Mall stabbings sparked by pair of shoes reflect deeper social issues: Winnipeg police

An assault that left four teenagers with stab wounds started with a confrontation over a pair of shoes — what police call an “extreme” decision, and suggest is a symptom of broader social challenges underpinning youth violent crime issues unfolding in the city.

“We’ve reported on some very violent offences involving young people and I hope that we’re not all just sitting back because this is now becoming a normal thing,” Winnipeg police Const. Jason Michalyshen said on Monday. 

“We should all be very, very concerned about why these individuals, or young people, are making such extreme decisions for so little.”

Michalyshen was responding to questions about an incident on Friday at CF Polo Park that left a group of four friends suffering from stab wounds while a 16-year-old was charged with assault.

Two 14-year-olds boys suffered serious injuries and were taken to hospital, while a 14-year-old and 13-year-old were treated at the mall and released.

A CF Polo Park spokesperson said via email on Monday that the mall takes “the safety of our guests and employees very seriously,” and said mall management is co-operating with police.

The boys didn’t know the accused, according to Michalyshen.

He said the incident started when a 16-year-old boy approached one of the 14-year-olds and became “fixated on a pair of running shoes” he was wearing.

There was a confrontation as the 16-year-old pulled out a machete-style knife and stabbed the boy, police said, and his friends rushed in and were also stabbed. Officers found and arrested the teenager blocks away from the mall.

The injuries of two of the 14-year-olds were serious enough that police had to apply tourniquets at the mall to slow the bleeding before the pair could be taken to hospital.

“We’re talking about a random incident and it does appear [the] bottom line is over a pair of shoes,” said Michalyshen. “Really sad…. Thankfully all the victims involved are recovering.”

It’s the latest in a series of violent incidents involving young people in Winnipeg.

A young man was arrested and charged in connection with pointing a 3D gun at someone at Polo Park in December.

On April 18, a 16-year-old boy attacked a 17-year-old boy at Kildonan Place mall. The 16-year-old bear sprayed the older teen, who then shot the younger teen with a replica firearm, police said. Investigators said neither knew each other.

A transit bus stops at a bus stop outside a mall.
Passengers board a Winnipeg Transit bus outside CF Polo Park on Portage Avenue on Monday. Police the same 16-year-old who allegedly stabbed four teens at the mall on Friday was involved in three violent robberies of pizza delivery drivers last month. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A 15-year-old and 16-year-old were charged in February with numerous offences. Police said they bear sprayed nearly a dozen people they didn’t know across three locations, including on a Winnipeg Transit bus, inside a business and at a recreation centre.

Investigators allege the same 16-year-old who was involved in the CF Polo Park stabbings was also involved in three violent robberies of pizza drivers in April.

In two cases drivers sustained stabbing injuries, including one driver who required surgery who was hospitalized in unstable condition, police said

Michalyshen said there are a number of “super concerning” factors correlated with a perceived rise in violent crime involving young people.

Shoppers walk through a mall.
A parent pushes a young child in a stroller through CF Polo Park on Monday. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

“It’s not as if there’s some big payout here for them, you know, a pair of running shoes and sometimes it’s even for less,” he said.

“There’s something else deeper going on in their lives and we have to understand that, we have to figure that out as a community so that they are making better choices in the future.”

Michalyshen suggest policing serves a public safety role but can’t necessarily help young teens involved in violent crime turn things around.

“It’s one thing to make an arrest … but there are other amazing resources in our community that are supporting young people in particular so that they are making better choices moving forward,” he said.

“We have to continue to fight that battle so that we do reduce involvement at a young age, because like anything else, [we] start off small and if we don’t nip it in the bud it just gets worse and worse and worse as individuals grow older.”

His advice to anyone who is confronted in public by someone they worry could turn aggressive is to run away, yell or scream, or go into a nearby business and “alert as many people as possible.”

A police constable speaks with media.
Winnipeg police Const. Jason Michalyshen suggests there are broader social issues linked to youth violent crime in the city. (Travis Golby/CBC)