TORONTO — Two sisters, ages five and nine, were seriously injured during a "brazen" daylight shooting at a playground in Toronto's east end, authorities said Thursday.
Toronto police Det. Sgt. Jim Gotell told reporters at the scene that the girls were rushed to the Hospital for Sick Children and both are expected to survive.
He said at least seven shots were fired and investigators believe the intended target was a man who was among the 11 children in the playground.
"We've had a lot of co-operation from the public in regards to this shooting," Gotell said.
"It's a very horrible event that happened this evening, a very brazen attack on two young girls, so we're getting a lot of sympathy from members of the public and members of this community."
Gotell said investigators are looking for the male shooter and the driver of a getaway vehicle. Police have not provided descriptions for a suspect vehicle, but Gotell said they will release that information soon.
"A male approached the park with a handgun and started to fire into the park," he said. "At the time of the shooting the male suspect was on foot and he left the area in a car."
Toronto paramedics said they received a call about a shooting around 5 p.m. and rushed the girls to a trauma centre.
Deputy Cmdr. Steve Henderson said earlier Thursday that one of the girls had serious injuries that could be life-threatening, while the other suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
But Gotell said the five-year-old's condition in hospital has improved.
"At the time of the incident happened, we were fearful for her life," he said. "But her condition has upgraded in hospital and she is not expected to be in a life-threatening situation at this time."
Earlier in the evening, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters that both girls required surgery, and called those behind the shooting "cowards."
"I can tell you that we are putting every resource on this to make sure we apprehend the person who would be motivated to do something like this in the city of Toronto," he said.
"We will be taking aggressive action toward resolving this particular investigation."
Officers canvassed the area for a suspect and collected footage from security cameras, Saunders said.
Toronto Mayor John Tory echoed Saunders' statement, promising that police will do everything possible to catch the "cowards" behind Thursday's shooting.
"I cannot imagine the anguish the family and friends of the two girls shot while playing in a park are experiencing tonight," Tory said in a statement.
"This entire city wants these girls to make a full recovery and this entire city wants justice for them. "
Meanwhile, Ontario premier-designate Doug Ford said on Twitter that he was aware of the incident.
"My thoughts and prayers are with them and their families," Ford said. "I will be monitoring the situation closely."
Gotell said investigators were looking to speak with anyone with information about the shooting, particularly the man believed to be the intended target.
"This is a horrendous crime.... It's not often we see two young girls shot in a public playground as they are playing," he said. "We would like the suspects to contact police and turn themselves in, because we're coming for you."
Investigators are also working to identify all the children at the playground during the shooting, Gotell said.
"We want to speak to their parents as well, because obviously they suffered a psychological trauma by being there," he said.
"One of the concerns that we have is ensuring that the children that were there receive the proper attention — whether it be medical attention or psychological attention — that they might require after this."
He also added that the victims' schools have been notified and will be bringing in crisis counsellors.
Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press