When Toronto police pointed their guns at Alex Wettlaufer, the 21 year old was alone, isolated, and afraid. His family heard his fear as they spoke with him by phone moments before he was fatally shot by police.—Paramedics were called to the scene at 11:34 PM. Taken to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Alex Wettlaufer would die of his wounds in the early morning of March 14, 2016.
Police were reportedly responding to reports of two men fighting at the Leslie subway station in the late evening of March 13. How this would lead them to confront and kill Alex Wettlaufer in a park, Villaways Park, blocks away is not readily known.
What is known is that police claims about the confrontation, and the claim that Wettlaufer had a weapon, do not mesh with what family members heard over the phone as the young man plead with police to lower their weapons.
Wettlaufer was speaking with his family by phone moments before he was fatally shot by police. According to his mother, Wendy Wettlaufer: “He was crying, saying that he’s being surrounded. They kept telling him to put the weapon down, and he kept hollering telling them he didn’t have a weapon” (quoted in Wilson 2016)
According to his sister, Melissa Wettlaufer: “He told them it was just a phone, but they shot him anyway” (quoted in Gillis 2016). His loved ones heard him tell the police he only had a phone and try to get them to put their guns down.
Responding to police claims, the victim’s mother said: “Alex does not carry a gun, he’s never had a weapon, and he (doesn’t) own a weapon” (quoted in Wilson 2016).
His sister insisted that her brother had a lot to look forward to in life and would not have jeopardized it by challenging police. Not while he was waiting on word of his acceptance into the army, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his late father “Shorty.” In his sister Melissa’s words: “He is not really a fighter and he wouldn’t have turned around and ruined everything because he was going into the army” (quoted in Wilson 2016).
People who knew the young man agreed that they knew him as someone who worked hard at school. He was described as being serious in his approach. Alex Wettlaufer’s sister-in-law put it like this: “He was the one no one worried about” (quoted in Campbell 2016).
Wettlaufer’s brother noted that his younger sibling worked in a factory and had never had any run-ins with the law prior to being shot and killed by police. His brother described him as a quiet man who did not even use social media. He believed he had never touched a gun (Campbell 2016). According to his brother, who preferred not to be named: “He kept to himself and was never in trouble” (quoted in Campbell 2016).
A neighbor, Lilieth Rankine, who has known the Wettlaufer family for years, and lives in the same housing complex on Leslie north of Sheppard, remembers the victim fondly. In her view: “He’s a good kid, went to school, finished school. I don’t get it . . . What happened? Can you imagine what the community is going through?” (quoted in Gillis 2016).
Another family friend Diane Storm similarly remembered Alex Wettlaufer as focused with specific personal goals in life. In her words: “He was quiet, kept to himself … (he wanted) to get out of here, to get out of housing” (quoted in Gillis 2016). Storms suggests, ominously, that the stigma and attention that young men in the community receive from police posed ongoing, real, and potentially fatal barriers, for young residents. She suggests: “When you are trying to improve yourself, it doesn’t help when you have this stigma” (quoted in Gillis 2016).
Sadly, Wettlaufer was a classmate and friend of Sammy Yatim, a young man infamously shot and killed by police while he was completely alone and isolated on a Toronto street car. The officer who killed Yatim, James Forcillo was convicted of attempted murder in a curious verdict (“attempted murder” even though he actually killed Yatim) following a rare case of a police officer in Canada actually being brought to trial for killing someone.
The Wettlaufer family reported that their loved one was simply returning home after visiting his girlfriend at the time police confronted and killed him. His brother said he was walking through the park after taking his girlfriend to the subway station.
Family friend Diane Storms was shaken by the killing. She asks: “Can you imagine, talking to your child on the phone, then hearing gunshots? And then silence?” (quoted in Gillis 2016).
Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which probes incidents of death, serious injury, and allegations of sexual assault involving police, has been investigating the killing since Monday morning. Four investigators and three forensic investigators have been assigned to the case.
Campbell, Will. 2016. “SIU Probes Death of 21-Year-Old Shot by Police in North York.” Global News. http://globalnews.ca/news/2575972/siu-investigating-after-man-injured-in-north-york-shooting/
Gillis, Wendy. 2016. “Man, 21, Dead after Police Shooting.” Toronto Star. March 16. http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2016/03/14/one-dead-after-shooting-in-north-york-allegedly-involving-toronto-police.html
Wilson, Codie. 2016. “SIU Investigating after Toronto Man Killed in Police Involved Shooting.” CP24. March 14. http://www.cp24.com/news/siu-investigating-after-toronto-man-killed-in-police-involved-shooting-1.2815962