Md Ashaduzzaman was working a routine kitchen shift at a cafe in Toronto’s Greektown when he heard the gunshots. The screams broke out moments later — among them were cries of a woman calling for someone to help her daughter.
Ashaduzzaman rushed into the dining area to find 10-year-old Julianna Kozis bleeding from a gunshot wound to the thigh. He held her, tried to keep her from losing consciousness and eventually saw paramedics take her away.
It was only two days later that he found out Julianna was one of the two people killed in the shooting spree on Danforth Avenue that also injured 13 and ended with the death of the gunman. Since then, Ashaduzzaman said he’s been in disbelief.
“I wasn’t expecting her to die,” he said. “I’m feeling really tired … I’m shocked.”
Ashaduzzaman said he clearly remembers the chaos that erupted on Sunday night.
“People ran to the back of the restaurant,” he said, his voice quivering. “And then I heard a woman crying and yelling, ‘my daughter’ and to call an ambulance.”
That’s when Ashaduzzaman and his colleague ran over to Julianna, who had been sitting at a table near the front window of Caffe Demetre.
“I was holding her and I looked at her and said, ‘stay with us. It’s going to be OK. Look at me,’” he said. “I was trying to wake her up. She was losing consciousness.”
Julianna was bleeding heavily, Ashaduzzaman said. A man who appeared to be her father was also injured, he said.
“He was lying down, it looked like he couldn’t move his leg,” said Ashaduzzaman, adding that a boy who appeared to be Julianna’s brother was sitting nearby and appeared to be in shock.
“Everybody was crying and everybody was scared.”
In the days since the shooting, Ashaduzzaman said he’s felt drained, but is working to cope.
His workplace has offered counselling to staff, who will be returning to work next week, he said. Ashaduzzaman said he hasn’t yet decided if he’ll take up the offer of counselling, or take more time off work.
“I’m trying my best to move on,” he said.
Experts said Ashaduzzaman’s feelings are not uncommon.
The closer a person is to experiencing a traumatic event, the greater the emotional and psychological toll, said Dr. Katy Kamkar, who works at the psychological trauma program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
“If someone worked near the area, lived near the area, even if we know people who were there at the scene — the closer the proximity, the higher the risk of emotional and psychological reaction,” she said.
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Kamkar said overall common symptoms people may experience after a traumatic event include shock, denial, irritability, fear, sadness, feelings of helplessness, and a change in sleep, appetite, and trouble with memory and focusing on daily activities
If those symptoms increase over time and interfere with a person’s daily life, that person should seek professional help, she said. Everyone experiences such symptoms differently but Kamkar stressed that people should know that these feelings are normal.
“Knowledge is power. Knowledge builds our awareness, and when we build our awareness, we are better able to cope,” she said. “Also, building connections and community is very important with coping.”
Tanya L. Sharpe, a professor at the University of Toronto’s school of social work who specializes in surviving mass violence and effects of homicide, said it’s also common for direct witnesses to experience hyper-vigilance, have flashbacks and be overly aware of their surroundings.
“With unanticipated deaths, survivors go through what is called complicated grief, so there are other factors which impact their grief, such as seeing the scene play out over and over again in the media, or going back to the scene of the event again,” she said.
On Friday evening, staff from businesses in Toronto’s Greektown were expected to gather for a moment of silence.
Ashaduzzaman, who hasn’t been back to Greektown since the shooting, said he didn’t know if he would attend but said he wanted the Kozis family to know every effort was made to help Julianna.
“The situation wasn’t good,” he said. “Everybody tried to save her.”
Alanna Rizza, The Canadian Press