TORONTO – Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie said Sunday that he narrowly missed being in the area where a gunman fired shots in a crowded food court in one of Canada's busiest malls, killing a man and injuring seven others.
Police said the shooting on Saturday at Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto targeted one individual and there were a number of innocent bystanders in what they think might be a gang-related shooting. Police said seven people were shot in all, including a 24-year-old man who was killed in a hail of bullets and a 23-year-old man who remains in critical condition.
Det. Sgt. Brian Borg said a 13-year-old boy who was visiting Toronto and shopping with family members was shot in the head but has been upgraded to stable, but critical condition. He said a 28-year-old pregnant woman who went into labor after being trampled in the rush to get out of the mall has not yet given birth. He said she is doing well.
Borg said they believe the dead man, identified as Ahmed Hassan of Toronto, had gang affiliations and was targeted. He was known to police. Police think they know who the suspect is but Borg declined to provide a name at this point. Borg said security footage has been particularly helpful. He said there was one gunman and no exchange of gunfire.
"I'm very confident we are going to make an arrest very soon," Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said.
Police removed Hassan's body early Sunday morning.
Lawrie was one of the first to break the news on Twitter on Saturday evening. He had gone to the mall with a friend shortly after the Blue Jays lost to the Boston Red Sox in a Saturday afternoon game.
"Pretty sure someone just let off a round bullets in eaton center mall ... Wow just sprinted out of the mall ... through traffic," Lawrie tweeted. "People sprinting up the stairs right from where we just were ... Wow wow wow."
He later tweeted that he was "Rattled right now."
On Sunday, Lawrie said he felt lucky because he left the food court 10 seconds before the shooting.
"It was instant panic," Lawrie said before Sunday's game against the Red Sox. "It was as if you stepped on an ant hill and then everyone just flooded out of the place. ... I just got out of there as fast as possible. I was the first person out of there."
Lawrie said he wanted to get the news out fast.
"I just thought I'd give it out there just to anybody that could have been in the mall or anybody that needed to get there ASAP, I thought I could give them a good piece of information," he said.
Lawrie, a Canadian, said he never thought something like that could happen at the Eaton Centre, a Toronto landmark that is popular with tourists.
Toronto prides itself on being one of the safest cities in North America. Many Canadians have long taken comfort in the peacefulness of their communities and are nervous about anything that might indicate they are moving closer to their American counterparts.
Marcus Neves-Polonio, 19, was working in the food court when he saw a man pull out a gun and start firing. At least two people were on the ground, he said. Erica Solmes, who manages the McDonald's in the mall's food court, said she heard about 15 shots ring out before a stampede of people made a dash for the exits.
"Any place for discharging a firearm in Toronto is dangerous. In the food court of the Eaton Centre on a Saturday evening, it's not only dangerous, it's outrageous," Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said. "I believe every Torontonian is shocked and appalled by this crime."
In 2005, a 15-year-old girl was killed during the Christmas holidays just north of the mall in a shooting that shocked the city during a year of record gun deaths in Toronto. In that case, Toronto teen Jane Creba was shopping with family on busy Yonge Street when she was caught in the crossfire of a shootout between rival gangs.
"Today harkens back to that terrible moment," Blair said. "I am very sadly reminded of that. That was one of the most tragic and shocking events that ever took place in Toronto."
The major and acting Deputy Police Chief Jeff McGuire called it an isolated incident.
"One idiot with a gun on a Saturday afternoon in downtown Toronto does not speak to the state of affairs of the city of Toronto," he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement that "such depraved and monstrous acts will be met with the full force of the law" and expressed confidence police will make an arrest.
Officials said the mall and its parking garages will remain closed Sunday while police continue the investigation.
Rachel Kennedy was two hours into her shift at The Gap on Saturday when someone ran into the store and reported hearing gun shots, said she remains on edge.
"It's a little bit nerve-racking," Kennedy said.