Family of Toronto shooter says he suffered from severe mental illness

TORONTO — A 29-year-old man who went on a deadly shooting spree in the heart of Toronto's vibrant Greektown, killing an aspiring nurse and a 10-year-old girl, had a life-long struggle with severe mental illness, his family said Monday.

Faisal Hussain's parents said they were devastated by their son's "senseless violence" and the loss of life that resulted from it. Hussain was found dead, with a gunshot wound, after exchanging fire with officers during the incident on Danforth Avenue on Sunday night.

"Our son had severe mental health challenges, struggling with psychosis and depression his entire life," the family said in a statement issued moments after their son was identified as the shooter by Ontario's police watchdog.

"The interventions of professionals were unsuccessful. Medications and therapy were unable to treat him," they said. "While we did our best to seek help for him throughout his life of struggle and pain, we could never imagine that this would be his devastating and destructive end."

Police have revealed next to no information about Hussain or his motives, but said they are investigating the case from all angles.

Police identified an 18-year-old Toronto woman who died in the shooting as Reese Fallon.

Facebook posts from a man who appeared to be Fallon's father indicated she had just graduated from high school and was about to begin studying nursing at Hamilton's McMaster University in September. The university issued a statement confirming a new enrolled student died in the attack and extending condolences on her death.

One friend described Fallon as a "very happy" person.

"Reese gave the warmest of hugs. She was always so kind, " said Frank Hong. "Everyone ... wanted to be around her."

One of Fallon's friends was also injured in Sunday's attack, Hong said.

The family of the 10-year-old victim did not want her name released at this time, police said in a statement Monday evening. 

Investigators said six women and seven men ranging in age from 17 to 59 suffered injuries ranging from minor to serious in the shooting.

The attack took place along a street packed with independent businesses and surrounded by family homes and parks. On Monday, the area was largely deserted as police combed through the neighbourhood.

Some residents returned to the street later Monday to leave candles, flowers and messages of support at various places while a prayer service was held at a church to mourn the victims.

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath and Toronto Mayor John Tory joined members of the Greek Town neighbourhood at the service just steps from where the shooting took place.

"It was a church hall filled with love and many prayers were said for everybody," said Tory, who later walked along Danforth to speak with pedestrians and people sitting on patios after leaving the church.

"I felt that it was important to come out and not give in to fear," said Laila Hawrylyshyn, who attended both the prayer service and the walk down Danforth. "I was out earlier today and it was very eerie and I just decided that this is about community more than anything."

"It's like a small village for us," said Valia Dsaliou, who works at a Greek-language radio station in the area. "This is something that we couldn't even imagine would happen, but it happened. But we don't know why or what all this is supposed to mean to us."

Those answers did not immediately come from Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, who declined to comment on what prompted the attack.

"We do not know why this happened yet," he said. "The investigation itself is very fluid, it is very new, it's going to take some time."

Police said they were searching an east-end Toronto apartment as part of the investigation.

The shooting began around 10 p.m. on Sunday and only ended after two police officers exchanged gunfire with the shooter on a sidestreet near the site of the carnage, authorities said.

Laurie Gutmann was with family at a restaurant waiting for his partner's birthday cake to be served when the shots rang out.

"It was very quick — boom boom boom boom — and then we realized it was gunshots. There was a pause, and then there were more gunshots," he said.

Gutmann said he heard screaming from the restaurant's patio and saw a woman who had been shot in the thigh and was bleeding on the ground. Servers and fellow patrons provided first aid and held her hand until paramedics arrived, he said.

Lenny Graf, who was dining at another restaurant, was watching his nine-year-old son and a friend play around a nearby fountain when gunfire erupted.

"My first instinct was to try and find Jason and I saw him crouched behind the fountain and I noticed that the gunman had finished shooting there and was walking away," he said. "I grabbed Jason and I took him into the alleyway. We ran to the back of restaurant to see that Jason's friend was in there safe and so was my wife."

Nick Balkos said he saw the shooter about 15 minutes after he had closed his restaurant.

"He was running across the street yelling something and then he fired six to 10 shots into the Second Cup," said Balkos. "He was shooting while he was running."

Andreas Silaidis said he heard about six gunshots, looked out his window and saw people running and a few bodies on the ground.

"There were cops everywhere," he said.

Other witnesses posted photos and videos online, including a clip that appears to show a man, clad in black and carrying a satchel, walk a few steps before lifting his arms in front of him as gunshots ring out. That video was posted late Sunday by Instagram user @arilanise, who appears to have since deleted her account.

Tina Papachristos, who has called the neighbourhood home since childhood, said she's struggling to process what happened. Her children visit the area nearly every night, she said, adding she's grieving for the families of those killed.

"I can imagine the devastation of any mother ... that had to lose a loved one," she said. "I was up until about five in the morning just devastated."

Tory called the shooting an "unspeakable" act and said the time had come to confront the rising prevalence of guns in the city, which has experienced a spike in shootings in recent weeks.

"Why does anyone in this city need to have a gun at all?" he said. "I know answering questions like this won't fully eliminate tragedies like this, but even if we can prevent one of these incidents, then in my view it is a discussion worth having and having very soon."

At Ontario's legislature, politicians held a moment of silence and paid tribute to the shooting victims.

Premier Doug Ford called Sunday night's incident the most "brazen'' in the city to date.

"As a lifelong Toronto resident I have always been proud to speak up for and to defend this city," he said. "Unlike so many other places, we've always been confident that this is a safe city. Today for too many, this confidence is shaken."

The Greektown shooting spree comes nearly three months to the day after 10 people died in a van attack in a north Toronto neighbourhood.

Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill, Ont., faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder in connection with the April 23 incident.

— with files from Alanna Rizza, Olivia Bowden, Alison Auld and Kelly Geraldine Malone.

 

Michelle McQuigge and Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press