AKKAD firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2008-01-14 published
Stray bullet kills Toronto man
By Omar EL AKKAD with a report from JENNIFER Lewington, Page A1
John O'KEEFE just happened to be walking down Toronto's busiest street on a Saturday night. That's all it took to cost him his life.
The 42-year-old Toronto resident and health-food store manager became the city's second homicide victim of 2008 when he was killed over the weekend. Mr. O'KEEFE, an avid environmentalist and father of a nine-year-old boy, was hit in the head by a single bullet that police believe was never meant for him. Two men now face first-degree murder charges in connection to the killing.
"The deceased was struck while he was basically just walking down the street," said Toronto police homicide detective Graham GIBSON. "He was just walking."
At around 1: 15 a.m. on Saturday, police were called to the Brass Rail Tavern, a strip club at 701 Yonge Street, just south of Bloor Street. Two men had just been kicked out of the club after acting up. After being booted from the tavern, both men began walking away, but only got a few metres before turning around.
"They did leave, but they didn't go far," said Det. GIBSON. " They took exception with security [at the Brass Rail]."
Upon returning, one of the two men allegedly pulled out a handgun and fired a single shot. Last night, police said the gun was registered to one of the suspects. Police believe it was aimed at members of the security staff outside the club.
Instead, it hit Mr. O'KEEFE in the head. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
Mr. O'KEEFE's partner described him yesterday as a wonderful human being who loved the environment.
"Johnny was a great guy; he really was," said Susan BANAHAN. "He loved to recycle - you couldn't throw a tissue in the garbage when he was around."
Mr. O'KEEFE had a nine-year-old son from a previous relationship. Together with Ms. BANAHAN and her child, they formed a family.
Ms. BANAHAN said Mr. O'KEEFE worked as a health-food store manager at the downtown Exchange Tower. In his spare time, she said, he liked to walk around the city - the Don Valley was one of his favourite spots.
At the time of his shooting, Mr. O'KEEFE was likely walking to the subway from the Duke of Gloucester, his favourite watering hole, Ms. BANAHAN said. Like the Brass Rail, the bar is located near the corner of Yonge and Bloor.
After the shooting, both suspects allegedly ran away, heading south on Yonge Street for a few metres before turning onto Charles Street.
But within 12 hours, police had two men in custody.
"We had excellent witnesses: and support from civilians and community members and people inside [the club]," Det. GIBSON said. As a result, police had the first suspect in custody by 11: 45 Saturday morning, and the second suspect a couple of hours later. Edward PAREDES, 22, and Awet ZEKARIAS, 23, both Toronto residents, are jointly charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder. They made their first court appearance yesterday morning at Old City Hall.
Saturday's killing bore eerie similarities to another shooting that rocked Toronto in December of 2005. Mr. O'KEEFE was killed just a few blocks north of where a brazen shootout claimed the life of 15-year-old Jane CREBA. Both victims were never the intended targets of the bullets that hit them, yet both were the only ones to die in each incident.
Ms. BANAHAN was devastated by the news of her partner's death - she spoke to a reporter yesterday just as news of Mr. O'KEEFE's killing played out on her television set at home.
"I'm just so sad that he won't be around any more," she said.
Last night, two of his best Friends, in shock over the fluke of their friend being in the wrong place at the wrong time, remembered him as a gentle, funny man, "brilliant at darts" and devoted to his young son and network of Friends.
"As a father, he showed his son Toronto's every ravine and heritage building," recalls Andrea ASTER, a friend for the past 20 years. "He was an ardent environmentalist whose only wish was that his son would grow up to be an environmental warrior."
She said that Mr. O'KEEFE, a 6-foot-2-inch man with "piercing blue eyes," had a way of making and keeping Friends.
"The people who were his Friends were his Friends for life," she said.
Another long-time friend, Brian EATON, 43, met Mr. O'KEEFE when they attended the same Scarborough high school. Mr. EATON said his younger brother, Tony, 42, who was in the same high-school class as Mr. O'KEEFE and remained close Friends, had invited him to the family cottage in Huntsville this past weekend. But Mr. O'KEEFE declined so that he could go skating with his son.
"I wish he had gone to the cottage," said Mr. EATON.
For the past 15 years, he said Mr. O'KEEFE was a weekly regular at the Duke of Gloucester pub, where he played darts.
"When I heard of the shooting I thought to myself I hope that was not Johnny because he was my one friend who might be walking down Yonge Street because he goes to the Duke," said Mr. EATON, adding that his friend's violent end was the opposite of how he lived.
"He wouldn't know anyone who has a gun or practices violence," said Mr. EATON.
"He was a responsible father, a responsible friend, the kind of guy that everyone loved and every kind word you would think of, you would apply to him."
Meanwhile, police are looking for witnesses: to a shooting Saturday night at Rosemary Lane in the Forest Hill neighbourhood. An unidentified man in his 20s suffered serious injury when he was shot once in the stomach near Bathurst Street and Eglinton Avenue, but is recovering in hospital, Toronto Police said yesterday.
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