Resilience After Yonge St. Tragedy

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 5:02 p.m. April 23, 2019

Sgt. Marc Madramootoo’s older sister was among the many Torontonians shaken by the Yonge St. Tragedy.

A man near flowers on a wall
A man reflects at a memorial at Olive Square where the attack began

The personal support worker was in the area having lunch and left just 10 minutes before a man allegedly used a van to target pedestrians on the busy city thoroughfare on April 23, 2018.

A total of 10 people were killed, 16 injured and many families are still grieving.

“She works with seniors and that’s the route she takes,” said Madramootoo, who is a member of the Public Order Unit. “When I spoke to her, she relayed that she was there a few minutes earlier. She feels lucky.”

Promoted to sergeant and assigned to 51 Division since last October, Madramootoo – who was at 31 Division at the time of the incident – was among many officers holding the perimeter around the crime scene a day after the deadly attack.

“We combed the crime scene and canvassed the area for video and witnesses,” he said. “I was there the entire day and the community was very appreciative of what law enforcement was doing. They made us feel welcomed and there was a certain community spirit that I could feel. Just walking through the crime scene and thinking that people had lost their lives and several others were injured made me think about life and its uncertainties. These were innocent people just going about their business like my sister.”

Communications operators are a vital link between citizens needing urgent assistance and police, fire and medical personnel responding to calls for service.

A man in TPS uniform in front of an empty street with police tape
Constable Marc Madramootoo was one of many officers holding the perimeter around the two-kilometre scene of the Yonge St. van attack.

Dion Evelyn, then the Manager of Communications Services, was at work when the first call came in.

“It was one those unbelievably traumatic and stressful days for our members,” said the Property & Evidence Manager. “They worked tirelessly and selflessly to provide the assistance that was necessary. The supervisory team kept strategically assessing the requirements and taking the necessary steps to ensure that this tragic event was being handled as best as possible while ensuring that the level of service for the public wasn’t compromised.”

Within 20 minutes of receiving the first call, Crisis Teams were on hand to provide support to witnesses at the Toronto Police Command Posts and at multiple hospitals offering support to loved ones.

In the first 30 hours after the attack, Victims Services Toronto, a non-profit agency that partners with the Toronto Police Service, responded to 326 calls from concerned family, friends, witnesses and community residents. They also received more than 300 calls from citizens, companies and organizations offering assistance.

We have seen communities really coming together to be there for one another and that’s what helps us to be strong

Victim Services program manager Sarah Rogers said the Yonge St. Tragedy taxed the organization to the limit, both emotionally and physically. 

“But our strength, spirit and resiliency didn’t waver and that’s mainly because of the energy and support we got from our volunteers,” she said. “When we put out a call asking for volunteers to assist with this tragedy, they came out in droves.”

Victim Services Toronto provides a lifeline for nearly 20,000 people each year.

Between April and September 2018, Victim Services helped 13,209 people which was a 35 per cent increase for the same period the previous year.

Bonnie Levine, the Victim Services Executive Director, reflected on the Yonge St. Tragedy from the site of a vigil at Mel Lastman Square on the anniversary of the attack.

“This was a terrible tragedy and the only thing that really keeps you standing, the only thing that helps you rebuild your life is people and community around you,” she said. “That love and sense of community is so important towards healing and moving forward. If you have been saddened by something, your comfort is found through the love of other people. The reason why people come back to the same spot is to reclaim it.”

In the midst of the horrifying tragedy, Levine said Victim Services staff met many unexpected heroes doing incredible things for complete strangers. 

“What we did see was a lot of every day heroes,” she added. “These were people who held hands of other people who were dying, who did perform CPR, who took in strangers and children to help them. We have seen communities really coming together to be there for one another and that’s what helps us to be strong.”

Flowers on a sidewalk
Flowers left at Mel Lastman Square as a tribute to the lives lost there on April 23, 2018

Every day, I am incredibly proud of the commitment of Toronto Police Service members in the work they do to protect this city by acting with bravery, professionalism and compassion

Lily Cheng, who lives a short distance from where the tragedy occurred, founded the ‘We Love Willowdale’ movement.

“On the night of the attack, we had this huge wound in our community and, I think, the innocence of being Canadian and Torontonian was stolen from us,” she said. “We thought about what we could do to bring healing to our community. It started with a moment of silence and Prayer Walk that was held at Olive Square 24 hours after that the incident. We did all of this with the hope of helping people to feel safe again. We wanted to reclaim our community. We held a ‘Reclaim Yonge Walk’ and today we have ‘Reclaim Yonge with Colour’. We have chalk interspersed on random sidewalks across Yonge St. today and we are inviting people to leave a message of love on our sidewalk where people were wounded. We wanted to change the atmosphere so to speak and bring back faith and hope in our community.”

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, who attended the vigil alongside families of victims, First Responders and community members said everyone involved is continuing with the healing process.

“I encourage anyone who is still experiencing the negative effects from that day to reach out for help, whether it be through their friends and family or through counsellors such as those at Victim Services Toronto,” he said. “You are not alone in feeling the pain associated with this day.”

He added that the response of members of the public who rushed to the aid of victims that day, comforted strangers at a makeshift memorial site and brought food for Police and other First Responders is an extraordinary example of who Torontonians are.

“Every day, I am incredibly proud of the commitment of Toronto Police Service members in the work they do to protect this city by acting with bravery, professionalism and compassion,” said Saunders. “Each of the First Responders who rushed to the scene that day earned our gratitude for saving lives. When I look back on that, I do so with the assurance that the members of the Toronto Police Service are not alone in creating a city that’s the safest and best place to live in the world.”

Mayor John Tory, who is also a member of the Toronto Police Services Board, expects the Yonge St. Tragedy will be commemorated annually. 

“I hope we will continue to gather each year to honour the victims of the Yonge St. Tragedy in particular, but also to remind ourselves of the strength and heart of our city that we must always keep as the envy of the world,” he added.

The names of the deceased was read at the start of the remembrance ceremony and a moment of silence was observed in their memory at Olive Square before a community walk to Mel Lastman Square. The City of Toronto is working on creating a permanent memorial site.

Alek Minassian, who it’s alleged used a rental van to target pedestrians on a busy city street on April 23, was charged with 10 counts of First-Degree murder and 16 counts of Attempted Murder.

Const. Ken Lam, a 32 Division officer, made the arrest without incident seven minutes after the initial 9-1-1 call.

The investigation has been concluded and is now before the courts.  

“The investigation into what happened that day is an extremely complex case involving 26 victims, more than 150 witnesses and a 2.5 km. crime scene,” said Saunders.

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