Tutored by older criminals released from jail, a new core of street criminals are vying for leadership of the Galloway Boys gang in Scarborough, resulting in some of the worst violence ever seen in Toronto, police say.
Investigators say they have connected a new generation of Galloway Boys to three killings of innocent people in seven months, including the two deaths at this summer's shocking gun battle at a street party on Danzig Street.
"We have some information that the shooters in these incidents are vying for leadership within the Galloway Boys group," Detective Sergeant Brett Nicol told reporters.
He said the shootings involved a group of four or five people counselled by older members who had been convicted during a 2004 crackdown.
"Slowly, members got out. They were considered mentors to the young members that we are now seeking today."
The gang is involved in drug and gun trafficking and prostitution, he said.
Turf disputes are behind the latest wave of violence, which also included six other shootings, police said.
"The conflict between the Galloway Boys and other neighbourhoods in Scarborough area, in particular the Orton Park, is being fuelled by the Galloway Boys' propensity for violence, their ability to obtain guns and their willingness to seek revenge," Det. Sgt. Nichol said.
The Galloway Boys, or G-Way, take their name from the Kingston-Galloway neighbourhood and have been described in past court evidence as having waged a fierce turf war against another gang, the Malvern Crew.
Last July, two innocent partygoers, Shyanne Charles, 14, and Joshua Yasay, a 23-year-old barber shop owner and aspiring police officer, were killed at a community barbecue on Danzig Street during a gun battle that also wounded 23, including a toddler.
Members of the Galloway Boys invited themselves to the event, with one, 19-year-old Nahom Tsegazab, even going on Twitter to entice others with the promise of free Hennessy cognac, Detective Sergeant Peter Trimble told reporters.
A now-cancelled Twitter account linked to Mr. Tsegazab, @2ToneShorty, promised "hot djs" and "30 bottles sittin on ice."
In the evening, the Galloway Boys began doing "G checks" -- verifying where partygoers came from.
This led to a confrontation with a group who came from the Malvern neighbourhood, a historic enemy turf of the Galloway Boys.
"It's surprising that someone from Malvern would venture here ... they shouldn't have been here to begin with," Det. Sgt. Trimble told reporters gathered at the Danzig shooting scene.
The Malvern visitors were ordered to leave but they later returned with reinforcement, sparking a shootout between up to six gunmen in a crowded courtyard jammed with more than 100 revellers.
Police later recovered five guns and 25 shell casings at the scene, which are being checked for DNA and ballistic evidence.
"This was a group of young punks, five to six people ... we need people to stand up and testify against these people," Det. Sgt. Trimble said.
Mr. Tsegazab, who goes by the street name "Gifted," was wounded in the shooting and later charged with reckless discharge of a firearm.
Another partygoer, Shaquan Mesquito, an 18-year-old from the Malvern area also known as "Bam Bam," was charged with uttering threats, police said. At the time of the arrest, he had a loaded firearm.
Police believe the three homicides, the two at the street party this July and the previous one last December, are linked with six shootings between Sept. 4 last year and Aug. 10 of this year.
In the other fatal shooting, on Dec. 30, D'Mitre Barnaby, a 24-year-old with no gang connection, was in his car with a friend listening to music while parked outside the Susan Towers apartment building, at 3895 Lawrence Ave. E., near Orton Park Road.
Mr. Barnaby bore an "amazing resemblance" to someone the Galloway Boys had targeted, Det. Sgt. Nicol told reporters.
Around 11 a.m., a white Nissan Versa circled Mr. Barnaby's car, the driver staring at Mr. Barnaby and his friend.
Feeling nervous, the friend departed. Mr. Barnaby parked his car and was leaving when two gunmen who had left the Nissan ran up to him and fired several times before fleeing through a daycare yard.
The investigation uncovered a turf battle between the Galloway Boys and male residents in the Orton Park area. "This conflict lead to several other shootings," Det. Sgt. Nicol said.
The other incidents included:
> A shooting on Sept. 4, 2011, where three men standing outside a nearby Domino's Pizza parlour were shot by a gunman who came out of a laneway.
> A Nov. 4, 2011, drug deal where a man was shot in the neck and upper body on Northfield Drive. A man associated with the Galloway Boys, Ramon Williams, nicknamed Angel, was arrested Monday in connection with the shooting and charged with attempted murder.
> A drive-by shooting on Dec. 28, 2011, in the Galloway Boys' turf, at 4315 Kingston Road, which police believe sparked the retaliatory ambush against Mr. Barnaby two days later.
> An incident last month where one of the emerging leaders of the Galloway Boys was chased through the Lawrence LRT-TTC station and shot against a fence.
> A Sept. 2 incident at the Chester Le townhouse complex where a young man, one of the victims wounded at the Danzig shooting, was shot again.
Investigators have accumulated forensic evidence but still need community members wiling to testify in court, Det. Sgt. Nicol said.
"Ultimately we need witnesses. We need people who'll take the [witness] box and point these people out," he said.
"These shooters are small, weak and cowardly. The fact is, because of their propensity for violence and their willingness to shoot guns, they've got the community holding back."
The Galloway Boys' turf is centred around the intersection of Kingston and Galloway Roads, a Scarborough neighbourhood of cheap apartment buildings and social housing in an area built for 1950s families with cars. The lack of transit is a key barrier to more legitimate business opportunities, community organizers say.
The gang made headlines six years ago as it battled the Malvern Crew. The deadly rivalry resulted in Ontario's largest street-gang prosecution, with 17 charged in connection with shootings in 2002 and 2004 that caught innocent bystanders.
On July 18, in the wake of the Danzig shooting, Toronto Police Chief William Blair suggested the violence was tied to the re-emergence of the Galloway Boys. "Certainly that's the word on the street, and some of our intelligence and feedback indicates that that may be part of it," Chief Blair said at the time in an interview with the Globe and Mail.
Jam Johnson, who runs the Neighbourhood Basketball Association, based in Kingston-Galloway, was skeptical of the police claim that the Galloway Boys were involved.
He says the gang is a remnant of the past, but young people in the neighbourhood are using the name because they see it as glamorous and tough.
"The Galloway Boys are dead and gone. They're all in jail or whatever," he said.
"At the end of the day, it's not gangs. These are just kids who grew up together."
He said there's no doubt that some young people in the area are dealing drugs and carrying weapons. But the criminal activity they're involved in is more individualistic, he said. For example, people who sell drugs in the neighbourhood aren't typically expected to kick money back to higher-ranking gang members, he said -- a common practice among more organized groups.
Mr. Johnson, who has lived in Kingston-Galloway for the past five years, says he has countless stories of stepping in to help young people who have become involved in drug dealing or sex work.
And unless programs like his are better funded, he said, violence in the community is bound to worsen.
That's because young people in the neighbourhood face discrimination when they look for jobs and often feel they have few options beyond the street, he said.
Mr. Johnson added that he fears the recent violence will get worse, as people seek revenge for those who have been shot at or killed.
"It's retaliation," he said. "Come on, people are vexed that their family members got shot."