Warning: Contains graphic content
Hoss Geisler wants to know why his son is dead.
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, a Toronto police officer responded to the back parking lot of a busy shopping plaza in East York, a police watchdog has said, for a call about a “man in distress.”
As is often the case, investigators have said little about what happened next, the 40-year-old man who died, or what led to that moment. The Ontario Special Investigations Unit (SIU) confirmed Wednesday the man was shot dead by the police officer; an investigation is ongoing.
On Friday, a father contacted the Star to talk about his son, whom he identified as Andrew Geisler.
“I don’t understand why he’s lying in the morgue this morning,” Hoss Geisler said in a phone interview from Parry Sound, Ont.
“We’re in hell here over this. I don’t know where to turn, I don’t know who to talk to about this.
Andrew Geisler’s family is now trying to understand the sudden, inexplicable loss of a son remembered as easy-going and gentle who was struggling with mental health challenges and addiction.
So far, the family said it knows only sparse details from an initial conversation with SIU investigators: A bystander had called police because Andrew had a knife and appeared suicidal. In the “interaction” that followed, he was shot dead.
Geisler grew up in Bowmanville, playing soccer and baseball, his mother Cathy Gordon said in a phone interview from her Midtown home.
His parents separated when Andrew — she calls him Andy — was a preteen and he moved with Gordon to the city to be closer to her job. They lived next to his school and he enjoyed having friends in the neighbourhood, she said.
“He was quite shy. He was actually a lot like me,” Gordon said.
When Andy was 15 years old, she said she was surprised one day to hear music coming from an electric guitar and amplifier he had saved up to buy working at the Food Basics across the street — he had taught himself how to play.
As an adult, he took a lot of comfort and friendship in becoming an ironworker with LiUNA! Local 183, working on condo construction in the city, she said.
But Gordon said her son always felt more at home in the country, like his father.
A photo of a young Geisler posted to his Facebook page shows a classic winter scene — a chubby-cheeked boy, his face ruddy, in a full-body snowsuit beaming at the film camera, his mittens caked in snow.
His parents openly shared with the Star how their son struggled with mental health issues as well as alcohol addiction. Though he at times would seek treatment or stay in hospital, Gordon said he would often suffer in silence.
“He tried to deal with it on his own but it was really hard for him because he kind of kept everything to himself,” Gordon said.
Gordon said it was difficult to stay connected with her son as an adult — he wouldn’t always return calls right away or show up when invited over. He stayed with his mother most of last summer — an invitation she said had remained open — but he later moved back in with his partner in Scarborough.
Gordon spoke to her son on the phone the day before he died and said he told her he had been trying to stop drinking.
From past experiences, Gordon said that when her son went through alcohol withdrawal, he would become disoriented, at times hallucinating and hearing voices.
She said she told him on the phone: “If you’re going to stop drinking you need to be in the hospital.”
She also described what she’s been told by SIU investigators about what happened Wednesday. She told the Star that an off-duty paramedic saw Geisler in the parking lot near Danforth Avenue and Victoria Park Avenue just after noon; the SIU told her he had a knife and was trying to slit his wrists, and the bystander called for help.
It’s not clear what occurred after police arrived — the SIU, which investigates all instances of serious injury or death involving police, does not release details on ongoing investigations. In a press release Wednesday, the watchdog confirmed it was “believed that the man was in possession of an edged weapon” and that there was an “interaction” between the man and the officer. The SIU has not identified Geisler.
Gordon said she is kept up by the thought of her son’s last moments.
Toronto police have faced ongoing criticism about how they deal with calls for people in distress.
The service partners with local hospitals to pair mental health nurses with police officers as part of Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams (MCIT) to respond directly to calls for people in crisis. In cases involving weapons, police say they have specific procedures to assess the threat before a nurse can attend. It’s not clear if an MCIT was called in Geisler’s case.
In 2021, a new Toronto Community Crisis Service was launched by the city as a non-police response to people in crisis. The service’s mandate is to respond to non-emergency, non-violent calls, according to the city’s website.
Gordon was the one to receive the call from the SIU. She called Hoss Geisler to tell him their son was dead.
The mother said she was told she couldn’t go to the hospital to see him because he was to be taken immediately to the coroner’s office.
However, she was later contacted about whether she consented to having her son’s organs donated, which she agreed to. She said she can’t understand why that could happen but she couldn’t see her son.
“All I wanted to do was see him for five minutes,” she said.
For Hoss Geisler, it’s hard to comprehend what happened.
“I’ve got a simple question: I want to know why Andrew was killed and why they had to kill a boy that has never done anything to anybody, never hurt anybody. He was hurting himself at the time.”
He’s not concerned with whatever comes from the SIU investigation.
“Let them do their job,” he said. “They’re not going to bring my boy back. None of this is going to bring him back.”
“But I sure as hell ain’t going to sit here and just do nothing — I let people know what kind of hurt this is.”
If you are someone you know is in crisis, you can be connected to mental health services in Toronto by calling 2-1-1.
Other resources are available through the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/crisis-resources.
Crisis responders at Talk Suicide Canada are available nationwide, 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566 or by texting 45645 between 4 p.m. and midnight.
Correction — May 15, 2023: Andrew Geisler was shot dead by a police officer behind a busy shopping plaza in East York, not Scarborough as previously reported.
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