Police draw weapons on boy in park carrying costume gun for school project

A Hamilton boy with a toy gun and a wooden sword was in a park on Tuesday afternoon when he suddenly found himself facing police officers with guns and Tasers drawn.

Someone had reported a tall teenager with a gun and a knife, said a Hamilton police report Wednesday.

In fact, it was a particularly tall 12-year-old hanging out in Shamrock Park, near Walnut and Young Streets, holding what his father described as "a cosplay weapon." It was meant to be a prop for a school video project he was in the park to film. CBC News is not identifying the boy. 

The boy wasn't harmed in his interaction with police, but his parents are upset, feeling it could have been a tragic story if their son had reacted differently in the moment.

Boy heard someone say 'Drop it!'

Despite being 12, the toy-toting boy is almost six feet tall.

Police say a witness called around 4:00 p.m. after noticing someone, thought to be an older teen, wandering around with a gun. The witness also reported seeing a large knife, according to Hamilton police. The father later told CBC News Hamilton that was "a wooden sword, handmade by my uncle when I was a boy."

According to their son's account, he heard the police before he saw them. The police news release describes it this way:

"Given the information and the possibility of a perceived real threat to the safety of the public and the responding officers, they approached the park cautiously while removing their firearm and CEW (Taser)."

"All he heard was someone say 'Drop it!'" said the boy's father. The boy explained later that he didn't recognize the voice and thought it best to comply.

Police said in the release that the boy was holding what appeared to be a gun, but he threw it on the ground after officers approached him. His parents said he was "very shaken" afterward.

"They made him put his hands behind his back and search[ed] his pockets," his mother said in a Facebook post.

Mad Max, angry parents

The boy's father described the gun as being part of a Mad Max costume from a previous Halloween. The preteen was supposed to meet a classmate so they could shoot a video for a school project.

"After further examination of the firearm, it was determined to be a toy and it had been intentionally spray-painted, altering its appearance," the police report said.

"It's painted in a fantastical sort of way," said the boy's father. "It's intended to look like a double-barrelled sawed-off shotgun."

The police report said the witness who called in described the gun as looking similar to what police officers use.

When he heard about the incident, the boy's father said his reaction was "terror. It was absolutely terror."

"My primary concern was that he didn't see them coming. He did not hear anyone who identified themselves as law enforcement.

"My first thought was, oh my God, what if he had just turned around? What if he had turned around quickly?'"

The angry father went to the police station. In some irate Facebook posts on Tuesday evening, he described having to be physically removed from the building by officers.

By Wednesday afternoon, he had calmed down. The father was very clear that he and his wife "understand the public safety issue."

He said that if people see someone wandering about outside with a gun, they should be able to call the police and have the police respond accordingly.

But he feels that the public account of the incident obfuscates that the suspect turned out to be a boy of 12.

"Six-foot male, armed. It's a very different picture from a 12-year-old in a park, in broad daylight, with toys.

"I understand the politics of why they're doing so, but I just don't appreciate them."

On Wednesday, the mother and father met with police.

The father said the police were conciliatory, offering to give their son a tour of the station. Although, he said the police "are pretty serious about getting us to file an FOI [Freedom of Information] request," to see copies of their incident reports.

The father described his son as a kind, level-headed kid. He said his son's trust in the police has been severely shaken, but he thinks the boy will probably opt to take the tour of the police station.

"I think he will. He has an open mind."

dave.beatty@cbc.ca | @dbeatty