A Toronto man accused of wordlessly gunning down two strangers in the span of 48 hours last week had amassed an “arsenal” of legally owned firearms and was likely planning future attacks, police said Tuesday, announcing a dramatic arrest they believe saved lives.
Video surveillance of the unprovoked daylight shootings helped point police toward a basement apartment in the Annex where the alleged shooter lived alone. When tactical barged into the unit Sunday night, they found 39-year-old Richard Jonathan Edwin, and loaded handguns next to him on the floor. The firearms were part of a cache of weapons police say included handguns, loaded magazines, ammunition and rifles, including one weapon that could cause “great carnage,” said Det.-Sgt. Terry Browne.
“What was this guy planning next?” Browne asked in an interview with the Star. “Like, what was the next move?”
The arrest came just three days after police allege Edwin — who has no criminal record — started the first of two random shooting attacks that now have him facing two counts of first-degree murder, for which police are still seeking a motive.
Just after 5 p.m. on Thursday, police believe Edwin gunned down Indian international student Kartik Vasudev, 21, outside Sherbourne subway station. Then, just 48 hours later, they allege he fatally shot 35-year-old Elijah Eleazar Mahepath near Moss Park.
Seeing the similarities between two apparently random shootings, investigators launched a probe, in part using video evidence to trace Edwin to and from his apartment to the shootings, Browne said. Within 24 hours, police had an operational plan for Edwin’s arrest, to be conducted by the force’s Emergency Task Force.
“I saw a guy with full SWAT, helmet, gun with a scope, posted up on the corner and I thought, ‘Oh man, what’s happening,’ ” remembered Benjamin Hannah, Edwin’s upstairs neighbour, adding they soon heard several loud thuds.
Edwin was arrested without incident, Toronto police Chief James Ramer said Tuesday — an arrest he noted may have prevented further tragedy.
“Given that he had already killed two apparent strangers, as we allege, and that a cache of firearms was located in his residence, we can reasonably conclude that the quick work of our investigators has prevented a further loss of life,” Ramer said.
Police have launched what Browne called a “deep dive” on Edwin’s background — finding out “who this person is, where he’s been, who he’s been associating with.”
Both of Edwin’s alleged victims have brown skin. Asked whether the shootings could be racially motivated, Browne said he did not want to speculate, saying investigators are not sure if Edwin even had time or a sightline to see his victims’ skin colour.
“I wouldn’t want to speculate on whether someone was targeted based on their background or ethnicity, because we just don’t have that information,” he said.
In both shootings, witnesses have told police there was no verbal communication “whatsoever,” Browne noted.
“It was what we do describe as random. It was a chance meeting, a chance passing. And for reasons that are only known to the suspect, these two people were victimized on that day, and now are dead,” Browne said.
Police believe a handgun was used in both killings, although investigators allege Edwin had a licence for a “variety” of firearms, Browne said. Some of those “were very concerning to us, because of the potential — the potential — of what that weapon, or weapons, could do,” he added.
Hannah, who has lived in the Spadina apartment building for about three years, told the Star they’ve known Edwin since they moved into the red brick Victorian home, which is split into multiple apartment units.
Edwin was “friendly” and could be chatty, Hannah said. They got to know each other during the natural comings and goings of neighbours, sometimes as Edwin arrived home in his car and Hannah sat perched on the stairwell at the back of the building, smoking cannabis. Edwin would sometimes remark that the weed smelled nice and inquire about the strain, Hannah said.
But Hannah said they didn’t know much about Edwin’s personal life, including whether he had a job. They knew Edwin had a big TV and noticed there were a lot of packages coming for him.
“No real red flags, just really surprised that this happened,” Hannah said.
Ramer noted that both Vasudev and Mahepath were apparent strangers to Edwin when police alleged he shot and killed them outside in the evening hours last week.
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“Any death is tragic but these men were completely innocent and their murders were absolutely random acts of violence,” Ramer said.
According to family, Vasudev was in his first year of global business management at Seneca College. Speaking to the Star Tuesday, mother Pooja Vasudev said her family is relieved to hear of an arrest within five days of her son’s death, but that it can’t make up for the loss of her “innocent child.”
“I sent my son for studies, not for murder. He had dreams … how can we say Toronto is a safe city if, in the daytime, a man came and shot him like this?” she said.
She said the family is calling for the “harshest punishment,” as her son represents all international students in Canada, who deserve safety.
In a statement to the Star Tuesday, Mayor John Tory acknowledged that the city wants to know “why these heartbreaking gun murders of two innocent young men happened.”
Noting Edwin’s guns were legally owned, Tory said that — although his alleged actions “are not representative of the behaviour of the vast majority of lawful gun owners” — they raise the question of “why people who live in cities need to have guns.”
“We can see the devastating damage which can be done by one person with a gun,” Tory said, noting he supports a national handgun ban.
Wendy Cukier, a Ryerson professor and president of the Canadian Coalition of Gun Control, said the fact the accused allegedly had multiple guns — that he obtained lawfully — is a sign the system doesn’t go far enough. Although police said Edwin did not have a criminal record, there are other factors authorities are supposed to consider when someone applies for a possession and acquisition licence (PAL).
“The law is supposed to allow the Chief Firearms Officer to refuse a gun licence to anyone who represents a threat to themselves or others … and that is a very broad set of powers that can be applied,” she said Tuesday.
PAL applicants are asked a series of questions about their personal history, including whether they’ve been charged under the Criminal Code where violence was used, in addition to supplying two references.
However, Cukier is far from convinced the proper checks are done.
“You’re far more likely to be called for a reference on a passport than for a reference on a firearm’s licence,” she said.
Cukier also noted that there has been an explosion in gun ownership in Canada over the last two decades. At the turn of the century, there were about 360,000 legally owned handguns, and now there are a million, “and that just statistically increases that those in use will be used, or stolen.”
The U.K., which has many of the same social ills but few guns, has almost no firearms murders, she said.
News of the deaths comes at a particularly hard time for South Asian communities that had just dealt with the deaths of five Indian international students in a highway collision last month, said Gurpreet Malhotra, CEO of Indus Community Services, a GTA organization serving South Asian communities, including with newcomer support.
Malhotra noted that international students already face challenges accessing adequate housing and employment and affording high tuition fees — “they already have a very hard life here in Canada.”
With files from Betsy Powell, David Rider, Jennifer Pagliaro, Maria Iqbal and Joshua Chong
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis
Gilbert Ngabo is a Toronto-based crime reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo
Olivia Bowden is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach her via email: [email protected]
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