By Robyn Doolittle
It’s 4 a.m. and Richmond Bugyet-Twum is wide-awake. For the past year, he hasn’t been able to sleep past this hour — the time the police called to say his son Jerry had been shot and killed.
In a desperate quest for a full night’s sleep, Richmond returned to his native Ghana last month. Joined by his son Derrick, Richmond immersed himself in prayer as a way to cope not only with Jerry’s death, but with the harsh reality that his killer is still free — and will probably stay that way.
Thirty-one men were shot to death on the streets of Toronto last year. police have been frustrated by this wave of gun violence; less than a third of the killings have been solved. As more young men are gunned down every week, last year’s victims seem destined to fade from the public mind. But the families cannot forge.
Jerry’s brother Derrick has recurring nightmares about the murder and has begun drinking heavily. His mother Regina, who still lives in Africa, was hospitalized with high blood pressure after Richmond called to tell her about their son. Jerry’s eldest brother Kwame, a third-year information technology student at York University, has dropped classes because he can’t stop thinking about the murder.
“I’m very angry. I think about it every day,” says Kwame. “It looks like [Jerry is] the only one who knows who killed him.”
Shortly before 9 p.m. on Mar. 11, 2003 — one year ago tomorrow — Jerry Bugyei-Twum, 23, was gunned down across from Ryerson’s business building.
Just before the shooting, Jerry and a few friends had been walking down Yonge Street. They had just passed the HMV north of Dundas Street when a car stopped on the other side of the road. Jerry exchanged words with the driver before the car continued down Yonge; Jerry and his friends walked to the Tim Hortons on Victoria Street. Police believe the same car then pulled up outside of the doughnut shop. Jerry and two others walked up to the car and an argument ensued. Moments later, shots were fired.
Jerry was hit in the chest and stumbled across the street, then collapsed in a snowbank where he lay dying.
Another man, Andre Francis, then 19, was shot in the legs but managed to stagger to St. Michael’s Hospital. A year later, police know little else about how Jerry died.
“Where’s the investigation going? It’s going nowhere,” says Det. Terry Wark, who has been working on the case for the past year with his partner Det. Dan Sheppard.
According to Wark, there was very little physical evidence left at the scene of the crime and as a result there are currently no suspects or solid leads.
“I know that [the police are] doing their best, but says there is little he can do without the cooperation of the people who saw Jerry die.
“The biggest problem in investigating homicides in certain areas is witnesses not wanting to — or being afraid to — talk,” says Wark.
In this case, the one not talking is Francis.
According to Wark, Francis’ account of the shooting does not match the evidence at the crime scene. After questioning Francis, police believe he is not telling them the whole truth.
Francis told police he didn’t know Jerry and was not standing with him at the time of the shooting. However, witnesses put three people next to the vehicle moments before the murder, and police believe Francis was one of them.
“We aren’t sure of the relationship between them,” says Wark. “[But] we suspect they are friends or at least know each other.”
Frustrated by the lack of resolution in his brother’s death, Kwame confronted Francis. According to Kwame, Francis admitted he was a close friend of Jerry’s. Francis told Kwame that he had been arguing with the gunman — and that Jerry had tried to defuse the situation. That’s when shots were fired.
Francis even told Kwame he would be able to pick the killer out of a crowd.
Kwame believes Francis’ story and even though the information could further the investigation of his brother’s killing, he doesn’t blame Francis for not coming forward.
Since the shooting, Francis has moved from his family’s home to live with his girlfriend in a different part of the city. He did not respond to an interview request and his mother would not comment on the shooting when she was reached by phone. However, family members say Francis has recovered well.
Police say Jerry’s murder investigation is also hindered by the absence of a clear description of what the shooter looks like. The only thing witnesses could agree on was that the killer is a black male.
Shell casings recovered at other rime scenes are routinely checked tosee if they came from the gun that killed Jerry, but no links have been made yet.
A Ryerson security camera caught what is believed to be the shooter’s car as it drove up Victoria Street, but did not get the vehicle’s license plate.
Police say a witness in another vehicle tailed the car as it tore up Yonge Street, and that the driver was able to get a license plate number.
Richmond says police informed him that they had tracked down the car and had found gun powder residue in it. However, the car was reported stolen the night before and the owner told police he was at home watching TV with his girlfriend at the time of the killing, Richmond says.
Wark is reluctant to give out information regarding the stolen vehicle or its owner, but admitted — after some hesitation — the man who owns the car is “a person of interest.”
Jerry’s family believes the man played a key role in Jerry’s murder and are frustrated with Canadian laws that let him refuse to take a lie detector test.
While the family waits for a commemorative stone to be sent from Ghana, Jerry’s grave is marked only by an ‘X’ carved into a nearby tree at Beechwood Cemetery in Vaughan.
Richmond can’t bear the thought of buying another child. He worries his family is not safe in the city, especially when his youngest son is already being tempted to join gangs.
“I told [my friends] they’re choosing the wrong path and they’ll end up in a body bag,” says 15-year-old Richmond Jr. “I’ve learned that I should steer clear of people like that and I shouldn’t be pressured into that kind of life.”
Living in Malvern — one of the most dangerous parts of the city — the family finds gun violence hard to ignore. Five men have been shot in their neighborhood since last month, two of them fatally.
Still, Richmond sees little point in moving.
“It would just be running from one problem to another,” he says. “Guns are coming into Canada, and they can go anywhere. Today they come here, tomorrow they can go to Hamilton.”
Whenever Richmond hears of another shooting, he wonders if his son’s killer has struck again.
“I’m always thinking, ‘Is it him?’ Today it’s Jerry, tomorrow it could be anybody,” he says.
On the anniversary of Jerry’s death, his family will visit his grave. Even in the peaceful suburban graveyard, they won’t be able to escape the spectre of violent death. Next to Jerry’s unmarked grave lie the remains of 20-year-old Kevin Davis, who was gunned down in a parking lot five months before Jerry. His killer was never caught.
Richmond doesn’t visit often; it makes sleeping that much harder. After a year of sleepless nights, he can’t imagine ever resting well again. Instead he will wait and hope against hope that his son’s killer will one day face justice.
“They can’t bring back my boy, but if they arrest [his killer], maybe it will save someone else,” he says.
“Even one or two people and it’s worth it.”