Grieving for a lost life, hoping for redemption

My heart breaks for Christopher Husbands.  I mourn, too, for Ahmed Hassan. I find myself thinking more about these two strangers than the hundreds of other people caught in the crossfire at Toronto’s Eaton Centre on Saturday.

Ahmed Hassan died in a brazen suppertime shooting at the mall’s busy food court, allegedly by gunshot fired by Christopher Husbands. Other people were seriously injured as more than a dozen bullets whipped through the air. I am sorry for anyone who suffered fear, pain and trauma on Saturday.

But I grieve for Christopher and Ahmed, not so much for what happened on Saturday, but for what happened in the months and years before. I grieve their lives, seemingly lost even before one of them ended up dead and the other in jail.

Ahmed was just 24. Christopher is 23.  Both were allegedly members of the same gang. Police suspect the shooting was part of a personal vendetta, a pay back from Christopher to Ahmed.  Christopher was robbed and knifed three months ago, then left to die on a Toronto Street. Police suggest Ahmed and other gang members were responsible.

Such complicated webs of violence are usually spun in places most of us never go.   Back allies, abandoned lots, parks in poor neighbourhoods – these are more frequently the scenes of crime, particularly when they are gang related.

We hear about the results, take note of them by the numbers reported in the news. But unless a shooting happens on a busy street or in a public space like a school or shopping mall, we rarely think about the people involved as real people.

And even then we are likely to think more about the innocent bystanders who suffer, rather than the perpetrator, who if we think of at all, becomes a monster, not a human.

But Christopher Husbands seems very human to me. I find myself wishing life had been different for him, that it had taken a few more unexpectedly good turns; that he had made a few more unexpectedly good choices.

Perhaps I’m sympathetic because I read a quote from his father, an immigrant from Guyana who brought his family here when Christopher was six years old.  “He was a good guy coming up,” Burchell Husbands told the Toronto Star newspaper. “Gang changed everything.”

It did indeed.  Christopher Husbands has been in a lot of trouble for someone who hasn’t even cleared his twenties.

He should not have been anywhere near the Eaton Centre on Saturday because he was under house arrest as a condition of bail for another criminal charge against him. It’s no small matter – he has been accused of sexual assault.

But here are a few other details of Christopher’s life: he has a five-year-old son, a former girlfriend. There have been, still are, people in his life who love him.

He had a job recently, a surprising one, given his troublesome past. He worked in a youth centre, helping with an afterschool program for kids between the ages of six to 12.

It’s unclear how he managed to land that particular job, and the City of Toronto is tightening its hiring policies in light of the alleged actions of this particular employee.

But get this: parents and children involved at the youth centre liked Christopher Husbands.  He was just ‘Chris’ to them, a nice guy who helped them with crafts and played soccer and baseball.

I know less about Ahmed Hassan than I do about Christopher Husbands. But at Ahmed’s funeral, his relatives and friends wailed against the loss of his life. He, too, was loved.

On the day of the Eaton Centre shooting, I was in another very public Toronto space – the Rogers Centre. I was there to watch a ball game with three young friends of mine.

These three young people, like Christopher and Ahmed, have not yet cleared their twenties. But unlike the two young men for whom I grieve, my friends have a lot of life yet to live, with endless possibilities, all of them good.

For Ahmed, the possibilities have ended. For Christopher, life’s shadows are even darker than they were before. He faces a first-degree murder charge and six counts of attempted murder.

He could still turn his life around but it will be a long, difficult journey.

I wonder, though, if he has something in him to help him do just that. He did, after all, turn himself into police. There’s something honourable in that action, one good decision from a young man who has made so many bad choices in life.

Every now and then, we get to hear stories of redemption. I hope that’s what happens for Christopher Husbands. He’s only 23. He still has time.

Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column appears on Fridays in the Moncton Times & Transcript. Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.