As night fell on Friday, at a football field in Regent’s Park, a coach gathered his team for a heavy conversation.
The boys – young teens, in age – were joking around, teasing each other as they gathered near head coach Tae Sim-Smith. But the mood soon turns gloomy, as Sim-Smith asks the boys to raise their hands if they know Thane Murray, a youth and entertainment worker in the neighborhood.
Many weapons were spilled. For the unfamiliar, Sim-Smith filled in the gap. “He worked in the community center… He was a good person, a role model, a positive person. He played basketball. He grew up in this neighborhood, went to school and did all the right things. But he passed away unfortunately. Done.”
There were questions in the group. Murray, 27, was killed in a shootout last Saturday and some children wanted to know why. Sim-Smith didn’t have answers: “It was random,” he told them. One teenager said that Murray was a really nice guy; Sim-Smith agreed. “Yeah, he was an awesome, cool guy, and I really felt his loss. I’m sure some of you might feel the same way,” he said.
He reminded the group that their coach was there if they wanted to talk. But for Friday evenings, they had a moment of silence before an exhibition game that anyone in the neighborhood could attend. As they paused, a stillness washed over the illuminated area, with each teenager kneeling.
If a child was grieving, Sim-Smith wanted them to know they were not alone. He was still dealing with the news himself. He told that Star Murray had come to see him play a week ago. And in the aftermath of Saturday’s violence, with the death of someone so closely tied to the area’s youngest residents, he is one of many worried about the wounds of a generation of incessant gunfire.
Regent’s Park isn’t the only Toronto neighborhood grappling with the murder of a loved one Guardian, either. Earlier this month, well-known mentor Sam Boke (30) was shot dead in the Jane and Finch area. Investigators believe no individuals were targeted, but the attacks may have occurred in their communities.
Ines Garcia is seeing an immediate wave at Regent’s Park. She works at a local school, and, in the days following Murray’s death, is approached by a boy around 13, who said he considered Murray an older brother. Unsure of what else to do, Garcia asked if she could hug the boy; Both cried.
“My heart really blew,” she said. “In these times, we feel hopeless, like we can’t even help.”
It was more than an isolated incident, she said. It was the incessant gunfire in Regent’s Park that worried her that children and teenagers in the area were being weighed down. The eastern edge of Regent’s Park has long been a hot spot for gun violence, show police records of alleged shootings between 2004 and 2020. Those hot spots include the corner of Oak and River Street, a block from where Murray was killed.
“You see your kids — and the kids of community members — going through this all the time, trauma after trauma. It never heals. It never heals well,” Garcia said, some Young people stop talking about it. “It heals a little, but then something happens, and the wound reopens.”
After Murray’s death, a teenager who had known him through the community center – and viewed the 27-year-old as a role model – suggested to Starr that such violence was to be expected at Regent’s Park. “In this neighbourhood, things like this usually happen,” said Adnan, 14. “I was just wondering why.”
Several people who spoke with the star reported how many young people in the community had ties to Murray, and are likely to have been affected by his death. “One thing about Thane is that it knew everyone in the neighborhood — every kid, every teenager, old or young,” Sim-Smith said.
He worries that Saturday’s shooting will shake those children’s sense of security and make their home feel like a “lost cause.” “It’s to impress you, just growing up and getting to know the people who have been shot.”
Metuge Mtongwe, whose 13-year-old son was on the field for Friday evening’s match, said he was trying to keep an eye on the young teen’s movements more than usual. “If he’s here, well, he’s free to be here, but I don’t want him to just move around, because I don’t know what will happen there,” Matongwe said.
“I have to — because I don’t want that to be a number. I don’t want my kid to be a number.”
Rev Sky Starr, a Jane and Finch-based therapist and founder of a peer support program aimed at supporting women in communities affected by the deaths of young black men, told Starr that her research found that at least 130 people are affected by his death. A young man, though anecdotally she thinks the number may be much higher.
For young people, grief is exacerbated by the fact that they are at such an important developmental stage socially and emotionally; Research has shown that young people affected by the murder of a friend are particularly affected because the death is violent and unpredictable. The star said that the youth need support in these circumstances.
“I think they need to know that people care about them. Because a lot of young people, when people constantly die, they think nobody cares – the government doesn’t care, the community doesn’t care , ‘Who cares?’ Because it is happening constantly,” she said. “And we haven’t done well enough to find ways to stop it. And it can be stopped: Violence can be stopped.”
The deaths of community members such as Murray or Bokeh also run the risk of sending a distorted message to youth that being unarmed is dangerous, said Zya Brown, founder and executive director of Think2Vice in Toronto, a group that deals with imprisoned youth and guns. Supports victims of violence.
Following Boke’s death this month, Brown said he received “a lot of messages” from frightened youth, adding: “That’s why I don’t want to change my life.” He said his thinking was that if Bokeh had a weapon, he could protect himself.
“Now, in the minds of young people, no one wants to put their gun down,” Brown said.
She also noted that the large number of shots fired—in Murray’s case, police found more than 50 shell casings—is something she has never seen before. That level of violence targets entire neighborhoods, and the effects spread, she said. “With this, you are alerting the entire community.”
Sims-Smith grew up in Regent’s Park himself decades ago. He remembers the loss he suffered at the time – some distant names, some close to home. But he believes last Saturday’s shooting was particularly horrifying, and thinks it would be helpful to have counselors available for children who wanted to talk.
“I don’t know how many people will accept it, but I do know there are actually some kids who will benefit,” he said. “There are some kids that will really bother them for a while. I think one way to deal with this is to not think about it – put it out of your mind until the next shoot happens.”
Kristin Wong-Tam, who represents the counting area, says crisis teams were working in the neighborhood in the days following the shooting, and social workers were brought to schools. But she was also concerned about what happens long term when emergency aid falls short.
For Mtongwe, the longevity of the support matters. “I think mentorship is good, but if it’s going to be a one-time thing, we need role models here,” he said. “What is Tai doing… I mean, it makes a difference. They try to give hope to kids. They try to create a generation of people who move forward. If you bring in counselors, and They give them advice or give advice and then they leave, so what next?”
The idea that violence should be rooted out, he said, suggested more youth programs like football teams to keep kids engaged. “How do you stay out of trouble? Stop it before it happens,” he said.
For now, in Regent’s Park, many people are simply grappling with Murray’s absence.
“When I take a picture of him now, I see him chatting with the kids,” Sim-Smith said. “Playing basketball, giving them high fives, making fists… talking with kids, being a mentor, being a leader.”