Editor's note: The author of this article and Mohamed Sow were acquainted on Facebook through a mutual friend.
The violent death of Sidi Mohamed Sow earlier this month has left his family and friends in disbelief. The 21-year-old Toronto man was one of five people shot in a drive-by shooting in a parking lot near Jane Street and Woolner Avenue in the city's west end the night of July 10.
Mohamed, who recorded hip hop music under the name King Mo, died in hospital the following evening.
The investigation into the shooting is ongoing, and it's unclear whether Mohamed and the people he was with were targeted.
His parents told CBC News in an interview this week that they had no idea what might have precipitated the shooting and have received few details from police.
Coverage of Mohamed's death drew criticism after police released an old mug shot when first identifying him to press. His mother, Houleymatou Bah, told CBC News the photo is from an incident in middle school.
At the time, Mohamed was being bullied by some older students who, she says, tried to frame him for stealing a T-shirt at a Walmart by putting it into his backpack. Mohamed took the blame to avoid angering the bullies. Security footage showed he didn't steal the shirt, but he ended up having to report to police and attend a few days of counselling as a result.
'Mom, I will never leave you'
Originally of Guinean background, Mohamed was born in New York on Feb. 10, 1999. The family emigrated to Canada in 2000, first settling in Montreal and then Toronto in 2006, where they became active in the city's Guinean community.
Mohamed's father, Alhassane Sow, who works as an inspector at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, was president of the provincial Guinean organization L'Amicale Francophone des Guinéens et des Guinéennes de l'Ontario for 11 years. His mother works as a registered midwife.
"I was so lucky to have him. I was so happy to have him," she said of her only child.
"He never forgot my birthdays. He would always say, 'You [raised] me, you nurtured me, I love you, and I would never switch you for the world.'"
Mohamed lived with his parents in their home in the Jane Street and St. Clair Avenue West neighbourhood and was fond of telling his mom only marriage or a job could lure him away.
"He would always promise me, 'Mom, I will never leave you … don't worry,'" Bah said. "'I will always stay with you.'"
Bah said Sow never went to bed without knowing his son was home and would always check first thing in the morning if Sow was in his bedroom sleeping.
"Whenever my husband knew he was out with his friends, he would always text him and say, 'Please, Mohamed, be safe,'" Bah said.
The night of the shooting, Mohamed told his parents he would be playing basketball with some friends as he had been doing every Friday during the pandemic. Sow says his son would normally drive to the court, but that Friday evening, he didn't.
"When I saw my car, I checked, [and] Mohamed wasn't at home," he said. "I called him and said, 'Mohamed, you didn't take the car. Are you OK?' He said, 'Yes, dad … I'm here with friends. I'm not far. I just walked.' I said, 'OK.'"
Around 11:45 p.m. ET, Mohamed's friends knocked on his parents' door, distraught, and informed them he'd been shot and taken to the hospital.
"I asked them, 'Is he OK? Is he alive?'" Sow said. "They started crying and said, 'We don't know.'"
In a state of shock, Sow rushed to the hospital, where Mohamed succumbed to his injuries the following night.
Condolences for King Mo
After graduating from Runnymede Collegiate Institute in 2017, Mohamed was unsure of which career path to pursue. He began an international relations program at York University but didn't like it and left, saying he needed more time to figure out his future.
Lately, his plans were to take business courses online, Sow said.
"He just wanted to work for himself. That was his dream," he said. "He was thinking [about] what kind of skills he needed or studies he was supposed to do to start his own business."
About four years ago, he started rapping under the name King Mo and recording songs and videos with the local hip hop crew Came From Nothing.
His latest video premiered in March on the Toronto platform 6ixBuzz. Following his death, messages of condolence were posted across his social media channels.
"Let your music live through the people.... You really were a smart, talented and funny young fly guy," wrote pretty_slimmaz.in.da_6ix on his Instagram page.
Aurélie Divine, 22, said Mohamed had already caught the hip hop bug when they were at École Secondaire Toronto Ouest, a French-language high school.
"I'm very happy he was able to go in that route and do something he loved to do," she said.
She said she enjoyed spending time with Mohamed after school. The pair bonded over their love of food, often hanging out at Chito's Pizza near Lansdowne subway station or McDonald's.
She recalled one time in winter when she forgot her jacket at school, Mohamed gave her his.
"He said, 'Here, you don't need to give it back. It belongs to you now,'" said Divine.
In his neighbourhood, Mohamed was also known as someone who looked out for others.
He took care of kids he barely knew and gave them money to buy freezies, one friend recalled.
"Mo made sure I was going to school," said another friend who grew up with Mohamed but did not want to be named.
"Mo wanted what was best for me. He was there to support me and make sure I made the right decision. He was more like a mentor [and] a brother."
Alilo Bonghanya, 20, who met Mohamed through a mutual friend in Grade 7, said the news of his death was painful.
"I couldn't believe that this actually happened," she said. "When I saw the news, I immediately started crying."
Bonghanya said Mohamed was a good and caring friend to her through school and that the highlight of her day was talking to him on the phone.
"In middle and high school, you go through so much, and he was my first male best friend," she said. "Throughout everything, no matter what happened … he just always had my back."
Mohamed played soccer and basketball in middle school and was skilled on the court, his friend Tracy Mandiangu, 21, said.
"He knew he was good," she said. "He was also very competitive. I remember I was doing stats for a game they were playing … He would ask for his stats just to tease me."
An only child who wanted to help parents
With no siblings to lean on, Mohamed felt a responsibility to take care of his parents and give back, friends said.
"He was really big on respecting his parents and honouring them as well," Divine said.
"He kept saying, 'I'm an only child, and I have to do what's best for my parents.'"
When he travelled to Guinea with them as a young boy, he got a sense of the hardships they overcame. Bah said it helped him understand why she regularly sent money to relatives back home.
He had been working at Pearson International Airport and was eager to financially support his parents as they got older, she said.
"His dream was to give me money before I die," Bah said. "Even his [CERB] money he would give me. I would say, 'But I have money. I don't need it.' He would transfer anything he gets into my account to have."
Bah said she and her son loved travelling together and planned to go to Saudi Arabia some time this year.
'You're destroying a whole family'
Gun violence continues to plague Toronto. According to recent statistics released by the Toronto Police Service, 24 people have been killed and 87 injured so far this year, and there have been 244 instances of a gun being fired. The night Mohamed was shot, another Toronto hip hop artist, Gleesh, was shot on the other side of town at Scarborough Town Centre. He died of his injuries two days later.
Ousmane Barry, 23, a long-time family friend of the Sows, said those resorting to gun violence don't stop to consider the wider impact.
"People should also think about the pain parents go through when one of their children is killed," Barry said. "You're not just killing one individual; you're destroying a whole family….
"What issue can be so big that the only solution is gun violence?"
One of Mohamed's good friends from Rockcliffe Middle School, Taijah Lawrence-Scott, 21, was herself shot in the back when she was 20 and was angry when she heard Mohamed didn't survive.
"To hear the fact that Mo got shot and still made it to the hospital but still died … I'm like, 'Why couldn't he get saved? Was it really his time [to be] gone?'"
Mohamed was buried July 17 at the Toronto Muslim Cemetery in Richmond Hill. Investigators told CBC News they have no updates on their investigation at this time and wish to speak to anyone who might have information about the shooting.