Mother of slain Toronto rapper visits murder scene on anniversary of his death in push to reduce gun violence

Sophia Bent says she wouldn’t wish what she has been through this past year on her worst enemy.

It took her a year to find the strength to visit the site where her 21-year-old son Dimarjio Jenkins — a promising Toronto rapper known by his stage name Houdini — was murdered in a truly brazen shooting in Toronto’s entertainment district.

And on that anniversary Wednesday she attended an emotional vigil surrounded by family, friends, fans known as “Houligans,” and other mothers who had lost sons to gun violence — all wanting something to change in a city still facing shootings of alarming frequency.

“It’s been rough. It’s been completely rough. I lost my mind. I can’t remember everything,” Bent told CTV News Toronto before the vigil, where dozens of people lit candles and hung tapestries in an alley near the murder scene.

Her grief has given way to a desire to show the murder’s impact on her family in the hopes that if would-be shooters understand the pain they cause, there’s a chance they’ll put petty grievances aside.

“He was not a person that deserves that. He was a kind and sweet soul,” she said. “He always liked to have music around. He listened to music, always playing with things to see if they could make music.”

About four years ago, he adopted the moniker “Houdini” — and it was under that name he produced music videos and gained a substantial online following, she said. Bent believes that success drew unwanted attention.

“It’s just plain jealousy. Nothing more to it than jealousy,” Bent said.

In May of 2020, Jenkins and three associates were walking down Blue Jays Way near King Street when surveillance footage released by police shows a Volkswagen Tiguan perform a sudden U-turn, and someone starts shooting. Bystanders scatter, including the family of a six-year-old boy. Two of Jenkins’s associates fire back.

Twenty-three shell casings were recovered after the shootout. One bystander was injured, and Jenkins was shot dead.

Two weeks later, at a vigil for him, there was another shootout, in a year with 462 shootings in total, according to Toronto Police.

Those statistics show shootings are down some 20 per cent so far this year, possibly due to COVID-19, or border closures that may be keeping American guns away.

But that drop may mask a larger trend: in the past five years, there were 436 shootings on average, almost double the average of the previous five years, 223, and 262 in 2005, the infamous “year of the gun,” when 15-year-old Jane Creba was killed in the crossfire of a Boxing Day shooting.

“People are running wild like it’s the Wild West,” said Louis March, with the Zero Gun Violence Movement. “Shooting up people for the simplest of reasons: to brag and to boast, to threaten and to retaliate.”

He said that different levels of government must work together to share data on shootings, address underlying socio-economic conditions such as poverty and education, and fight the factors that have added fuel to the fire, including greater access to guns and social media which allows grievances to magnify instantly.

March said he was encouraged by a recent meeting that included city officials.

“We’re looking to the police to solve the problem but by the time the police get involved, it’s too late,” he said. “We’re paying the price at levels we have never seen before in Toronto.”

Eddy Martinez of Helping Offenders on Probation Excel said he was proud that Bent had recovered to the point she could attend the vigil.

“This was something that she was facing. This was the last place he was alive. We’re all here as a community to support that,” he said.

“It’s time for the community to come together. We want to see the violence end,” he said. “We want to show the mothers. We want to say they’re human. This is what you’re leaving behind, a mother, a child, we want people to see that and it may trigger something in their mind.”

Police have charged the alleged getaway driver, and Bent says she wants to see justice done in her case. But she wants change too. She says her pain is something she doesn’t want any other mother to experience.

“It’s not safe. We need safety in this environment, in Toronto,” she said.