Celebrating Community Heroes

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Vincent Dela Cruz, 13, usually stays late afterschool but, on November 17 of last year, the grade seven student decided to leave early. “It was getting colder by the minute and I didn’t want to be walking home in the cold.”

On his way home, an elderly lady approached Vincent and asked him to point her towards a police station. “I didn’t know where it was, so I told her that,” says Vincent, who could see she was cold. “She only had a scarf and even that she was holding in her hands,” with no jacket on.

Not wanting to leave her out in the cold, with the temperature at minus-six degrees, the teenager asked her if she was okay in accompanying him to his school, where she may be able to get some help. She said yes and he held her by her arm so she wouldn’t fall on the icy sidewalk and took her to his school.

The next day, when Vincent was called to the principal’s office and told that the police wanted his information, he thought he was in trouble. He would find out that, instead, he was being recognized with a Community Member Award. The woman he assisted was suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s and believed there were intruders in her home. She had left to find help.

‘I didn’t know I was going to get an award for it. She looked cold so I thought I should take her to my school,” said the 13-year-old.

He was one of 45 people recognized by the Service for helping fellow citizens in their time of need and honoured with a Community Member Award on April 19.

“While we are celebrating individuals and actions they have taken…we are also celebrating community and this is an example of what is needed to create a healthy society – our people. People who share a common goal, people who want to make a difference and it is people who care. That is what we are here to celebrate,” said Alok Mukherjee, Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board.

Chief Bill Blair said the day was a special one for the award recipients but it was also a special one for the Service. “These are special days for us, as I know they are days for you. They are our opportunity to acknowledge the extraordinary citizens…who keep Toronto an extraordinary place,” said the Chief, who was attending his last Community Member Award Ceremony as chief. He said that, for over a decade, he and the Chair have had many opportunities to celebrate the contributions citizens have made in the city and the secret of why the city was one of the safest places to live in the world was “because of its citizens.”

A portrait of a 13-year-old boy wearing a blue shirt and smiling
13-year-old Vincent Dela Cruz helped an elderly woman suffering from Alzhiemer's find safety from the cold. Photo: Sara Faruqi

For husband-and-wife award recipients Lisa Gibson and Andrew Titley, accepting the award was a proud moment, but one they were a little hesitant about. “I guess we feel a little uncomfortable about such an awards ceremony because we feel like we didn’t do anything above and beyond…it was just something that should be done if somebody is in distress or need – you should help them,” said Gibson.

The duo helped rescue their neighbour when they found her in their shared garage, passed out in her car. Their neighbour was trying to take her own life and the two, along with another neighbour, John Dennis, quickly pulled the woman out and called 9-1-1.

The woman survived and Gibson and Titley were nervous about meeting her after she came home, since they weren’t sure how she would react to them. “You don’t know until you see them again, face to face,” says Titley. “Luckily, she was thankful we had saved her life and she expressed that to us and it made us feel a lot better,” he said. She is doing much better now, the couple adds.

A man and a woman holding plaques with the chair of the police board in suit to their right and the chief in uniform to their left.
Lisa Gibson and Andrew Titley helped save their neighbours life when they found her unconscious in her car. Photo: Sara Faruqi

While many people were awarded for assisting people in times of need and distress, for David Noble it was his quick thinking that prevented a potentially violent crime.

The provincial inspector for day cares in Ontario was working in a school last year, during March break, when he heard screaming in the hallway. Sitting in the administrative office with some staff members, Noble looked up and saw a woman with a baby run into the office. Behind her, another woman followed. Both had blood on their clothes. One had a gash on her head, with her face also covered in blood.

Right behind the two women was a staff member who ran in screaming at him to shut the door. Noble quickly bent down to close the door when he realized it was jammed open. As he tried to unjam, it he looked up to see a man with a meat cleaver in his hand, running towards him.

Noble quickly shut the door as the man reached the doorway. Over the next few minutes, he tried to speak to the man, as staff called 9-1-1. Noble also initiated a lockdown in the school, which was working as a day care during March break. “My worry was that he was on the other side of the door and we had children sleeping in the classrooms,” he said.

At the same time, the man on the other side was swinging the meat cleaver at the base of the door, trying to get in. The two women were told to hide in the bathroom as Noble held the door close. “His intent was to get to the women, he wasn’t going to harm me,” said Noble. Eight minutes later, an officer knocked at the door and told Noble to open it and then close it again.

In his attempt to shut the door, Noble had managed to jam the man’s foot in the door too – stopping him from running away. The man was arrested by police and the two women taken to the hospital with injuries. “It was a serious, traumatic situation,” says Noble, but he explains it was his natural reaction to step in and try to stop it. “There was a sort of calmness throughout the process, even though there was a lot of screaming, but I knew the situation would stay in control as long as he (the man) stayed engaged with me.”

A man in a suit and tie smiling.
David Noble's quick thinking helped two women escape from a potentially violent attack. Photo: Sara Faruqi

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