An estimated crowd of about 1,000 people gathered at Church and Wellesley Sts in Toronto to hold a vigil and march for Chris Skinner, who was brutally murdered Oct 18.
Read about the investigation into his murder here.
VIGIL. The march ended at Victoria and Adelaide Sts, where, on Oct 18, Chris Skinner was beaten by a group of men and deliberately run over with an SUV.
Mourners and protestors observed a moment of silence, filling the block of Church St between Wellesley and Maitland from sidewalk to sidewalk, raising candles and pride flags to honour the slain 27-year-old.
Before leading the crowd on a march to the murder scene at Adelaide and Victoria, Matt Kenney, who organized the vigil with his friend Jeff Myers, invited marchers to take a moment to introduce themselves to someone they didn’t know.
“Chris’ talent was making friends wherever he went,” Kenney said. “By knowing each other we will know that we will never walk alone.”
A large police and emergency services effort was mobilized to ensure the safety of marchers. Church St was shut down in both directions between Wellesley and Queen and police cruisers blocked intersections as marchers passed. Sections of Queen, Adelaide and Victoria were also closed to traffic as marchers passed.
The nearly silent march cast an eerie pall on Church St, where the dance music playing from Woody’s and Play took on a mournful air in the absence of auto traffic and pedestrian bustle.
Hundreds more people appeared to join the marchers as they continued south to the crime scene.
Many of those present didn’t know Skinner, or only knew him in passing.
“We have a lot of friends in common,” was a common response to the question “did you know him?”
“It’s a small community,” noted one marcher.
Angela Sweeting said she didn’t know Chris very well, only through one of his childhood friends.
“That didn’t matter much,” Sweeting said. “He liked everybody.”
Sweeting recalled how she met him on Halloween, when a group of friends went to watch the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Bloor Cinema dressed as Transylvanians.
“We instantaneously fell in love with him,” she said. “Even if the murder does have nothing to do with him being gay, it’s horrible. I would hope people would turn out to something like this.”
Solidarity with the community motivated some of the marchers.
“I wanted to physically be present so if they’re doing a count they could say there’s an extra body,” said Victor Correia, who didn’t know Skinner before his death. “It could have been any one of us.”
At the intersection where the murder occurred, mourners left their candles, flowers and cards in impromptu shrines on the northeast and southwest corners. Marchers wrote personal messages for Skinner and his family on a banner that was unfurled on the sidewalk near where Skinner was attacked.
“We did not know you Chris but we all came here for you to stand. We will have you in our thoughts forever,” read one note.
Other notes betrayed the frustration and indignation the community feels.
“Let justice be done to those who have taken your life too soon from this earth,” read another message.
The banner, flowers and candles are being sent to Skinner’s family in Uxbridge.
The vigil was organized via Facebook with an initial invitation to 150 friends. Sunday night, more than 1,000 people had signalled they intended to march, with nearly 8,000 more invitations awaiting reply.
Concurrent vigils were also held in communities around southern Ontario and in other parts of the world, where news of Skinner’s murder touched a chord.
“I was sitting around with my roommate saying someone ought to do something, and I decided that I’ll be the someone,” said Jeff Myers, who created the Facebook event. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a ‘hate crime.’ To me it matters that this man was a part of our community. We have to stand as a community.”
On Saturday, police released more video of Skinner and the SUV that ran him over in the moments before the attack, which indicates that there are likely more witnesses to the attack than police have on the record. Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Stacy Gallant at 416-808-7410 and Detective Doug Dunstan at 416-808-7406, or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-8477 or online at www.222tips.com.
Video by Michael Pihach, photos by Matt Mills.