Police still looking for ‘armed and dangerous’ suspect in Christie Pits shooting
Early morning gunshots at Christie Pits Park on Saturday hearkened back to a time when the now-gentrified area was rife with dangerous gang activity.
In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, guns, cocaine deals, beatings and brutal robberies were keeping law enforcement busy as more than 50 gangs were identified and monitored downtown, according to Bad Seeds a 2010 book about Toronto gangs by Star reporter Betsy Powell.
Two of those affiliations — the Latino Americanos (L.A.) Boys and the Christie Boys — were rival street gangs with turf in the Christie Pits neighbourhood, an area now characterized by karaoke bars and trendy coffee shops.
The Christie Pits gang activity came to a head in 2002 with the execution-style shooting death of 26-year-old Gary Malo, who was believed by police to be an associate of the Christie Boys, as former Toronto Star reporter Peter Small reported at the time.
The victim of this Saturday’s shooting, identified by 25/7 Fitness instructor Darnell Simpson as Alejandro (Jose) Vivar, was tried for the first-degree murder of Malo in 2003 and found not guilty by a jury.
Police believed that Vivar was the leader of the L.A. Boys, which Vivar denied in his testimony at the murder trial.
In 2007, Vivar and nine other men were arrested and convicted of 16 criminal weapon and drug charges.
He would spend nearly nine years in prison but during that time, by many accounts, he tried to turn over a new leaf.
Aspiring to be a journalist, Vivar started writing about jail and justice through a first-person column called Prison Diary, which was published by The Kingston Whig Standard.
John Struthers, who has been Vivar’s criminal defence lawyer since 2004 said he had kept in contact with Vivar, and said he was “really trying” to turn his life around.
He also earned his Personal Training Specialist certification while still behind bars.
After being released on parole from the Bath Institution correctional facility in March of 2016, he got a job as a personal trainer. The first “Prison Pump” fitness camp was held in May, according to the 25/7 Fitness website.
Prison Pump, “a penitentiary inspired workout,” ran free, fitness camps every Saturday morning at 8 a.m. at the park.
Police have not indicated if Saturday’s shooting is considered targeted or in any way gang related. Const. Craig Brister told the Star they are actively looking for more witnesses to the incident, which occurred at approximately 9 a.m.
Police continue to look for the suspect who opened fire during the fitness class. The suspect fired multiple shots, striking the 35-year-old instructor in the abdomen. A stray bullet hit a second male victim in the right foot.
Police have said the suspect is armed and dangerous. A photo of the man was released and he is described as being 25 to 30-years-old, standing roughly five-foot-eight to five-foot-nine, with a dark black complexion, thin build and short cornrows.
The man was wearing a black baseball cap, a black hoodie with a white logo in the centre, black sweatpants and light-coloured running shoes at the time.
“Absolutely, we think he’s dangerous,” Const. Brister told the Star. “He is someone on the street with a gun who has demonstrated he will use it.”
The suspect then fled the scene on foot and no weapon was recovered, said Brister. Police have interviewed a large number of witnesses, but have not officially identified either victim of the shooting.
According to police, the victim that sustained life-threatening injuries has since had surgery, and is in stable condition. The condition of the second victim is not known.
Anyone with information about the shooting over the weekend is asked to contact police at 416-808-1400, anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477) or online at www.222tips.com .
With files from Evelyn Kwong, Betsy Powell and Peter Small