Toronto is trying to heal itself of both physical and emotional scars after a mass shooting on Danforth Avenue on Sunday night, trying to find ways to prevent further tragedy, in particular by providing better mental health services.
Faisal Hussain, 29, has been identified as the gunman who opened fire on the busy street just after 10 p.m. on Sunday where he fatally shot recent high school graduate Reese Fallon, 18, and Julianna Kozis, 10, of Markham. The Special Investigation Unit is trying to determine whether if Hussain’s death was from a self-inflicted gunshot or if he died in a shootout with Toronto Police
A statement released by Hussain’s family offered their condolences to suffering families and revealed their son had been struggling with mental health challenges his entire life.
— Farah Nasser (@FarahNasser) July 23, 2018
“The interventions of professionals were unsuccessful,” the family wrote. “Medications and therapy were unable to treat him. While we did our best to seek help for him throughout his life of struggle and pain, we could never imagine that this would be his devastating and destructive end.”
In the wake of the tragic shooting, Canadian television and radio personality George Stroumboulopoulos took to Twitter and asked his followers to tweet songs they consider to be Toronto anthems with the hashtag #SongsForToronto.
Registered psychotherapist and musical therapist Justine Stehouwer praised Stroumboulopoulos for encouraging community healing through music.
“We know that some people who have experienced trauma have a difficult time talking about it,” she said. “Music is then a way of expressing yourself without having to talk about the trauma you experienced.”
Stehouwer, a psychotherapist and music therapist with the Canadian Music Therapy Trust Fund, of which Stroumboulopoulos has been a partner of since April, also said music is so powerful it can bring people together in tough times and encourage group healing.
Mia Saadan, an intern with the organization, explained music offers emotional healing after experiencing trauma.
What is your anthem for this city? Let’s create a soundtrack. #SongsForToronto
— The Strombo Show (@TheStromboShow) July 23, 2018
“Music is absolutely a way to express emotionally, to heal, and to ground,” she said. “It touches all aspects of the brain. It can calm us, it can ground us. A steady beat replicates the heartbeat. We have music within us.”
There was a community vigil held at Calvary Church on Monday evening, just north of Danforth Avenue, where residents gathered to mourn as a community. Toronto-based psychotherapist Miriam Schacter emphasized how important communal grieving — as was expressed in the vigil — is to healing from traumatic events.
“Events are made more concrete when we come together as a community and we can reattach to the feelings of compassion and empathy,” she said. “This is what is going to make this event more concrete, is understanding that you’re mourning together and you’re not alone. That’s when the healing process can begin.”
Schacter speculated Hussain was likely under great mental distress when he began shooting and was likely feeling pain that he wanted others to feel as well.
“That’s why he wasn’t shooting at trees or at cans, but at people,” she said. “It’s a matter of externalization of violence versus internalization, which would have been self-harm.”
Schacter believes better government policies for mental health support will help prevent further tragedies of this nature, and said a good place to start would be with first-response crisis vans, like those deployed from the Gerstein Crisis Centre.
“They need double the funding,” she said. “These people are trained on the frontlines. When someone is throwing rocks through a store window and uttering death threats to people, they’re the first ones who show up at the scene.”
Schacter offered advice for those suffering from trauma following the Danforth shooting and encouraged people to listen to their bodies’ response.
“Integrate the trauma in a way that feels human in bite-size pieces,” she said. “Day by day, moment by moment, breath by breath. We can’t move faster than what our nervous system is designed to do, so have compassion for what your nervous system is going through right now.”