Eight teenage girls who apparently met on social media have been charged with second-degree murder in the stabbing death of a 59-year-old man in Toronto, police said Tuesday.
Investigators allege that the girls assaulted and stabbed the man in the city’s downtown core early Sunday morning. Toronto Police said medics took the man to a hospital, where he died.
According to police, the eight girls were arrested near where the attack happened. Three of the girls are 13 years old, three are 14 and two are 16.
Detective Sgt. Terry Browne of the Toronto Police Service Homicide Squad said investigators think the girls were trying to take a bottle of alcohol from the man.
“I’ve been in policing for almost 35 years and you think you’ve seen it all,” Browne said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Anyone who isn’t shocked with hearing something like this has clearly just thrown in the towel and just said that anything is possible in this world. Eight young girls and most under the age of 16. If this isn’t alarming and shocking to everyone, then we’re all in trouble quite frankly.”
Browne said the same girls got into an altercation earlier in the night in the area. He declined to release more details about that.
“They met each other through social media. They come from varying parts of the city,” Browne said said. “We don’t know how or why they met on that evening and why the destination was downtown Toronto. We don’t know how long they were acquainted with each other. I wouldn’t describe them as a gang at this point.”
Browne said they took part in a “swarming.” He declined to say if they videotaped it. He said they will look to see if there are similar attacks online.
“Maybe these were eight young women that wanted to make a name for themselves and see if they could become socially famous,” he said.
Police believe they all acted in concert.
“They are all equally culpable,” he said. “There is no doubt in our minds that they were all working as a singular entity in a swarming mob mentality when they chose to attack this man.”
He said a number of weapons were seized, but he declined to say what kind. He also said three of the girls had prior encounters with the police.
“It’s bizarre that they would all have hooked up together and found their way to downtown Toronto. Their primary residences are all over the place,” he said.
Browne said police spoke to the parents of the teens.
“I can tell you it was a shock to find out that their children were involved in an event like this,” he said.
Canadian authorities can’t release the girls’ names by law because they’re underage.
They have made their first court appearance and remain in custody. The next court appearance is Dec. 29.
Browne said the victim started living in Toronto’s shelter system in September. He said they haven’t been able to reach certain family members and until they do they won’t release his name.
“He does have a very supportive family in the area so I wouldn’t necessarily call him homeless. Maybe just recently on some hard luck,” he said.
Browne said they are asking anyone who saw the the group of teens that night to contact police.
He said 20 or 30 years ago in Toronto young teen boys would swarm others and try to steal Dr. Martens boots or Air Jordan shoes for a time but said that faded away.
“Has this happened recently that we are not aware of? Have people been posting this stuff online that we weren’t aware of?” he said. “It’s something that we are going to try to find out.”
University of Ottawa criminologist Michael Kempa said it could be related to the breakdown of socialization as well as parenting in a time of pandemic, noting parental substance abuse is way up. He also said it could be amplification of anti-social attitudes via social media, made worse by mis-dis-information.