Neighbourhood mourns young man who never made it out

Neighbourhood mourns young man who never made it out

On a table in the corner of the kitchen at Britannia Woods Community House, a dozen electric candles surround an unframed photo of a young boy wearing a huge grin and a white hoodie. The table is covered in a white cloth and adorned with a simple vase of white lilies, as well as an open book and a ball point pen.

The boy in the picture is Manyok Akol, photographed more than a decade ago when he first started attending programs at the centre. The book that's slowly filling with messages of condolence is also for Akol, gunned down in his sleep on Jan. 8, at the age of 18.

Akol was with friends at a Gilmour Street Airbnb when intruders broke in around 7:30 a.m. and started firing. Two adult shooting victims remain in hospital, while a third, a 15-year-old boy, has been released from CHEO. 

Courtesy Bell Warriors Football Club

Akol was born in Britannia Woods, the fourth of six siblings, three older brothers and two younger sisters. Jean-Jacques Ngandu, 24, grew up in the same community housing complex on Ritchie Street, and said he was shocked to learn of his friend's death.

"Manyok was a leader. He was a positive kid among the youth," Ngandu said. "He always saw a way out [of Ritchie Street], and he always motivated the kids in the community. [He'd] say, 'I see you in the NBA. You're small now, but keep working, you'll get there.'"

'There are people who make it out'

Ngandu produces a podcast about the neighbourhood called The House. He said his aim is to inspire young people with success stories of former Ritchie Street residents who "made it out."

"Most of the families are first-generation immigrants. The parents don't really study, so we don't see a way out. We don't see ourselves becoming a doctor or lawyer ... but there are people who make it out, and that's the point of the podcast, to share their stories and their struggles so kids can related to them."

Jean Delisle/CBC

Ngandu said he fully expected to one day tell Akol's story on his podcast, but not the way it turned out. He said his friend was a talented musician before his life was cut short.

"Manny's music was about what he went through, what he's going through and what he wanted to accomplish," Ngandu said, sometimes still struggling to talk about Akol in the past tense.

Earlier shooting

And yet, there had been signs of what was to come. Akol, a recent graduate of Notre Dame High School, had survived another brush with violence just five months earlier when he was shot in the leg outside his home.

After that, friends say Akol briefly moved to Toronto for his own safety, but returned to Ottawa in October to shoot a video for his latest rap song, titled Rainy Days.

Manyok Akol/YouTube

The video shows Akol, who went by the name FTG Metro, writing lyrics at his kitchen table and recovering in a hospital bed, presumably from the earlier shooting.

"I was only 18 when I did took a few shots. They took my f--king leg but my body ain't drop. They ain't gonna take me out, best believe I'm gonna make it out," Akol raps in the video.

Police hunt for killers

Major crime detectives are now re-examining the August shooting for clues that may lead to an arrest in Akol's death.

Sources tell CBC there was was fifth male staying at the rental unit at 490 Gilmour St. where Akol was killed. He escaped without injury, and investigators are looking to speak with him. They're also investigating bloody fingerprints left on the window of a car parked a few houses from the crime scene. 

Major crime detectives have also released a grainy video of two young men running down a sidewalk, captured by a home security camera across the street.

Jean Delisle/CBC

Before Akol decided to pursue a career in music, he harboured hopes of becoming a college football player. Tony Violante recruited Akol to play for the Bel-Air Norsemen in nearby Carlington when the teen was in Grade 11.

He always had people laughing. He was a good kid. - Tony Violante, Akol's former football coach

"Manny was a really good athlete. He was really talented and strong. He listened to the coaches all the time, and any way he could be better, he would listen," Violante recalled.

"Manny was a funny guy. He liked to joke around and his smile was electric.... He always had people laughing. He was a good kid."

Remembering 'Manny'

Akol's family members and many close friends on Ritchie Street have been reluctant to talk about his death, partly because the story is still unfolding: the two young men who remain in hospital are also recent Notre Dame graduates, and their families live in the Ritchie Street housing complex and frequent Britannia Woods Community House.

Jean Delisle/CBC

Each night since the shooting, young people from the neighbourhood have gathered at the community centre to talk about "Manny." Sometimes they cry, and sometimes they laugh.

Ngandu has been recording their stories about Akol, and plans to use them in his next podcast. A community vigil will be held Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at the Michele Heights Community Centre.

"The community is like a family. When one member of your family hurts, everybody hurts," Ngandu said.