Justin Bobb was looking forward to the long Labour Day weekend and the opportunity to reconnect with friends in New York and absorb the holiday festivities, including the Brooklyn West Indian parade.
He planned to overnight in Philadelphia on the Friday night before travelling on the New Jersey turnpike the next day to his final destination.
A tired Bobb checked into a Philly hotel in the wee hours of Saturday morning and was about to turn in when he received a disturbing call that his 21-year-old cousin, Kamal Hercules, was shot on a downtown Toronto street.
“After I hung up the phone, I immediately called Kamal’s cell phone and did not get an answer,” he said. “It took me a little while to touch base with his mom, but when I found the strength to do so, she was at the hospital and she tearfully confirmed he did not make it.”
A stunned and confused Bobb instantly checked out of the hotel and began a 10-hour drive back to the city to join grieving relatives who, like him, are still shocked and trying to cope with Hercules’ sudden and senseless death.
“Kamal was fun loving and a shining star,” said Bobb, who had a very close relationship with his younger cousin. “He was a good kid who provided comic relief for us and put that big smile on our faces. The funny thing is that if someone else in the family had suffered a tragedy, we would have turned to him for that spark and support. That was the kind of impact he had on people.”
Based on conversations, Bobb was able to deduce that Hercules spent the night hanging out with some of his buddies at a friend’s home in the Esplanade district before leaving to pick up his bicycle from another friend’s residence close by. He then headed to a convenience store at Front and Sherbourne Streets where he was fatally gunned down by an assailant who is still at large.
Hercules had never been in trouble with the law and was not known to police.
“It makes absolutely no sense,” said a grieving Bobb who has converted his living room into a shrine to honour Hercules. “What Kamal did on that Friday night was what he did on most Friday nights. He was not someone who frequented clubs. He had a collection of close-knit friends from school and at the Harbourfront Community Centre where he hung out and played basketball. He was the link to these guys and they would often gather at his place or at some other friend’s home to have clean fun.”
In addition to embracing his family and friends, playing hoops and dancing, Hercules freely extended a helping hand to anyone in need, including vendors at the annual Guyana Day event at Scarborough Civic Centre.
“He was the tent man,” said Bobb, on one of the few occasions he has been able to wear a smile in the last month. “He would help set up my mom’s tent for the event and anyone who needed a hand. There was one occasion this year when another vendor’s tent blew down and Kamal ran over to give her a hand. When someone asked Kamal if he knew how to put the tent back together, he said ‘not really, but I will figure something out’, which he did.”
At the time of his death, Hercules – who graduated from West Toronto High School and would have celebrated his 22nd birthday last September 21 – was job hunting.
“I found a stack of resumes on his dresser after his death,” said Bobb, who develops sports infrastructure for a local agency, coaches basketball and works with young people. “I was pushing Kamal in the direction of working with youths because he had a human touch and a special way of interacting with people. He had already made an impact on other people’s lives…He just did not get a chance to reach his full potential.”
Bobb said the effect that Hercules had on people in his short life was measured by the outpouring of support the family has received in the past six weeks.
“There is a shrine set up outside the store where he was shot and I would pass by there regularly and see candles lit,” he said. “Just a few days after Kamal passed away one of his neighbours called me over to thank me for allowing my cousin to be part of his life. That blew me away. Kamal was phenomenal.”
Last week, Toronto Police released a security camera image of an individual they are seeking in connection with Hercules’ death. The man, who police believe could have been a witness, is described as Black, in his early 20s or 30s and was wearing a pullover sweater with blue/grey/white horizontal stripes, dark pants, a black Toronto Blue Jays baseball cap and black high-top running shoes with white stripes on both sides.
Anyone with information can contact Detective Sergeant Peter Moreia at (416) 808-7394, Detective Kim Gross at (416) 808-7386, Crime Stoppers anonymously at (416) 222-8477, online at www.222tips.com or text TOR and your message to CRIMES (274637).