TORONTO — When gunshots sparked panic and chaos at a massive outdoor celebration for Toronto's NBA champions this week, some fans caught in the stampede worked to keep others out of danger, at times putting their own safety at risk.
As authorities now look to learn lessons from the event marred by overcrowding and violence on Monday, accounts of acts of kindness by complete strangers have emerged.
The shooting — which took place shortly after the Raptors went on stage during a victory rally at Nathan Phillips Square — injured four people, police said. Three people were arrested and two firearms were recovered, with investigators still looking for another suspect and firearm.
As hordes of fans scattered in fear, Mo Hussein said a group of young adults he had just met helped shield his three-year-old daughter from the crowd.
Hussein had gone to the rally with family members, including his niece and nephew, and ran into some of his niece's friends, whom he did not previously know. His daughter had just fallen asleep in her stroller when shots set off a wave of panic in the packed square, he said.
"All of a sudden the crowd started running towards us," he said. "Fortunately I didn't panic, my first thoughts were to protect my daughter who was asleep in the stroller. I just told people around me to come help me protect the stroller."
Hussein said his niece's friends formed a semi-circle around the stroller, protecting his daughter, who remained blissfully unaware of the commotion around her. When the crowd dispersed, "there were strollers around, there were shoes strewn all over the place, peoples' hats and personal possessions all over the place," he said.
That selfless act from the group prevented what could have been a terrible outcome, said Hussein, noting many children were put at risk at a purportedly family-friendly event.
"It basically means that even at the most evil point, humanity prevails," he said. "(My niece's friends) were afraid themselves and they were shivering after the fact, a lot of them had tears in their eyes and the fact that they were brave enough to actually help protect my daughter is something I really appreciate."
Some who received a helping hand also witnessed other acts of kindness.
Kimi Marfa, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said they were separated from friends moments after the shooting, which occurred steps away from their group.
"It was so scary not knowing if my friends were hurt or if they were safe," Marfa said.
The 16-year-old said they ran into the nearby Old City Hall courthouse and saw children who had lost track of their parents. The kids were crying and looked scared, particularly when security announced the building was under lockdown, Marfa said.
Other parents who were still with their children stepped in to console those who were alone, Marfa said. "There were mothers acting as mothers to these others kids, hugging them and singing to them," Marfa said.
Marfa was also helped through a panic attack by a woman in the courthouse, they said.
Suzanne Bernier said she ran into a nearby Canadian Tire where employees told distraught Raptors fans to come inside and stay calm. Store employees acted professionally and with compassion despite not being prepared to deal with dozens of terrified people seeking shelter, she said.
"It was so nice to see people stepping up to help each other," she said. "It was just everyday citizens coming together to help each other out."
Alanna Rizza and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press