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Parents of Toronto 'rooftopper' warn others after son plunges to his death


The parents of a young man who plunged to his death from a downtown Toronto tower last month are coming forward to warn others about what they view as the dangerous pastime of “rooftopping,” which they believe played a role in their son’s death.

Dorota and Dariusz Rybicki told CTV News they are hoping the death of their son Conrad will discourage groups of people who challenge building security measures to climb to the top of buildings and cranes because, they argue, a single mistake can be fatal.

“We would say, watch out, this isn’t fun. This isn’t entertainment that young people should be interested in. It’s so dangerous,” Dariusz Rybicki said in an interview from Poland.

“You cannot compare it with sports or having hobbies. This is so deadly. One small mistake can end your life,” he said.

The Toronto Police Service and Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner confirmed that they are investigating the death of the 22-year-old Canadian citizen on May 23.

There has been no finding of cause of death at this point, the coroner said, and police said they have not categorized the death as suspicious.

But a trail of photos and videos that Rybicki has left online show repeated ventures to the tops of towers in Toronto. In one video posted last June to a TikTok account, Rybicki’s feet dangle over the edge of a building, dozens of storeys up from Front Street in Toronto as his smartphone camera pans to the CN Tower and the Rogers Centre.

In other photos his parents say were taken from social media sites that are no longer active, Rybicki poses on a girder with Toronto’s Canada Life building behind him; in another, he poses at the corner of a building with the CN Tower in the background, and no railing between him and the street below.

Conrad Rybicki is seen in this undated image at the top of an unidentified tower in Toronto. (Supplied)

In another, he says that he has been addicted to rooftopping for six years. And he was not alone in this pursuit — other social media photos and videos describe people who are also drawn to the dangerous climbs for adrenaline, likes, and shares.

In some tellings, 'rooftopping' went from a private pursuit to a phenomenon when, in 2011, a Toronto photographer posted a dizzying shot of legs hanging off a Toronto building. The photo was a viral hit and spawned copycats across the world, who branched out into videos that have received millions of views.

But for some the risks have proved deadly: Chinese rooftopper Wu Yongning and Russian Andrey Retrovsky had large social media followings and fell to their deaths. In Chicago, 23-year-old Nick Wieme fell to his death from a hotel chimney.

It's not clear if there have been any rooftopping-related deaths in Toronto before Rybicki's, as not every death may be made public. Toronto police warned of the dangers of rooftopping in 2016.

A Russian, Oleg Cricket, was arrested later that year after filming a video doing handstands on a rooftop in downtown Toronto and charged with break-and-enter and mischief; his cameraman was also charged with possession of break-in instruments.

Rybicki's Tiktok following was modest and he had not posted a video in several months.

Some of his videos on Tiktok were marked with the warning that "participating in this activity could result in you or others getting hurt," but others carried no such warning.

The Rybickis also expressed concerns that buildings should be more secure to make it less likely that someone could climb to put themselves in danger. In correspondence with the family, the Hyatt Regency Toronto expressed its condolences but said proper equipment, security, controls and protocols are in place.

Academic Ricky Crano of the University of California Irvine said the risky behaviour is supercharged by likes and clicks of social media, especially when the daredevils and the social media platforms can make money from the photos and videos.

“There are a lot of monetary incentives to take risks, to get more views, followers and more attention,” he said. “I think we need to have a serious conversation about the costs of our being entertained.”

The Rybickis plan to create a foundation called “Conrad’s Peak” to warn young people and their parents about the activities, and fight promotion of them.

“It’s not a question of a nice picture of view or whatever. This cost our son’s life,” said Dorota Rybicki.

“This is how it ended for our son and we do not want it to end this way for other children of other parents,” Dariusz Rybicki said.

Posts show the rooftopping also connected Conrad Rybicki with friends and a community in a city that was difficult to navigate for newcomers during the pandemic. Rybicki had returned to Canada from Poland about two years ago, his parents said.

One friend posted a memorial to his Facebook Page, with a photo taken by Rybicki: “Remembering those who died young. The memory of the photographer of this photo who taught me a few things and showed me a world I didn’t know before. We will meet at the top Conrad.” 

Conrad Rybicki is seen in this undated image. (Supplied) Top Stories

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