TORONTO — A “complete stranger” approached a 45-year-old man from behind as he was waiting for a ride to work outside his Toronto apartment last month and killed him with a single bullet, police said while announcing a first-degree murder charge in the case.
“There was no relationship. This was a senseless killing,” Det.-Sgt. Ted Lioumanis said during a news conference held outside of Toronto Police Headquarters on Thursday afternoon.
Shortly before 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 12, John Wheeler, a general contractor, was standing outside the east-end apartment building he had called home for the past 11 years with two coffees and a lunch pail in hand.
Approximately 20 minutes before Wheeler exited the building’s doors, located on Danforth Road north of Eglinton Avenue East, a suspect vehicle pulled into the parking lot and drove around a couple times, police said.
Investigators said there was no interaction before Wheeler was shot at from behind with a long gun.
“He was just going to work like he did every morning, 3:30 a.m. he was out there waiting for his ride and unfortunately at this time I do believe that he was there at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Lioumanis said.
Wheeler’s family has described him as the type of man who would give you the shirt off his back.
“He would go out of his way to help anyone for any reason,” his niece Arlene Stuckless said at a news conference held with Toronto police on Aug. 14. “John impacted many people’s lives, including those he worked with. He was all about family being the youngest of 12 children. My uncle was the baby.”
“Our family is completely saddened and devastated by this senseless loss of life.”
Video surveillance footage of the incident was released by investigators as Wheeler’s family made a plea for help from the community.
Speaking alongside Lioumanis on Thursday, the head of the city’s homicide squad, Insp. Hank Idsinga, told reporters “this murder was particularly pointless and the community reacted.”
“Witnesses came forward and local businesses helped the investigators with video surveillance,” he said. “The investigators and the family of the victim thank them for that.”
That help from the public, police said, helped lead to an arrest in the case.
On Wednesday, the alleged shooter, identified by police as 18-year-old Christopher Mitchell of Brampton was taken into custody. Mitchell now faces a charge of first-degree murder.
“I can’t say that Mr. Wheeler was the intended target nor was there someone planned in Mr. Mitchell’s mind,” Lioumanis said. “What I can tell you is that we have enough evidence to lay the first-degree murder charge against Mr. Mitchell.”
But, the investigation is not over, Idsinga added.
“The investigation continues as it is alleged that Mr. Mitchell was in the company of at least two other individuals immediately before and after the murder,” he said.
No suspect descriptions have been released by officials thus far.
Anyone with further information is asked to contact police 416-808-7400 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477).