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I can’t get this odd feeling out of my chest. This empty, almost sickening feeling won’t go away. I noticed this feeling when I was in the Eaton Center in Toronto just seconds before someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm‘s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting.
What started off as a trip to the mall to get sushi and shop, ended up as a day that has forever changed my life. I was on a mission to eat sushi that day, and when I’m on a mission, nothing will deter me. When I arrived at the Eaton Center mall, I walked down to the food court and spotted a sushi restaurant. Instead of walking in, sitting down and enjoying sushi, I changed my mind, which is very unlike me, and decided that a greasy burger and poutine would do the trick. I rushed through my dinner. I found out after seeing a map of the scene, that minutes later a man was standing in the same spot I just ate at and opened fire in the food court full of people. Had I had sushi, I would’ve been in the same place where one of the victims was found.
My receipt shows my purchase was made at 6:20 pm. After that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek. The gunshots rung out at 6:23. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire.
I walked around the outside of the mall. People started funneling out of every exit. When I got back to the front, I saw a police car, an ambulance, and a fire truck. I initially thought that maybe the street performer that was drumming there earlier had a heart attack or something. But more and more police officers, ambulances, and fire trucks started showing up. Something terrible has happened. I overheard a panicked guy say, “There was a shooting in the food court.” I thought that there was no way, I was just down there. I asked him what happened. He said “Some guy just opened fire. Shot about 8 shots. It sounded like balloons popping. The guy is still on the loose.” I’m not sure what made me stick around at this point instead of running as far away from the mall as possible. Shock? Curiosity? Human nature? Who knows.
Standing there in the midst of the chaos all around us, police started yelling to get back and make room. I saw a young shirtless boy, writhing on a stretcher, with his face and head covered by the EMS as they rushed him by us to get him into an ambulance. The moment was surprisingly calm. The EMTs helping the boy weren’t yelling orders and no one was screaming like a night time medical drama. It was as if it was one swift movement to get the boy out of the mall and into the ambulance. That’s when it really hit me. I felt nauseas. Who would go into a mall full of thousands of innocent people and open fire? Is this really the world we live in?
Police start yelling again “GET BACK NOW!” Another stretcher came rushing out of the mall. I saw a man on a stretcher, the blanket underneath him spotted with blood. Multiple gunshot holes in his chest, side, and neck were visible. It’s not like in the movies when you see someone shot and they’re bleeding continuously from the wound. There was no blood flowing from the wounds, I could only see the holes. Numerous gaping holes, as if his skin was putty and someone stuck their finger in it. Except these wounds were caused by bullets. Bullets shot out of hatred. His dark skin on his torso was tinted red with what I assume was his own blood. He was rushed into the ambulance and taken away.
More people joined the crowd at the scene and asked what happened. “There was a shooting in the food court,” kept being whispered through the crowd like a game of telephone. I was standing near a security guard when I heard him say over his walkie talkie, “One fatality.” At this point I was convinced I was going to throw up. I’m not an EMT or a police officer. I’m not trained to handle crime and murder. Gun crimes are fairly common where I grew up in Texas, but I never imagined I’d experience a violent crime first hand. I’m on vacation and wanted to eat and go shopping. Everyone else at the mall probably wanted the same thing. I doubt anyone left for the mall imagined they witness a shooting.
I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.
I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.
I feel like I am overreacting about what I experienced. But I can’t help but be thankful for whatever caused me to make the choices that I made that day. My mind keeps replaying what I saw over in my head. I hope the victims make a full recovery. I wish I could shake this odd feeling from my chest. The feeling that’s reminding me how blessed I am. The same feeling that made me leave the Eaton Center. The feeling that may have potentially saved my life.