An east-end community gathered Wednesday afternoon to mark the anniversary of a tragic incident.
Two years ago today, the worst mass shooting in Toronto's history left two innocent bystanders dead and 22 others wounded.
It was a warm summer night on July 16th when a community barbecue was held outside of a housing complex on Danzig St in the Lawrence Ave and Morningside area of Scarborough. The event began as a children's barbecue with 20-year-old Nahom Tsegazab co-organizing the gathering. Hours later, he would be lying on the ground with two bullet wounds and would be making a decision that would see him spend 14 years behind bars.
The party on Danzig was for the children during the day, but after nightfall it would turn into an adult block party featuring music and free shots of Hennesey. News of the "Henny-Blocko" was posted on social media for all to see, including members of a gang known as The Malvern Crew.
Nahom Tsegazab was an alleged member of rival gang The Galloway Boys, and was soon warned that members of the Malvern Crew were going to come and "shoot up the party". Tsegazab armed himself with a .40-calibre semi-automatic handgun, the same gun he used to shoot into a crowd after he was shot in the arm and abdomen at around 10:40 p.m.
As the unknown shooter fled, Tsegazab fired 11 shots into the crowd. A third shooter, who is still at large, fired 14 rounds into the crowd of party-goers, striking and killing 14-year-old Shyanne Charles. 23-year-old Joshua Yasay was also hit in the crossfire and died on the scene.
Twenty-two other bystanders were also hit with bullets and shrapnel, including a two-year-old boy who was struck in the head.
On April 11th, Tsegazab pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter and 6 counts of aggravated assault for his part in the shooting. The 20-year-old faced the families of the victims, pleading for forgiveness and vowing to change his life. Tsegazab was sentenced to 14 years, but with time served would be in prison for an additional 11 years and five months.
18-year-old Shaquan Mesquito is the alleged second shooter from that night. His case for two counts of first-degree murder and the attempted murder of Nahom Tsegazab is still making its way through the courts, as are the cases of two young people who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Police continue to appeal for information in connection with the third shooter whose bullets struck and killed Charles.
Wednesday, the community gathered to mark the tragic anniversary. The mood, though, was more celebratory than mournful. Residents wanted to show that they have moved forward and that the community is a great place to live.
"There have been developments, the neighbourhood pledging themselves together," says Rochelle, who has lived in the area for 45 years.
She says what has helped the community most are programs to keep youth engaged and away from a life of crime.
"We have breakfast programs, a homework club, a science program," she says. "We have field trips the kids go on."
The programs are run out of a Toronto Community Housing unit that was converted into communal space, thanks to a private donation. It's called Open Space, and is an area where children and teens gather.
Ask area youth like 15-year-old Ariel and her nine-year-old sister and they praise the space. The two girls say they visit four times a week after school to play computer games or use social media, along with about 20 other children and teens. When they're not in the computer lab, they're outside playing various sports like soccer and "rookie ball."
"It brings people together that you don't know," Ariel says.
It's not just programs in the Danzig community that have been ramped up. A month after the shooting, the province announced a $20-million Youth Action Plan. The number of youth outreach workers was increased from 62 to 90, serving 4,700 more youth. There are more than 500 new jobs in the GTA for at-risk youth.
Listen to Amber Gero's report on Danzig.
Listen to Justine Lewkowicz's report on Danzig.