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Police sniper shoots kidnapper in downtown Toronto
Updated: 2004-08-26 01:22

A Canadian police marksman shot and killed a man holding a woman passerby at gunpoint in front of busy Union Station in Toronto at the height of Wednesday's morning rush hour, leaving the hostage shaken but unharmed and the normally bustling area eerily quiet.

The dramatic hostage-taking ended with a bullet to the gunman's head as television cameras clearly captured every moment of the violent take down and hundreds of horrified office workers looked on in disbelief.

"I was dumbfounded. I didn't believe it. It's what you see on television. It doesn't happen in real life," said Susan Cormier, who works in a stockbrokers' office.

The random hostage-taking, which brought traffic in a wide swath of the city's downtown to a standstill, followed an 8 a.m. incident in which shots were fired at a food court in the highrise TD Centre.

Police lead a woman, second from left, away from the scene where a man held her at gunpoint for more than 40 minutes in front of Toronto's Union Station during morning rush hour, in Canada on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2004. A police sharpshooter shot and killed the man, leaving the hostage shaken but unharmed. [AP]

The bloodied victim, apparently the gunman's wife, was not badly hurt and was to be discharged from hospital Wednesday, a spokesman said.

Minutes after she was shot, an officer spotted the wanted man walking from the scene.

"He confronted the individual and immediately upon doing that, the suspect ran," said Police Chief Julian Fantino.

The unidentified man, described as about six-feet tall and well dressed in a sports shirt, then grabbed a woman on the sidewalk just outside the hectic train station.

"He just grabbed her," said a newspaper seller called Dave.

"Everybody else left the area and more police came. Nobody said anything other than police saying, 'Drop the gun. Drop the gun.' "

Heavily armed tactical police officers surrounded the scene and attempted to negotiate with the man for about 40 minutes without success.

Concerned the situation would escalate and others could be hurt, the marksman fired a single shot, killing the suspect as hundreds of bewildered office workers frantically made cell-phone calls from the scene.

"I was standing and watching the police officers hiding behind a wall with their guns drawn and then suddenly a big bang," said Conrad Zaleski, 52, who works in the area.

"The police officers just got up and started running towards Union Station. All the police drew their guns, ambulances started moving."

The hostage, whose name was not released, walked away from the scene, traumatized but otherwise unscathed.

Police held red sheets around the body to prevent onlookers from seeing the man until he was taken away in an ambulance, at which point fire crews moved in to clean up the area.

Fantino, who called the outcome "regrettable and unfortunate," said the officer had to take out the armed suspect.

"We had a situation that is very, very volatile, extremely dangerous. There was no choice," Fantino said.

"(Police) eliminated a very serious threat to citizens and themselves."

The provincial Special Investigations Unit, which probes all cases of serious injury or death involving police, was called in to review the killing.

Police cleared out the area, leaving the normally bustling hub almost deserted at a time when thousands of workers make their way to their offices.

Main roads were in gridlock as cars were diverted away from the scene, a stone's throw from the skyscrapers that populate Toronto's financial district.

The GO bus station at Union Station was closed for several hours but subway traffic was largely unaffected.

Premier Dalton McGuinty expressed relief that the hostage was unharmed but Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter said emergency procedures around Union Station, the central point for all rail traffic in the region, may need to be reviewed.


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