'An absolute tragedy:' Charges upgraded in Toronto shooting after 12-year-old dies

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TORONTO — Charges against two men accused of firing 30 rounds at a moving vehicle in Toronto over the weekend have been upgraded to first-degree murder following the death of a 12-year-old boy who was hit by a stray bullet.

The boy, who was shot while out shopping with his mother on Saturday, died of his injuries on Wednesday, Toronto police said.

"What an absolute tragedy this whole occurrence is, what it's done to the community," Ron Taverner, superintendent of 23 Division, where the shooting took place said Thursday. "We feel so bad for the family of the young 12-year-old victim."

Det.-Sgt. Keri Fernandes, an investigator with the force's homicide unit, said police won't be releasing the boy's name because his family has requested privacy.

Officers have said the two accused, who were arrested on Monday, allegedly shot at least 30 rounds at a moving vehicle before running away.

A 17-year-old boy and two men in the targeted vehicle were injured but have been released from hospital, police said.

"We believe it's gang-related, but I can't confirm that at this point," Fernandes said.

The acting police chief said Saturday that the shooting had "al the hallmarks" of being linked to gang activity.

Chief James Ramer also said that police were investigating other allegations against the two suspects.

"We believe these two alleged shooters may have been involved in a separate shooting incident last week -- which also endangered the lives of many innocent people and that remains an active investigation," he said.

Jahwayne Smart, 25, is now facing 30 charges, including one count of first-degree murder. Rashawn Chambers, 24, now faces 29 charges, including first-degree murder.

"This investigation has shown us that the two accused had planned to carry out murder. The fact that the 12-year-old victim was not the intended target is not a piece of that," Fernandes said. "He was hit as these men were attempting to carry out their plan to murder someone."

She said police are still looking for a third suspect who allegedly drove the two men to the scene.

She said that third suspect will also face a first-degree murder charge.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city is grieving with the boy's family and noted that he had spoken to the boy's mother.

"That conversation, together with others that I've had before and after, will cause me to try to work together with the community, most importantly with the other governments and our police service to try and step up our efforts to address this scourge to a peaceful life," he said.

Taverner said the force will continue to have a "high presence" of uniformed officers in the community in the city's north end.

"The gun violence in this community is higher than anywhere else in the city," he said.

As of Nov. 8, Toronto police had recorded 425 shootings in the city in 2020.

At that time, they said, 37 people had died and 164 others were injured.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2020.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press