Tearful mourners bid goodbye to the two young victims of a mass shooting in Toronto on Monday as the country’s prime minister tried to offer words of comfort to a city still grappling with grief.
Justin Trudeau was among dozens of people ranging from students to dignitaries who packed a Toronto funeral home to pay their respects to 18-year-old Reese Fallon, one of two people shot dead in the heart of Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood last Sunday. North of the city, grieving family members converged on a Greek Orthodox church in Markham, Ont., to lay 10-year-old Julianna Kozis to rest.
Shortly after attending Fallon’s funeral, an emotional Trudeau urged those impacted by the violence on Danforth Avenue to come together as they continue to process the tragic event.
Speaking at a makeshift memorial that continues to fill up with flowers, stuffed animals and other tributes, he reflected on how watching the many teens who turned up to pay tribute to Fallon brought back personal recollections of the memorial service for his own brother, Michel, who died 20 years ago at age 23.
“I just wanted to tell those young people, and everyone who is grieving and mourning that our loved ones, particularly extraordinary, beautiful ones like the two girls we lost, will be with us forever,” Trudeau said after laying flowers at the memorial site.
The two funerals both took place out of the public eye at the request of the families, who have asked for privacy as they come to terms with the loss of their loved ones.
With police maintaining a heavy presence around the Toronto funeral home where Fallon’s memorial took place, groups of teens holding hands and exchanging hugs quietly entered to say their goodbyes.
At Kozis’ funeral, a small group of attendees watched as pallbearers lifted a white casket out of a hearse and into the ornate church. Some leaned on each other for support while others stood with their hands clasped in front of them.
Kozis, who neighbours described as an outgoing and athletic child, was on a family outing on Danforth Avenue when she was caught in a hail of bullets fired by 29-year-old Faisal Hussain.
Fallon died while enjoying a night out with friends, including fellow members of the Young Liberals youth political organization. In an obituary for Fallon, family members said the teen would be “deeply missed but not forgotten.”
Three women who worked with Fallon at an east-Toronto Loblaw’s location said the packed service featured photo collages of the aspiring nurse throughout her short life.
After the funeral, pink and purple flowers covered Fallon’s casket as it was placed in the hearse. Her friends and family cried and hugged each other as the procession drove away.
Some of Fallon’s friends, as well as Kozis’ father, are believed to be among the 13 people injured in Hussain’s attack. The gunman himself was found dead shortly after exchanging gunfire with two police officers.
The growing memorial site at Alexander the Great parkette, where some of the victims were shot, was ringed with bouquets, candles, stuffed animals and other mementoes.
Boxes of chalk were left out for mourners to leave messages of love and remembrance.
Dozens of people took photos or stood silently taking in the scene.
Leslie Savlov, who lives just down the street from the parkette, heard gunshots and saw people hiding in the bushes nearby on the night of the shooting.
He has mixed feelings about the crowded memorial site, he said.
“Certainly it’s necessary but in a way it’s a constant reminder of what happened,” Savlov said. “It took me a lot of days to process this, it’s very very emotional for me.”
At Cafe Demetre, a popular dessert spot where Kozis was shot, a multilingual banner proclaiming the word “peace” flew over yet another collection of floral tributes.
Nearby resident Shannon Connors, who was out of town at the time of the attack, said it’s reassuring to see the community forge ahead while still taking time to grieve and pay tribute.
“It’s … good to see it’s sort of business as usual in a way, but people are remembering and people are keeping the victims in their thoughts and hearts,” she said.
Trudeau, meanwhile, remained tight-lipped on a Toronto council motion that requested him to consider banning handguns within city limits. Toronto had experienced a spike in shootings in the weeks prior to the Greektown attack.
“There’s a lot of things that we’re looking at right now,” Trudeau said. “Obviously there’s a lot of strong emotions going on, grieving, looking at how we can continue to be stronger and more resilient as communities. We’re looking at a broad range of things, we’re going to make the right decision for the long term, not just the short term.”
The violence on the Danforth came nearly three months to the day after another incident that plunged Toronto into shock and mourning.
A 25-year-old man allegedly drove a van down a busy stretch of Yonge Street, killing 10 people and injuring more than a dozen others. Alek Minassian is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder in the rampage.
— With files from Alanna Rizza and Peter Goffin.
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press