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Man leaps onto 401 with daughter

The Globe and Mail, by COLIN FREEZE, Monday, March 7, 2005

Toronto — A suicidal father who used his five-year-old daughter as a weapon to terrorize his estranged wife threw himself and the child from an overpass onto Highway 401 last night.

The father died. Miraculously, the girl survived.

"This guy was a loaded missile. He was going to kill himself and he was going to take his daughter to punish his wife for whatever he thought she had done wrong in the relationship," Inspector Brian O'Connor said at a news conference last night.

"The fact that the little girl wasn't hit by the car is a miracle," he added.

In fact, while the child suffered internal bleeding, she broke no bones. She was airlifted from the scene to The Hospital for Sick Children, but the prognosis for survival is good: Police say she is in guarded condition.

The circumstances that drove the father to his murder-suicide bid are murky, but police can sketch several frantic hours before they found the man on the Don Mills overpass, holding his child and yelling into a cellphone at his wife.

Police are not releasing the identities of the family members.

They said the man picked up his daughter at his wife's house in the late afternoon. Shortly after, he began calling his wife, threatening to kill their daughter.

He had left a suicide note detailing his intentions.

"He continued to call his wife while he had the daughter, in what amounts to psychological torture by telling her, 'I'm going to kill myself, I'm going to kill my daughter,'." Insp. O'Connor said.

His wife contacted police, who began negotiating with the man via cellphone while conducting a desperate search. But they couldn't find him at his home east of Toronto, or in familiar locations where he took his daughter on visits. By the time police traced his cellphone signals, he was on the bridge.

Shortly before 6 p.m., witnesses began reporting that a man was dangling a girl over the Don Mills overpass in North Toronto.

How he got there is unknown; police did not find a car at the scene. At least two officers were on the bridge, but did not get a chance to speak to him before he jumped, police said.

"He never acknowledged the officers on the bridge. He remained on the cellphone . . . and, with his daughter, he just went over," Insp. O'Connor said.

Some witnesses reportedly said he tossed his daughter over the bridge and then jumped. The inspector said he did not know whether the girl's fall was cushioned in any way — by a snowbank, or her father's body.

Cars typically cruise at more than 100 kilometres an hour on the highway and police did not have time to stop traffic. "What could have happened, the 401 at that time of the night obviously is quite busy," Insp. O'Connor said. "The fact that the little girl wasn't hit by a car is a miracle."

He said the scene was harrowing for all involved, from the officers who tried, and failed, to prevent the man from jumping, to hardened police dispatchers who were appalled by this tragedy.

"Officers are shocked, they are stunned, they are second-guessing themselves. 'If I had gotten there a minute earlier, if I had done this, maybe if I would have run.' . . . It is my belief based on what I've heard and seen to date, having seen the note, that this man set out to kill himself and he was going to try to kill his daughter, to punish [his wife] for what he perceived she had done."

He added that, "What he succeeded in doing is harming his wife, harming his daughter and harming a lot of police officers who have children."

A Quote Worth Remembering

"We must vigilantly stand on guard within our own borders for human rights and fundamental freedoms which are our proud heritage......we cannot take for granted the continuance and maintenance of those rights and freedoms."

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