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‘We are devastated,’ says Edmonton father of Eaton Centre shooting victim

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

EDMONTON - Three years ago, Ahmed Hassan envisioned a bright future.

In an in-take form for an Edmonton-based Somali youth organization, dated March 2009, Hassan wrote “finish my education, find (a) good job and settle down.” That was his response to a question asking where he saw himself in five years.

The 24-year-old was gunned down Saturday in a deadly shooting rampage in the bustling Toronto Eaton Centre food court.

“We are devastated. We are just lost,” Hassan’s father, Abdullahi Roble, said Monday by phone from Toronto.

Roble, who lives and works in the Edmonton area, learned of his son’s murder early Sunday and immediately flew to Toronto to be with family.

“It’s a difficult time for us. I think it’s so unfortunate to lose a child like him. We hope justice will be done for him.”

Toronto police said Monday 23-year-old Christopher Husbands will be charged with one count of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder.

Det. Sgt. Brian Borg said Husbands, a Toronto resident known to police, surrendered early Monday with his lawyer. Borg said at the time of the shootings, Husbands was under house arrest for a previous charge, with conditions not to be outside his residence.

The shooting at the shopping centre early Saturday night killed Hassan and wounded six others. A pregnant woman required hospital treatment after she was trampled in the chaos following the shooting.

Police said Hassan was believed to have gang ties, but said Saturday’s shooting was not gang-related.

Court records show that at the time of his murder, Hassan had been wanted on an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in a Fort McMurray courtroom in February 2011 to answer drug-trafficking charges.

Records show that Hassan was charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, possession of stolen property and obstructing a peace officer, along with five breaches of recognizance, stemming from a January 2010 cocaine bust in Fort McMurray.

Before that arrest, it appeared Hassan had been taking steps to upgrade his education and improve his job prospects. He had been completing court-ordered community service and in 2009 had enrolled in a youth leadership program and skills-upgrading program through the Edmonton-based Somali Canadian Education and Rural Development Organization.

He wanted to be a productive member of society, but “he never got the chance to do it,” said Bashir Ahmed, executive director of the organization.

“He was great and willing to change his life. He recognized his mistakes in his past,” he added.

Bashir said Hassan was well-known in the Edmonton and Toronto Somali communities, adding many were shocked to learn he was the Toronto victim.

“The time he spent with our organization, he accomplished a lot of things. He was a very helpful guy, easy to adapt and to understand. He was very simple young gentleman,” said Ahmed, a close family friend who knew Hassan since his birth.

Hassan was born and raised in Somalia, moving to Canada with his family in the late 1990s. He has four brothers and four sisters, all of whom live in the Toronto area, his father said. Hassan’s funeral will be held in Toronto.

News of an arrest in the shooting brought a sense of relief to Edmonton’s Somali-Canadian community, Ahmed said.

In the past decade, young Somali men have travelled to Alberta from Ontario on the promise of better job opportunities. Some, though, have become caught up in the drug trade, sometimes leading to deadly consequences.

Since 2006, at least 30 Somali-Canadian men have died in Alberta, with about half of the victims killed in Edmonton. All but a handful of those cases have gone unsolved. Local community leaders point to that as evidence more needs to be done in Edmonton.

Several community organizations host youth programs and have launched crime-prevention initiatives, including a poster campaign and youth hotline.

Bashir said Edmonton police must do more to connect with the city’s Somali community.

“We’d like the Edmonton police to do the same things and follow the footsteps of the Toronto police,” Ahmed said. “We have been asking and keep asking the mayor, the police commissioners (and) the Alberta government to commit to more multicultural liaison officers that work between the police and the Somali community.”

Hassan’s father said he had never heard the name of the man now accused in his son’s murder.

Two people who were wounded in the shooting remain in hospital, including a 13-year-old boy from Port Hope, Ont., who had been enjoying an afternoon going to a movie with his mom and older sister when they got caught up in the bloody food-court mayhem.

With files from The Canadian Press

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