‘He was loved. He had dreams’: Family in shock after teen killed in Keele subway stabbing

‘He was loved. He had dreams’: Family in shock after teen killed in Keele subway stabbing

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On Saturday night, Andrea Magalhaes heard reports on the news of a man who was stabbed at Keele subway station, but she didn’t think it could be her son Gabriel, who had been out with friends.

“I thought, he’s not a man, he’s a kid,” said Andrea, who is a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital. “You never think it’s going to happen to you, right?”

But when Gabriel didn’t answer her calls or messages later Saturday night, panic started to settle in. Andrea left the front door unlocked in case her son forgot his key, and lay awake looking at her phone until detectives knocked on her door. They confirmed the worst: Gabriel had been stabbed in the chest three times that night.

The attack, which police say was random and unprovoked, took place just before 9 p.m. on the lower level of the busy station.

Police said on Sunday they believe the victim was attacked while sitting on a bench across from a bank of pay phones near the escalators up to Keele’s westbound subway platform.

Read more: A timeline of TTC violence and Toronto’s response over the last year

Paramedics treated Gabriel at the scene and rushed him to hospital, but he died from his injuries.

Police said the suspect fled the station, which sits next to a payday loan shop and across from High Park. Later Saturday night they arrested a 22-year-old homeless man, Jordan O’Brien-Tobin, and charged him with first-degree murder. O’Brien-Tobin appeared virtually in Toronto bail court Sunday morning.

“He was sitting peacefully on a bench,” Andrea said of Gabriel. “I don’t know if (the suspect) had mental health issues, or why they decided to end my son’s life.”

“Something needs to change,” she said. “My (younger) son, Lucas, how can I let him go outside?

“When is it going to stop — this senseless violence?”

It was the fourth homicide on or near TTC property in less than a year, part of a growing wave of serious violence on a transit system still struggling to recover from the ridership collapse brought on by COVID-19.

Ridership in Toronto was down significantly last year from pre-pandemic levels. At the same time, serious violence on TTC’s buses, trains, streetcars and in stations has spiked.

There were 1,068 violent incidents against passengers on the TTC in 2022. That compares to just 669 in 2019, the last full pre-pandemic year. Violence against operators is also up, even as overall ridership remains just 67 per cent of what it was three years ago.

The attacks, which have been characterized again and again by both their brutality and seeming randomness, have at times dominated local news in recent months and could yet shape the coming byelection for Toronto’s mayor.

Andrea said the issue isn’t one with a short-term solution, emphasizing the impact of cuts to social resources. “People with mental health issues need more access to services,” she said. “It’s not about just adding more security; you have to provide the tools for people with mental illness to cope with life.”

Toronto police added extra patrols on the TTC in late January. That surge, which relied on officers working overtime, lasted six weeks before police pulled the plug in mid-March. The TTC itself has also deployed managers to patrol the system during busy periods and last week announced a pilot project that will see outreach workers from the social services agency LOFT working inside the system itself with vulnerable people who are using stations and trains as de facto shelters. The city also has plans to hire another 50 special constables to patrol the TTC.

Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie said Sunday that the murder of a 16-year-old boy at a subway station is “a tragedy.”

“My thoughts are with Gabriel Magalhaes’s family and friends as they mourn this loss,” she said in a statement. “The TTC has to be a safe place for all riders and transit workers — we can accept nothing less.”

Andrea said her family moved to Toronto from Brazil in 2000 under the impression that there was less violence here. She remembered thinking: “Toronto is a wonderful city with a great quality of life. We’re going to be safe here.”

“I trusted the system. I trusted public transit,” Magalhaes said. “Now, I am 100 per cent hopeless.”

Police closed the station for several hours Saturday.

When it reopened Sunday, the only remaining hint of a police presence was a bundle of yellow crime-scene tape stuffed in a plastic garbage bag across from the bench where Magalhaes was stabbed.

Outside the station on Sunday, Dan Larabee stood smoking a cigarette, waiting for his bus home. He had intended to be at Keele around the time of the attack Saturday. “I was just out and about, and I was going to come down here and go visit my buddy,” he said. “And then I decided not to, and then I woke up this morning and that was on the news.”

Larabee, who transfers through Keele a few times a week on his way to visit friends in the west end, said he’s more nervous than he used to be in the city, whether that’s on transit or just walking around. “You’ve always got to look over your back,” he said. “At night time, when I go out, I’m always looking behind me to see if there’s people following me.”

For Mackenzie Bartlett, a member of the TTCriders advocacy group, the big issue is funding cuts for the system generally. Fewer routes mean longer waits and more opportunities for things to go wrong, she said. “I have seen people that are having a tough time, maybe acting in a way that makes me uncomfortable,” she said. “But they have to get around too, so I don’t know.”

The violence isn’t unique to the TTC, Bartlett believes. It’s a broader Toronto problem, “a broader Ontario problem, a broader Canada problem,” she said. “It’s not just on the TTC. We see people all over the city: people losing their jobs, people not being able to make rent, people being evicted.”

Inside the station, passengers moved from the bus bays up the escalators to the elevated platforms. On the main floor, a man in a tan hat walked in and out the doors, asking loudly for change. Nearby, three special constables helped one young woman with a rolling suitcase find her way.

“The TTC takes your safety very seriously,” an announcement said over the station’s audio system. On the westbound platform, a billboard covered over in hard plastic read: “Homelessness is not a crime.”

Andrea described her son as a shy, sweet and hardworking boy. Gabriel had a passion for math, had a learning disability and worked “extremely hard” at school, she said.

He loved snowboarding and went to Blue Mountain every Saturday this winter — with Andrea, his dad Fernando, and his little brother Lucas — where he would give his mom tips on how she could improve her technique. Gabriel was planning to get his first job this summer as a lifeguard and wanted to study astrophysics at university.

“He was loved, he was happy, he had dreams,” Andrea said. “I really, really admired him. I was so proud of him.”

With files from Edward Djan, Lex Harvey, Aisling Murphy and Alyshah Hasham

Dhriti Gupta is a Toronto-based general assignment reporter for the Star. Reach her via email: [email protected]

Richard Warnica is a Toronto-based business feature writer for the Star. Reach him via email: [email protected]

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