University Avenue, just steps from Union Station.

Det.-Sgt. Terry Browne said in December that police chose to charge all of the teens with second-degree murder because each girl "played a role" in the slaying.

"All eight were together. All eight were involved," he said. "I won't say what each one individually did, but all eight were together and participating in this event, which is disturbing."

He described the attack as a "swarming," which normally involves selecting a target to victimize.