Constables Julie Rice and Scott Hodgson had just left St. Michael’s Hospital and were at the corner of Yonge and Shuter Sts. on the afternoon of June 2, 2012, when a call came through that there was a possible shooting in the Eaton Centre.
Parking their vehicle nearby, the 51 Division officers rushed into the busy downtown mall to investigate the call.
“I remember seeing a sea of people running towards us, as we were trying to get down to the food court where the reported shooting took place to see what was happening,” recalled Rice who, with her partner, were the first police officers on the scene of the shooting that left two people dead and five injured. “Running down the escalator, we saw blood, Connor (Stevenson) and his mother and sister.”
Stevenson, 13 at the time, was shot in the head. Taken to hospital barely alive, he has endured four difficult surgeries and has recurring headaches.
On June 29, the Stevenson family paid a visit to police headquarters to thank officers for the part they played in saving their son’s life and bringing his shooter to justice.
Last April, Christopher Husbands was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 30 years.
The only confidence I had was that the police were already there.
“It’s tough thinking back to that day,” said Craig Stevenson, who was at the family cottage about 135 kilometres from Toronto when he received a call from his daughter, Taylor. “She said, ‘Dad, I need you to remain calm’, and when I asked her what was wrong, she goes ‘Connor has been shot’. As a parent, that’s a tough message to hear. You can’t comprehend what that means. When I asked her if was a pellet gun or an airsoft gun, she said: ‘no, it’s a real gun’. At that time Jo-Anne (Finney his wife) came on and said, ‘I don’t know if I could go through the loss of another child’.”
The couple’s first son – Bryden – died from an infection when he was 18 months old.
“At that point, I knew it was real and we were stressed,” said the family patriarch. “And then she said ‘the police are here and we have got to go’. So the worst thing as a parent is not being there for your family and not being able to help them. The only confidence I had was that the police were already there. The only thing I could do at that point was drive to the hospital and cross my fingers, knowing that they were in good hands”
Stevenson said it was important for the family to thank Toronto Police officers.
“If it wasn’t for the police and other first-responders, the outcome wouldn’t have been positive,” he said.
Residents of Port Hope, Ontario, Finney, along with Connor and Taylor, were in the city to see a musical. After the show, they went to the Eaton Centre for the first time as a family to buy running shoes for the children.
The teenager was wearing the new shoes when he was shot.
“Connor lost one of his shoes and that’s a poignant moment for me,” said Homicide Detective Tam Bui, who worked on the case. “In all of our exhaustion that day, someone yelled, ‘we have got to get Connor’s shoe back.’ I will never forget that. He was 13 and my 12 year-son wore the same shoes. That was really important to me at the time.”
After purchasing the shoes, the family was at a sushi restaurant in the food court when the shooting started.
“We honestly thought there was no hope and then I saw a uniform,” said Finney. “I will never forget (Julie) and, then, a sea of uniforms followed. For me, that was the moment that will stick with me forever because they came in the nick of time.”
The lead investigator in the case, Detective Sergeant Brian Borg, was having dinner at home when he flipped on the television and saw the unfolding scene at the Eaton Centre.
It was our honour to do this case with an incredibly skilled team and we are glad that the outcome was something that you are satisfied with because we are satisfied with it as well
“I will never forget that day,” said Borg, who was also one of the lead investigators in the Jane Creba case, shortly after he was assigned to the Homicide Squad in 2005. “When I turned my TV to CP24 and saw what was happening, my first thought was that I can’t do this again. The Creba case was an incredibly large investigation… It was our honour to do this case with an incredibly skilled team and we are glad that the outcome was something that you are satisfied with because we are satisfied with it as well.”
The family had a chance to speak to investigators who worked on the case as well as the lead Forensic Investigation Services officer Detective Constable Sandra Komarnisky, who faced the daunting challenge of reconstructing the shooting in the busy food court that had been packed with shoppers. It was the largest scene the veteran officer had ever processed.
It was a case like no other for many of the officers involved because of the chaotic and large-scale scene.
For Detective Kate Beveridge, the Eaton Centre shooting was her first as a case manager.
“A colleague of mine called and asked if I had the TV on and was watching what was going on,” she recalled. “After calling the duty desk, Brian called me and offered his help. When I heard how many people were injured, I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, for my first case, this is what I have got’… It was a great experience for us as investigators to have a fantastic team and a good outcome for the family.”
Chief Mark Saunders met with the family in his office prior to their meeting with the men and women of the Service involved in the case. He said it was satisfying and refreshing for officers to hear from the Stevenson family, who have overcome so much.
“I was elated that you decided to come here… We all sign up to join the police service to do something good, great and extraordinary… Here we have that moment when you were all part of something extraordinary and, at the end of it, the family came back to thank us for what we do…This case really helps humanize officers as well,” Saunders said. “Coming here on your own time is just a statement about who you are as a family.”
Homicide Staff Inspector Greg McLane thanked the family for taking the time out of their busy schedule to show their appreciation.
“We really appreciate you stepping forward and saying the things you did,” he said. “It means a lot to our officers. It’s rare when we get this kind of feedback.”