By Anna Mehler Paperny and Danya Hajjaji
TORONTO (Reuters) – Toronto police on Monday sought a motive after two young women, ages 10 and 18, were killed and 13 other people were wounded by a gunman on a busy, restaurant-filled street. The suspect was later found dead, authorities said.
“We do not know why this happened,” Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters on Monday, adding that he would not speculate about the gunman’s motive. “It’s way too early to rule out anything.”
The suspect, armed with a handgun, opened fire at 10 p.m. on Sunday (0200 GMT Monday) on a stretch of Danforth Avenue filled with restaurants and family-friendly attractions in the city’s Greektown neighborhood, the Special Investigations Unit said. The gunman walked down the busy avenue firing.
Police did not identify the two young women. Local politician Nathaniel Erskine-Smith confirmed the 18-year-old was Reese Fallon, a recent high school graduate who planned to study nursing.
“The family is devastated,” Erskine-Smith said in a statement, adding that they ask for privacy while they mourn a young woman who was “smart, passionate and full of energy.”
The gunman, a 29-year-old Toronto man, exchanged fire with police, fled and was later found dead, according to the Special Investigations Unit, which investigates deaths and injuries involving police.
The suspect, who was not identified, had a gunshot wound but authorities would not elaborate on the circumstances or cause of his death. A postmortem will be conducted on Tuesday, Special Investigations Unit spokeswoman Monica Hudon said.
Hours after the fatal shooting, in an apparently unrelated incident, a man with a knife was arrested during a military ceremony on Parliament Hill in Canada’s capital, Ottawa. The defense ministry said no one was injured and gave no further details.
On Twitter on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote, “The people of Toronto are strong, resilient and brave – and we’ll be there to support you through this difficult time.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters the city has a gun problem, with weapons too readily available to too many people.
“Why does anyone in this city need to have a gun at all?” he asked in an address to city councilors on Monday morning.
Canada’s newly appointed minister of border security and organized crime, Bill Blair, who has been given the job of tackling gun violence, was to meet with Tory on Monday afternoon.
To own a gun in Canada an individual must apply for a license, pass a background check and pass a firearm safety test. Guns must be kept locked and unloaded and can only be legally carried outside the home with a special permit. Handguns and other restricted firearms require passing an additional course.
Canada’s crime rate rose by 1 percent in 2017, the third consecutive annual increase, according to Statistics Canada. The murder rate jumped by 7 percent, due largely to killings in British Columbia and Quebec, while crime involving guns grew by 7 percent.
Toronto is grappling with a sharp rise in gun violence as gun deaths jump 53 percent to 26 so far this year from the same period last year. The number of shootings has gone up 13 percent.
Toronto has deployed about 200 police officers since July 20 in response to the recent spate in shootings, which city officials have blamed on gang violence.
Saunders said the police presence would be increased in the Danforth area following the shooting.
In April, a driver deliberately plowed his white Ryder rental van into a lunch-hour crowd in Toronto, police said, killing 10 people and injuring 15 along a roughly mile-long (1.6-km) stretch of sidewalk thronged with pedestrians.
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny and Danya Hajjaji in Toronto; additional reporting by Denny Thomas in Toronto and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; editing by Paul Tait, Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)