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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

8 teenage girls charged with killing a Toronto man

The corner of York St. and University Ave. in Toronto, Canada, where a reported swarming attack left a man dead and eight teenage girls charged with second degree murder, on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022.

By Vjosa Isai and Norimitsu Onishi

The eight teenage girls, some as young as 13, made contact with one another on social media and may have never met before. But on Saturday night, they gathered in downtown Toronto and after getting into an altercation wound up surrounding and fatally stabbing a man in an apparent attack over a bottle of liquor, police said.

The killing, near the main transportation nexus in Canada’s largest city, was the latest and one of the most brazen episodes in the region in which people have been randomly targeted by groups of young attackers.

The 59-year-old victim was yet to be identified by the authorities. He had been staying in homeless shelters since the fall, the police said, and on Saturday night he was outside a shelter in the Financial District when the suspects set their eyes on him.

The suspects — including three 13-year-olds, three 14-year-olds and two 16-year-olds — appeared to have stabbed him after attempting to steal a liquor bottle from him, Sgt. Terry Browne of the Toronto Police Service told the CBC Wednesday. All have been charged with second-degree murder.

The killing, which followed another criminal incident involving the teenagers that evening, was the culmination of a meeting that began online, the police said.

The girls had communicated with one another over social media before meeting in person Saturday evening in downtown Toronto, the police said, adding that they came from various parts of the city and did not appear to form a gang.

“We don’t know how or why they met on that evening and why the destination was downtown Toronto,” Browne said in a news conference Tuesday. “We don’t know how long they’ve been acquainted together.”

News of the killing came a day after five people were gunned down in a high-rise condominium building outside Toronto by a 73-year-old resident with long-held grievances against members of the condo board. The separate killings in the space of a couple of days come as fears of crime and violence have been rising in Toronto — even as actual violent crime rates have remained steady or declined in recent years.

Early Sunday morning, the police responded to reports of a wounded man in downtown Toronto, a few blocks from the iconic CN Tower, the authorities said. The man was taken to the hospital, but he died there shortly afterward from his stab wounds.

The police described the attack on the man as “swarming type behavior” — in which victims have been robbed after being swarmed. Several robberies of that type occurred around Toronto this past summer, leading the police to beef up security in affected commercial areas.

The group of girls had been involved in another altercation involving “criminal behavior’’ before encountering the 59-year-old man, Browne said. Three of the girls had “prior contact” with the police before the killing, according to the authorities.

While robberies committed by groups of youths are not a new type of crime, the term used to describe it — “swarming” — is, said Jooyoung Lee, a sociologist at the University of Toronto and an expert on crime. The term — coupled with the stabbing of the man by teenage girls and the mass shooting at the condominium — fuels a misperception that violent crime is getting worse, Lee said.

“Crime rates might be falling, and certainly Toronto in a comparative perspective is one of the safest big cities in North America,” Lee said. “And yet when there are these kinds of egregious, gratuitous forms of violence, they can warp people’s sensibilities about the safety of a city.”

The term “swarming,” Lee said, “creates this image that you’re not safe anywhere you go and that, if you’re ever in a crowd with young people around, that they might turn on you randomly at a drop of a pin.”

According to the Toronto Police, although theft and robberies have been increasing, there has been little change in homicides and assaults in recent years. There have been 68 homicides in Toronto this year, compared to 81 last year and 96 five years ago. Assaults are slightly below what they were half a decade ago.

The stabbing of the 59-year-old man took place outside the Strathcona, a hotel in the Financial District that was turned into a homeless shelter during the pandemic. On Wednesday, what appeared to be traces of blood could still be seen outside the hotel.

Chris Parker, a manager at Bardi’s Steak House next to the hotel, said that the neighborhood used to be a quiet area frequented by professionals, but that police cars and ambulances are now called regularly. He was at work at the time of the stabbing, he said.

“We’re always hearing sirens in the area, continuously, so I heard sirens around that time, but I didn’t think to look out the window — I just continued to do my paperwork and didn’t really find out until the next day what had happened and how close it was,” Parker said.

Munish Kumar, 35, said he had been staying at the shelter for the past two years. At the time of the attack, he said he had been smoking a cigarette outside the building, but was not aware of the stabbing.

Still, Kumar said he had not felt concerned for his safety in the area.

“There are some people who create a mess around here,” he said, “but it’s OK.”

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