Blue Jays player at mall when shots fired

June 3, 2012 - 11:45 AM
Toronto Eaton Centre Shots

Police set up a perimeter outside the Eaton Centre shopping mall in Toronto, Saturday, June 2, 2012. Panic broke out at the Eaton Centre Saturday after shots were fired at the downtown mall packed with weekend shoppers. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Victor Biro)

TORONTO (AP) — Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie said Sunday that he narrowly missed being in the area where a gunman fired shots in a crowded food court in one of Canada's busiest malls, killing a man and injuring seven others.

Police said the shooting on Saturday at Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto targeted one individual and there were a number of innocent bystanders. Police said one person remains in critical condition after being shot. Six people were shot in all. Two people were trampled and pushed in a frenzied mass exodus.

Police Staff Sgt. Michael Perreault said they were reviewing security video Sunday as they hunt for the shooter. Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said they have a description of the suspect. The hail of bullets killed a 25-year-old man. Police removed his body early Sunday morning.

Lawrie was one of the first to break the news on Twitter on Saturday evening. He had gone to the mall with a friend shortly after the Blue Jays lost to the Boston Red Sox in a Saturday afternoon game.

"Pretty sure someone just let off a round bullets in eaton center mall ... Wow just sprinted out of the mall ... through traffic," Lawrie tweeted. "People sprinting up the stairs right from where we just were ... Wow wow wow."

He later tweeted that he was "Rattled right now."

On Sunday, Lawrie said he felt lucky because he left the food court 10 seconds before the shooting.

"It was instant panic," Lawrie said before Sunday's game. "It was as if you stepped on an ant hill and then everyone just flooded out of the place. ... I just got out of there as fast as possible. I was the first person out of there."

Lawrie, a Canadian, said he never thought something like that could happen at the Eaton Centre, a Toronto landmark that is popular with tourists.

Toronto prides itself on being one of the safest cities in North America. Many Canadians have long taken comfort in the peacefulness of their communities and are nervous about anything that might indicate they are moving closer to their American counterparts.

Perreault said at least one of the injured has been released since the shooting, while the condition of a 13-year-old boy, originally listed as critical, has improved. A 20-year-old man was listed in critical condition.

Perreault also said a pregnant woman who went into labor after being trampled in the rush to get out of the mall has not yet given birth.

Marcus Neves-Polonio, 19, was working in the food court when he saw a man pull out a gun and start firing. At least two people were on the ground, he said. Erica Solmes, who manages the McDonald's in the mall's food court, said she heard about 15 shots ring out before a stampede of people made a dash for the exits.

"Any place for discharging a firearm in Toronto is dangerous. In the food court of the Eaton Centre on a Saturday evening, it's not only dangerous, it's outrageous," the police chief Blair said. "I believe every Torontonian is shocked and appalled by this crime."

In 2005, a 15-year-old girl was killed during the Christmas holidays just north of the mall in a shooting that shocked the city during a year of record gun deaths in Toronto. In that case, Toronto teen Jane Creba was shopping with family on busy Yonge Street when she was caught in the crossfire of a shootout between rival gangs.

"Today harkens back to that terrible moment," Blair said. "I am very sadly reminded of that. That was one of the most tragic and shocking events that ever took place in Toronto."

Officials said the mall and its parking garages will remain closed Sunday while police continue the investigation.