The shocking “execution” of a Grade 12 student inside a Toronto high school by an alleged 14-year-old gunman is part of a troubling increase in young people involved in gun violence, police leaders say.
Jahiem Robinson, 18, was fatally shot inside David and Mary Thomson Collegiate Institute as students were preparing to leave at the end of the school day Monday afternoon.
Less than 24 hours later, investigators announced that a 14-year-old had been charged with first-degree murder as well as attempted murder for allegedly chasing down another student soon after killing Robinson. The second teen escaped injury after the 14-year-old’s gun failed to discharge, police said at a Tuesday news conference.
Robinson’s killing was captured by a surveillance camera that showed the “suspect running up behind the victim and shooting him at point-blank range,” then attempting to do the same to a second victim, said Insp. Hank Idsinga, the head of the Toronto homicide squad.
Describing the shooting, Idsinga said homicide investigators had told him it was like an “execution.” The footage, which Idsinga said he had seen, supports that description, he said.
Idsinga declined to discuss a possible motive for the crime, and did not say how the accused and victim knew each other except to say there was “some interaction” between the two before the shooting. On Monday, police described the killing as “targeted.”
Idsinga confirmed both Robinson and the shooter were students at the Scarborough school, saying he believed — based on the teen’s age — that the accused was in ninth or 10th grade.
The images obtained from the in-school camera, as well as “a lot of assistance from staff and students,” provided a quick lead on the gunman’s identity. The boy was arrested just before 7 p.m. on his way to turn himself in to police at 41 Division, Idsinga said.
The youth, who cannot be identified because he is a young person, made a brief court appearance Tuesday. The Toronto District School Board school has about 1,300 students and is located at 125 Brockley Dr., near Midland Avenue and Lawrence Avenue East.
Deputy chief Myron Demkiw said the boy’s arrest is part of an alarming trend in youth involvement in gun violence. One-third of the city’s 12 homicides so far this year have involved victims or accused people under the age of 20, he said. Two of those accused are under age 15.
“This fact is disturbing and demands that something must change,” said Demkiw, who joined Idsinga at the press conference. “There is no rational explanation why a 13-, 14-, or 15-year-old child should have access to illegal firearms, let alone feel compelled to use them.”
He added that police research shows that between 2015 and 2020, the average age of those involved in gun violence in Toronto was 25. In 2021, the average age dropped to 20.
Robinson’s killing is Toronto’s second fatal shooting at a high school. In 2007, Grade 9 student Jordan Manners was gunned down in the halls of C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, a high school in the city’s northwest.
Speaking to the Star over the phone Tuesday, Grade 10 student Fatima Iftikhar described hearing the shooting as she was heading out the school’s front doors at the end of the day Monday. “I heard some shots, almost like a popping sound,” she said, describing how other students were left screaming and shaking.
Unsure of what to do next, she said she took the bus home.
Iftikhar, who said she did not know Robinson, said she had trouble sleeping Monday night. She added that the school community is feeling “scared, sad and nervous.”
David and Mary Thomson Collegiate remained closed Tuesday while staff and students shifted to online learning. Grief counsellors were available at the nearby McGregor Park Community Centre for anyone seeking assistance.
Outside the centre, Colleen Russell-Rawlins, the Toronto District School Board’s director of education, said the people receiving counselling had been sharing stories about Robinson, “a really pleasant young man, easy to engage, familiar to staff.”
Added Coun. Michael Thompson, who represents the Scarborough Centre ward: “The thought that anyone would do this — perpetrating this type of activity in the community — is mind-numbing,”
“This is a strong community. We have had challenges in the past, nothing quite like this. But, clearly, we have an opportunity and an obligation to work collectively to be able to ensure that young people, when they go to school, it’s a safe place to be.”
In the last two months, three teens have been charged with shooting murders in Toronto.
A 13-year-old boy from Toronto is facing charges including second-degree murder for allegedly shooting a 15-year-old boy in the parking garage of an apartment building near Pape and Gamble avenues on Jan. 19.
A 16-year-old boy from Oshawa is charged with the first-degree murder of Malachi Elijah Bainbridge, 19. A 16-year-old boy, a 15-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy are facing charges of being accessories after the fact to murder. Police found Bainbridge with gunshot wounds in a car in a North York parking lot just after midnight on Jan. 22.
Earlier this month, a 15-year-old boy was charged with the first-degree murder of 16-year-old Caden Francis in July 2021. A 15-year-old girl had already been charged with first-degree murder. Police said Francis was on a Scarborough road with friends when the killers drove by in a black SUV and shot him.
At the police news conference, Demkiw said he attributes the rash of youth crimes to the proliferation of illegal handguns, the majority of which continue to make their way into Canada from the United States, and root causes of violence, such as poverty and systemic racism.
Demkiw added that important work is going on to implement SafeTO, a 10-year, multi-sectoral response to gun and gang activity, enforcement, prevention and intervention.
Kanika Samuels-Wortley, a criminologist based at Carleton University who specializes in youth and crime, said it is extremely concerning to see a handful of recent gun cases involving younger children. But she warned against knee-jerk policy-making that may lead to over-policing or surveillance rather than investment in tackling the root causes of why young teens become involved in gun violence.
There needs to be a focus on addressing feelings of hopelessness about the future, mental health and trauma, inequality and lack of trust in institutions including police and school, she said.
Samuels-Wortley added that her research has shown that there is, for some youth, a pervasive feeling of being unsafe and being unable to rely on police to feel safe, which can lead them to carry a knife or a gun.
“But most kids don’t feel that way, they don’t feel like turning to a gun is a way to deal with their conflict,” she said. “And the fear is that now this is going to be the stereotype.”
Mayor John Tory, speaking before a COVID-19 update Tuesday, offered condolences to the latest victim’s family and friends and said the Toronto District School Board has the city’s full support.
“I know people may be scared by this kind of an event right now. I want people to know that I hear them and I see them,” he said.
Tory added the key question is: “How would a gun find its way to a school to begin with, let alone being used in a tragic event like this?”
Joshua Chong is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach Joshua via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy
Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati
Olivia Bowden is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach her via email: email@example.com