'It felt like a nightmare’: Family, friends mourn victims of Danforth attack one year later
On the eve of the one year anniversary of the Danforth shooting, family members of those killed say that “nothing will change what happened” on that tragic summer evening.
On July 22, 2018, a gunman opened fire at people sitting in restaurants and walking along Danforth Avenue in the heart of Toronto’s Greektown. Eighteen-year-old Reese Fallon and 10-year-old Juliana Kozis were killed during the attack.
Thirteen other people were injured.
A short ceremony was held on Sunday afternoon in honour of the victims and those impacted by the shooting.
Speaking from a stage set up in Withrow Park, located near the stretch of Danforth Avenue where last year’s shooting took place, Toronto Police Services Chaplain Rev. Wendell Gibbs stressed the need to show support and compassion to those still grieving.
“We are here to express our love and support and our compassion to the families of those who were lost and to those who were injured or witnessed unspeakable violence, as well as for a community that was shaken a year ago tomorrow,” Gibbs said.
Family members or designated representatives placed flowers in vases for the two victims. Their names, along with the names of everyone affected by the shooting, were read aloud, followed by a moment of silence.
Reese Fallon’s sister, Quinn Fallon, attended the ceremony and carried the flowers on behalf of her family.
Wearing a necklace with the name “Reese” on it, as well as angel earrings given to her by the Kozis family, Quinn Fallon said that it is hard not to be angry.
“Every day I will wake up and I will hope that it was a nightmare and then I will just realize that she’s gone,” she said.
“How I try to cope with it is, I try to replace my anger from what happened with sadness because no matter how much anger I feel nothing will change what happened that day on the Danforth.”
Quinn Fallon said she was comforted by the ceremony, as it showed there was a lot of support for the families who lost a loved one in the summer rampage.
After the ceremony, residents were encouraged to write messages of hope on the sidewalk using chalk. Friends and family members were also given the opportunity to visit trees planted in the park for both Reese Fallon and Kozis, which Gibbs said was meant to represent the strength of the community.
“To the families of those who died, we say our hearts go out to you. We share your grief, and you are not alone,” Gibbs said. “By standing together united in our brokenness and sadness, we dare to declare a message of hope and resilience in the face of evil. Evil will not flourish. Love will reign.”
Reese Fallon’s aunt told CTV News Toronto that the ceremony was “amazing” and showed how well-loved both girls were in the community.
“It’s still raw, and very difficult to talk about, but it’s nice to see how loved they are,” Sheryl Fallon said. “She was just a great girl for her age. She was a member of the Young Liberals, she was an advocate for animals, she was going to be a nurse, there were just too many things about her … for the 18 years she just accomplished so much.”
A 31-year-old nursing student who has been confined to a wheelchair after being struck by a bullet during the attack took a moment after the ceremony to thank first responders, saying the anniversary is an opportunity to get together with everyone who was affected by the shooting.
“This was such a huge event in the city,” said Danielle Kane. “It affected so many people, including ourselves. I thought we needed a way to commemorate the day and to remember those who passed.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory said he spoke with the families of the victims prior to the ceremony.
“You don’t get through these things, as the pastor said, ever, when you lose a child or a loved one. They did say thank you and I think they all feel a sense of gratitude that this was done in a very Toronto way—understated but very meaningful. It was something that I think will touch us all.”
Reflecting on the Danforth shooting, Tory also said the incident, as well as the North York van attack that occurred three months earlier, marked a “loss of innocence” for the city.
“We saw that very bad things can happen here in different circumstances and very close proximity in time,” Tory said. “And then most of all it showed this community is incredibly capable of healing itself.”
“This city pulled together in the wake of the Yonge street tragedy and in the wake of the Danforth, to a city that never thought those kinds of things would happen here… People came to the Danforth the next day.”
“It’s typical of Toronto,” Tory added.
Last month, Toronto police released details of their investigation into the summer shooting, saying that the victims “may never know the answer to why” 29-year-old Faisal Hussain fired a gun into the street that night.
Police determined that Hussain acted alone and had no affiliation with any radical ideologies, hate groups, or terrorist organizations. An investigation revealed that he had “extensive history of mental health issues.”
A vigil is scheduled to take place on Monday night at Alexander The Great Parkette to honour the one-year anniversary of the attack.
With files from CTV News Toronto's Janice Golding