John and Doreen Di Nino, who were attacked by Francesco Villi during the Vaughan condo shooting

The Killer in Suite 104

At their luxury high-rise in Vaughan, Doreen and John Di Nino endured years of harassment from their neighbour, Francesco Villi. His worst vitriol was reserved for the condo’s board, of which John was president. But no one suspected that Villi was plotting their murder

By Lauren McKeon| Photography by Chloë Ellingson
| August 30, 2023

In late 2018, John Di Nino became president of his condo board at Bellaria Residences, in Vaughan. At 52 years old, he was inching toward retirement from his leadership job at the Amalgamated Transit Union, and he wanted to get more involved. He and his wife, Doreen, had been living in the penthouse suite at Bellaria’s Tower II for a year, and they loved it. It was part of a leafy gated development at Jane and Rutherford that contained roughly 880 units spread over four lavishly decorated towers. Bellaria was loaded with amenities: a wine cellar, a movie theatre, four gyms, Pilates and yoga studios, a training pool, and two kilometres of forested trails. Most of all, John and Doreen enjoyed the sense of community. Their new neighbours were so friendly, saying hello on the elevators and striking up conversations in the hallways. But there was one exception: a cranky resident in suite 104 named Francesco Villi, who had a litany of complaints about the building and its board. In his late 60s, with a crop of pewter hair and deeply etched frown lines, Villi would grouse about corruption and bad governance while brandishing the cane he sometimes used to get around.

Initially, Di Nino considered Villi harmless, but it didn’t take him long to realize he’d been wrong. As soon as Di Nino became president of the board, Villi began stopping him in the common areas to complain, especially about problems he said he was experiencing with his unit. If he couldn’t find Di Nino, he’d use the building’s intercom to call him at home. Villi believed that the electrical room beneath his condo was causing bad air quality, incessant noise, vibrations and toxic electromagnetic waves. Over and over, Di Nino advised Villi to speak with property management, but Villi wasn’t satisfied. He began calling the Di Ninos’ suite in the middle of the night, insisting that the board president come listen to the strange racket and bear witness to the foul odour. Eventually, Di Nino relented.

He met Villi in the lobby one morning as promised but reminded him that it wasn’t the board president’s job to do inspections. If Villi insisted, then he felt it best that a security guard accompany them. Di Nino wasn’t afraid of Villi, exactly, but he didn’t trust his grasp on reality. Di Nino’s terms of engagement incensed Villi, and he refused them entry. He began routinely calling Di Nino a “bastard,” accusing him of being part of the Mafia, of being part of a conspiracy against him, of wanting to slowly murder him. Villi spewed the insults to Di Nino’s face, through his phone, to other residents and online. His Facebook page became one long hate scroll. He made references to the Old Testament, an eye for an eye.

Francesco Villi killed five people in a mass shooting at a Vaughan condo building
Frank Villi had a volatile temper and frequently posted rants on Facebook, slandering the members of his condo board. Photo via Facebook

Villi’s online rants were just one part of what he considered a righteous battle against a corrupt condo board. To the board, and many Bellaria residents, they were a turning point—drops of poison slowly corroding their peaceful community. Still, Di Nino figured that every building had someone like Villi. He and the other board members decided to deal with the man as best they could, hoping that one day he’d relent or even sell his condo. Meanwhile, Villi was plotting his own solution to the dispute, one that involved revenge, a gun and an unshakable sense that he was doing the right thing.

 

Toronto is an increasingly vertical city. This year alone, a record 25,000 units are slated for completion across the GTA, and between 2024 and 2028, another 100,000 units are expected to be ready for occupancy. When someone purchases a condo, they’re not only buying their unit but also joining a collective of owners who have individual shares in the condominium corporation. At last count, there were more than 2,700 registered condominium corporations in the city. Those corporations are governed by elected boards of directors that make decisions about shared money and living conditions on behalf of residents—an arrangement that is rife with opportunity for conflict.

People volunteer to join condo boards for various reasons: to make a ­contribution to their community, to fill a void when no one else will step up or, more often, to exercise some control over how their money is being spent. Regardless of their motivations, there’s one trait most board members share: they can be ill-prepared to deal with the personal and financial conflicts that emerge when people are stacked like dominoes.

Related: Toronto’s condo towers have become hotbeds of lawsuits, harassment and fistfights

Most clashes used to revolve around people, pets or parking, says Toronto lawyer Jonathan Fine, who specializes in condo law. Now, they’re about anything and everything. A condo’s property management may handle the day-to-day ­problems—if your Amazon package goes missing, say—but the responsibility to resolve root issues lies with the board. Increasingly, when the resolution isn’t to an owner’s liking—or the process moves too slowly—owners feel that it’s their duty to police the board.


Villi ramped up his harassment campaign. Nobody could escape him. By 2021, four of the condo’s property managers had quit; one of them lasted a single day, locking herself in her office as Villi screamed through the door
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  When things turn sour, a well-­functioning board may try discussing the problem with the owner, sending letters or even arranging third-party mediation. In 2015, the Ontario government passed the Protecting Condominium Owners Act, which introduced basic mandatory training for condo board members, offered through the Condominium Authority of Ontario. The CAO also operates an online-only tribunal that ideally keeps the parties from going to court. Its scope includes disputes over things such as noise and storage; it doesn’t usually cover conflicts that have escalated into harassment or violence. Such issues must be addressed in the courts, a move that can intensify tensions and cost the condominium tens of thousands of dollars.

Many condo feuds start out like the battle at Bellaria: a resident complains about a neighbour, the board or the building itself. Then, if someone feels wronged, things escalate—in ways that are sometimes petty, sometimes creepy and sometimes violent. In June, the CAO issued a decision on a dispute between two North York neighbours over cigarette smoke. One had started to harass the other over the smell of smoke even though the condo’s by-laws didn’t prohibit smoking. The anti-smoker hollered, “Knock it off!” through the hallway, then resorted to insults: “Trailer trash! Psycho! Idiot!” When that didn’t work, she posted notices throughout the building and followed up relentlessly with the board and property management. Eventually, she called the police on her neighbour and made a bogus report to child services.

In 2016, Fine represented a Toronto condo board in court after an owner attempted to instigate a fight at the board’s AGM and began photographing the building’s staff. The woman claimed that one employee wanted to kill her and others were harming her pet. As time went on, she accused staff of injecting flies and gas into her unit and warned that they were “going to pay.” Eventually, she began sleeping on the lobby’s sofa to monitor the building. The condo board sought a court order to keep her away from staff and common areas, which was granted, and a forced mental health examination, which was not. Cases like this one are the product of living in a crowded city where so many people face mental health challenges without the resources or ability to get help.

Housing issues are inherently charged. Our homes are our biggest financial investment. They’re also where we expect to find sanctuary. Any threat to that can be catastrophic to our sense of safety, security, self. Still, for most of us, there are uncrossable lines. The worst behaviour we can imagine scales from an angry email to a public tantrum but stops short of physical violence. Villi’s actions were disturbing, intimidating and strange. Yet most of his neighbours didn’t believe that he was dangerous. They saw him as a grumpy old man, prone to grumpy-old-man conspiracy theories. Few of them knew the extent of his troubling past. And even fewer knew that he owned a gun.

 

In 2021, Frank Villi posted a sepia-toned photograph of him and his mother on Facebook: a cherub-cheeked Villi gazes solemnly at the camera. The caption reads, “I have been fighting demons since I was a very young child and still I am in the same struggle.” His grandfather had fought in the First World War, his father in the Second. Seeking a different kind of life, Villi emigrated to Canada from Italy in 1966, at age 17, with his family. The following year, he got a job in Toronto and his first car. By 1973, he’d started Villi Construction, a small Mississauga-based general contracting company.

The business seemed to set off his troubles. In November 1973, he injured his right knee and twisted his back on a job site. The next year, he hurt his back a second time. Then came the car accidents: he was rear-ended once in July 1986 and twice in July 1990. A few months later, he fell off a ladder at work. Peppered throughout these mishaps were long stints of injury-induced joblessness, bouts of depression and insomnia, marriage, the births of his three daughters, and divorce. Villi would later claim that he decided to abandon society around this time because the world was increasingly moving toward lies and corruption. He bought a 34-acre plot of land in rural Ontario, where he built a six-bedroom house and installed a large pond. Throughout 1992, he travelled into the city often for work or to see his doctor, complaining about pain in his lower back. Two more car accidents followed in 1993. His health insurance paid for time off, but Villi slipped back into depression and received a diagnosis of adjustment disorder—an excessive emotional reaction to a stressful life event that can prompt anxiety, hopelessness and reckless conduct. Sometimes, he told his doctor, he thought about suicide.

When his insurance payments stopped in 1995, Villi took the insurer to court to have the cheques reinstated. The adjudicator didn’t find him to be credible—he lied about how often he was working as well as the extent of his previous injuries—and he lost. By 1998, Villi was bankrupt, behind on his child support payments and back in court on appeal. The hearing was heated—Villi hurled epithets—but his temper didn’t sway the court. He lost again and, eventually, returned to work.

A decade after leaving the city, Villi was ready to come back and try once more. He was leading a lonely life: his daughters chose to keep their distance after what they described as years of domestic abuse, aggression, and Jekyll-and-Hyde behaviour. For his part, Villi claimed that his children had abandoned him. In many ways, Bellaria was his chance to start over.

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Like the Di Ninos and many other Bellaria Tower II residents, Villi intended to live out his retirement years there. He was one of the building’s first residents, moving into his new home—suite 414—in October of 2008, while some areas were still under construction. The troubles began immediately. He alleged that a garbage room was improperly vented into the underground parking area, causing the entire building to reek. When the venting was extended, Villi seemed convinced that his advocacy had saved the day. Soon, he took on the self-appointed role of protector and spy, claiming to represent disgruntled owners in his pursuit of a better building. At one point, he joined the condominium board, but it didn’t last long: the other members kicked him out. His agenda of complaints had grown so vast, and his behaviour so quarrelsome, that they could barely get any work done.

Over the next several years, Villi ping-ponged into and out of the building, selling his unit, then buying suite 104, then moving out because of what he described, yet again, as a chronic rank smell, and renting to a tenant for a stretch. In 2015, he put his unit up for sale but took it down five months later and resumed living there. Then, in 2017, the same year the Di Ninos moved in, Villi learned that his unit was above the electrical room, which he believed to be the source of the stench. He also became obsessed with the possible side effects of the machinery’s electro­magnetic waves, scouring the internet for proof of their danger and finding it, often via dubious sources. Each click was both a wound and a salve, confirmation that he had uncovered the truth.

Villi was sure that the room produced “dirty electricity,” a type of electronic pollution that some say causes a bevy of debilitating symptoms: sleep disturbances, fatigue, rashes, tingling, headaches, brain fog, depression, asthma, cancer and more. In this, he was not alone. According to the World Health Organization, thousands of people around the world believe they suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Most cases are self-reported, and science has little understanding of what might cause EHS—although some studies have shown that the symptoms may be traced back to pre-existing psychiatric conditions as well as to the extreme stress that comes with worrying about electromagnetic health effects.

Within a year of discovering the location of the electrical unit, Villi was convinced that he was suffering from most, if not all, of the purported EHS symptoms. By 2018, he’d secured the room’s blueprints and decided that it had been improperly constructed. According to Villi, a drop ceiling in the electrical room—which would, in theory, provide a barrier between it and his unit—could solve all his health problems. He offered to pony up $10,000, his estimated cost to fix it, as long as the board and management agreed to one intractable condition: Villi would supervise the construction crew. When the board refused, his agitation metastasized. He believed that the only reason anybody would decline his offer was if they were trying to silence him. Put another way, the electrical room was a plot to slowly and systematically murder him.

 

Villi filmed hundreds of interactions with building security, property managers and the condo’s six board members. He often posted the videos to his Facebook page. To others, the videos were proof of Villi’s aggressive, obsessive behaviour. By then, he’d started to scream in the hallways at 4 a.m. He continued to call the Di Ninos in the middle of the night. He told a front desk worker that he’d soon be walking around with a baseball bat. One property manager quit. A superintendent asked to be transferred. The board followed its protocol and sent Villi several warning letters, which he ignored.

By the late summer of 2018, the new property manager had had enough. She sent an email to the board asking them to add suite 104 to the agenda. About Villi, she wrote: “This man is mentally ill and he is getting everyone around him sick, too.” Rita Camilleri, the board’s 50-­something vice-president, was also done with Villi. She worked in finance but had joined the board after she spearheaded a nearby stormwater pond project and caught the community­engagement bug. She’d signed up to keep Bellaria an enviable place to live, not to be harassed. Now, Camilleri sent the rest of the board an email suggesting that they take legal action against Villi. “This is not tolerable,” she wrote. “And we need big guns to deliver a message.”

With the board’s blessing and at the property manager’s urging, she consulted a lawyer. And, in November, the condo corporation made its next move. They asked the court to order Villi to comply with Section 117 of the Condominium Act, which states that no resident can engage in abusive, intimidating or otherwise harassing behaviour against the board, property management, workers or other residents. The legal action only made Villi angrier. In the spring of 2019, he fired back with a $1-million lawsuit against the condo corporation, the property management company and the City of Vaughan. It outlined his problems with the electrical room and what he saw as the board’s catastrophic inaction. He further claimed that the board had poisoned everyone in the building against him. They were harassing him, he said, not the other way around.

Villi didn’t get the resolution he wanted. In October of 2019, a judge ordered him to stop recording the board members without their consent, to not post anything on his social media about them, to report problems only to property management and to do so only via email. In response, Villi unsuccessfully sued his lawyer, claiming that she was a criminal who’d conspired with the board of directors to take him down and defraud him of his legal fees. He visited York Regional Police to report a multi-person plot to torment him, saying his life was in danger.

At the end of 2020, Villi put all his energy into launching another lawsuit, this time against the board members, demanding millions in damages. He later amended it to include a long list of medications he said he’d started taking since moving into 104, including several types of blood pressure pills, cholesterol pills and a puffer. His doctor and a psychologist both wrote letters to the court affirming his constant health complaints and deteriorating physical and mental state. Although Villi saw the doctor often, he reportedly never followed up on repeated referrals for counselling to address his anxiety. He bristled at any suggestion that he was mentally ill. It was enough for him that a doctor confirmed he was suffering; he could use it as further proof that he was being persecuted. “I, Francesco Villi, am not a threat to them!!!” he scrawled across his lawsuit in blaring capital letters. “They are a threat to me.”

The hallway of the Bellaria Tower II residential building, where Frank Villi shot six people in one of Canada's worst mass shootings
Villi would often pace the hallways of Bellaria, ranting about his unit and yelling that the board was trying to kill him
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Meanwhile, at home, he ramped up his harassment campaign. A security guard reported that he’d come to the lobby and started shouting that everybody would burn in hell for selling him out. He frequently screamed at condo staff, calling them criminals and frauds. He called one property manager a “bitch” for trying to defend Camilleri. One Sunday morning, when Di Nino would regularly leave to pick up his mother for brunch, Villi waited for him in the parking-­level lobby so he could spit obscenities; he was still there and still fuming when Di Nino returned. Nobody could escape him. By 2021, four property managers had quit; one of them lasted a single day, locking herself in her office as Villi screamed through the door. The board and property management team cared increasingly less about helping Villi and more about protecting themselves. So they did the only thing they could think of: they took him back to court.

A judge determined that Villi was in contempt of the 2019 ruling and ordered him to pay the condo corporation $29,500 for the board’s legal costs. Villi complied and briefly eased his behaviour before suddenly demanding the money back, with interest, a few months later. The board had lied, he contended, and had convinced everybody else to lie too. To Di Nino, Camilleri and the others, his accusations seemed ludicrous, but not everybody was on the board’s side. Villi could be charming and sympathetic; he often claimed that he’d done nothing wrong, that he never wanted to offend anybody. One woman who attended a board meeting later wrote to him, “This won’t get resolved. They hate you.” Another supporter, a former board member who claimed that the board had also slandered him, said its members ignored residents’ concerns, ruled through fear and intimidation, and used corporation money as their “personal piggy bank.”

It didn’t help that the legal volleyball had forced the board to pass a special assessment to recoup $30,570 in legal fees. Plenty of residents balked at paying the extra cash on top of their regular maintenance fee increase. One of them was Tony Cutrone, a real estate agent and former resident of Bellaria Tower I who is also part-owner of his mother’s condo in Tower II. He thought the board lacked transparency and decided to run for a spot. He lost, but in Cutrone, Villi saw a potential ally. He reached out, and they struck up regular phone conversations. The more Cutrone talked to Villi, the more he caught glimpses of Mr. Hyde, but he decided that Villi was ­misunderstood—until Cutrone got his hands on some of the board’s public records and realized that Villi was obscuring the full story. The board had gotten the fire department to visit and had hired air-quality inspectors and electricians. Everybody had said that there was nothing demonstrably wrong with Villi’s unit.

When Cutrone asked Villi about it, the older man began screaming, “You’re one of them!” He unleashed a river of profanity, and nothing Cutrone said could placate him. They didn’t speak again until after Cutrone’s father passed away, in July 2021, and Villi called to offer his condolences. He was kind and apologetic, and the men began speaking again. Cutrone urged Villi to move into long-term care, offering to help sell Villi’s place, commission-­free, and promising to visit.

In December, Villi finally agreed to sell—if Cutrone visited him on Christmas. But Cutrone’s holiday schedule was already packed, so he promised Villi he’d come for a long visit in early January. The refusal lit Villi’s temper. He started yelling, “You have to respect me! You have to respect me like you’d respect your father!” When Christmas came, Cutrone dropped off a box of chocolates at the concierge desk as a present and a peace offering. Villi didn’t pick up the gift until January. It did nothing to mollify him. In fact, it only seemed to make him angrier. He took the box of chocolates to Cutrone’s mother’s unit, knocked on the door and pitched the gift at her, yelling, “Your son’s the reason your husband died!” After that, Cutrone and his mother were both on Villi’s enemies list. In the spring of 2022, Cutrone ran for the board again, but this time he praised the members while Villi watched. Cutrone didn’t expect to win. Now that he’d had a taste of Villi’s antics, he wanted to commend the board in public and apologize for having criticized them. He’d been dealing with his former friend’s rage for months; they’d experienced it for years.


Thoughts pinballed through John’s mind: Is that a real gun? It looks like a toy. Is this a joke? He wouldn’t shoot. He just wants to scare us. Three small words escaped Doreen’s mouth: “Oh my god”

  To his surprise, Cutrone was elected. He’d hoped that his speech would show Villi how his behaviour cost him allies. But Villi saw only betrayal. As 2022 progressed, he felt backed into a corner. His behaviour grew more erratic, his harassment even more pervasive. Di Nino and Camilleri took out peace bonds to keep him away from them. Meanwhile, Villi visited the police again to report the condo’s alleged criminal behaviour. When that didn’t work, he began picketing outside the building in his pyjamas, wearing signs that called his enemies murderers. On social media, he posted photos of himself with red eyes, globs of snot running down his face; he kept his phlegm in plastic wrap and posted photos of that too. He called his city councillor, Mario Racco, and insisted that he visit his unit to experience the vibrations. (Racco complied and felt that nothing was out of the ordinary but promised Villi he’d investigate.)

Faced with an untenable living situation dictated by Villi, the condo board decided to make use of its one remaining legal option. Back in 2021, when Villi was found to be in contempt, they’d asked to stay the penalty phase of his verdict: he’d paid the $29,500 in legal fees, and his behaviour had, for a time, improved—besides, he was their neighbour. But now they needed him out. In late summer, they petitioned the court to reinstate the penalty and force Villi to sell his unit. It was an extraordinary move, reserved for the irreversible breakdown of a condo community. Initially, the judge urged them to try mediation. For weeks, Villi refused to participate. The board was astonished when, on December 9, 2022, he showed up at the building’s Christmas party and began loading food onto his plate.

Everyone was there: John and Doreen Di Nino; Rita Camilleri and her partner, Vittorio Panza, a retired realtor who had just delighted the table by singing beautifully in Italian; Tony Cutrone and his wife, Kendra; Naveed Dada, another real estate agent, who had been a board member on and off since 2010; and Russell and Lorraine Manock, who lived on the fifth floor. Russell had recently retired from the board and was excitedly telling everyone that he was about to retire from his accounting business too, so that he and Lorraine could travel. When the friends saw Villi, they collectively tensed, but Di Nino cautioned everybody to avoid confrontation. Villi approached the group—despite being legally forbidden to—and wished them each a Merry Christmas. He said he just wanted to get along, and he shook their hands. Only Di Nino, who had recently undergone surgery and was using a walker, refused, saying he couldn’t let go of his mobility aid. Of all the strange things Villi had done, this brief peace offering struck Di Nino as one of the strangest.

 

On the afternoon of December 18, 2022, Villi posted his final video to Facebook. In it, he’s sitting at his dining table, a pile of documents spread out beside a bottle of San Pellegrino. One of his arms rests on a placemat illustrated with grapes and a bottle of wine. A crease furrows an angry 11 into his brow, and the black strap that keeps him from losing his wire-rimmed glasses loops in front of his face, swaying in concert with his agitation. The 16-­minute video lists his usual complaints against his usual list of enemies, punctuated with the usual insults: “Liars! Bastards! Idiots!” He maintains that he only wants peace and comfort and that he has dedicated his life to love and respect for humanity. He insists that the board is triumphing and that everyone but him is too afraid to speak up. “I will speak until my last breath against these criminals,” he declares.

Villi and the board were set to face off the next morning in court, after which Villi would likely be given three months to sell his unit. Camilleri saw the video and called Di Nino to discuss it, wondering what they should do about this latest violation of the order. Should they bring it up in court? But Villi never intended for the board to make it there. A few hours after he posted the video, just before 7 p.m., he loaded his Beretta semi-automatic pistol, walked out the door of suite 104 and pulled the fire alarm—he didn’t want anybody to be able to use the elevators. Then, he made his way up the stairs to the 16th floor, where Camilleri and Panza lived, and knocked on the door. When Camilleri answered, he shot her, then Panza. A neighbour heard the gunshots, saw that Villi had a weapon and called 911. Soon after Villi left Camilleri and Panza’s unit, the caller heard another gunshot. Villi had walked a few doors down the hall to Naveed Dada’s home and shot him too. Dada survived long enough to dial 911, less than a minute after his neighbour had placed the first call for help. Police were on their way, but Villi was already in the stairwell, heading to the penthouse.

Related: This Ontario gunsmith’s pistol ended up in the hands of a murderer

John and Doreen Di Nino were getting ready to say goodbye to their dinner guests—three of their former neighbours—when they heard the fire alarm sound. The guests decided to wait in the Di Ninos’ living room, which sits tucked to one side of their open-concept space. Not wanting to walk down 17 flights of stairs, they listened for the intercom announcement that would tell them it was safe to leave. There was a knock at the door. When Doreen stood up to investigate, John, still recovering from surgery, cautioned her to be ­careful—if there was a fire, the doorknob might be scalding. It was cool to the touch, but Doreen didn’t recognize the figure she saw through the peephole: Villi was wearing a hoodie pulled down over his face. She opened the door, and suddenly she and John registered that it was Villi—and that he was holding a gun.

Thoughts pinballed through John’s mind: Is that a real gun? It looks like a toy. Is this a joke? He wouldn’t shoot. He just wants to scare us. Three small words escaped Doreen’s mouth: “Oh my god.” She felt her head lurch backward, then her body fall. Blood was running through her fingers where she clutched her face. Her foot, she realized, was in an unlucky spot, jamming open the door and allowing Villi to take a step inside. It all happened so fast that John didn’t even know Villi had pulled the trigger until he saw Doreen crumple. When he next looked up, it was into the barrel of the Beretta. The men stared at each other; Villi had a clear shot, but no bullet came. John still doesn’t know if the gun misfired or if Villi hesitated. An instant later, John grabbed the crystal vase off the table next to him and hurled it at Villi. It shattered in a constellation of glass. Next, he threw a candy dish filled with Christmas chocolates. Doreen saw them scatter around her, cheerful foil wrappers glinting on the floor.

The Bellaria penthouse where Doreen De Nino was shot in the face by Frank Villi
On the night of the shooting, the Di Ninos were hosting friends in their penthouse
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Now the Di Ninos’ friends were launching whatever they could at their attacker: family keepsakes, souvenirs from Italy, the bric-a-brac of John and Doreen’s shared life. When Villi took a step backward to shield himself, exiting the entryway, one of their friends rushed the door and hauled Doreen away, allowing them to finally shut and lock it, barricading Villi outside. John frantically dialled 911. Villi’s bullet had entered just under the right side of Doreen’s jaw and exited through the base of her skull, lodging itself in their balcony door. Their friends brought her one towel after another, struggling to staunch the bleeding. Doreen stayed stubbornly conscious. Oh, look, she tried to tell everybody, holding a small object she’d fished from her mouth, I lost a tooth. It was 7:22 p.m. The entire altercation had lasted minutes, but to John it felt like a second—and then like hours. He called 911 again. Where the fuck was the ambulance? He didn’t realize that, as long as Villi was out there with his gun, only police could enter the building.

Villi kept on moving. Until the Di Ninos, nobody had fought back. But, if the penthouse scene had given him pause, that hesitation evaporated quickly. He worked his way down 12 flights of stairs, to the Manocks’ suite, and fired at Russell and Lorraine. Villi had now shot six people. He’d targeted the homes of the current board members and a retired one, but there were other people on his list. He knew where Cutrone’s mother lived. He knew where some of the board’s family members lived. He knew a lot.

Three minutes later, a police officer who was canvassing the building saw Villi attempting to gain access to a unit on the third floor. He shouted, and when Villi turned around, the cop realized that the man was holding a gun. Seeing it, the officer raised his own weapon, shouting again at Villi. “Drop the gun! Do not move.” Villi did neither. Instead, he told the officer to shoot him. “I do not want to shoot you!” the cop responded. “Drop the gun!” But Villi raised it, appearing ready to kill again. The officer shot four times, hitting Villi twice in the torso. Villi stumbled to the right and dropped his gun. For a moment, he leaned against the wall, then he collapsed, dead. Other officers quickly arrived in the hallway and started CPR, but Villi couldn’t be resuscitated. They carried him into the lobby, blood dripping onto the marble floors, and out the front doors. Later that night, when residents were allowed back in the building, Villi’s blood was still there. They had to step around it.

After Villi was shot, paramedics were finally allowed into the building to take Doreen to the hospital. John was so shaken that he came out into the hallway still holding his cordless phone; police mistook it for a gun and pinned him against the wall. John quickly told them what he’d seen—and who else to check on. Police soon knocked on Cutrone’s mother’s door, asking if her son was there, checking to see if he was still alive. Huddled safely in his home, Cutrone called the other board members again and again, each time hoping one would pick up. John did the same from the hospital, Doreen’s two children flanking him, all of them praying that Doreen would survive her emergency surgery. Both men eventually realized that Villi had shot them all. In total, six people had died: Rita Camilleri and Vittorio Panza, Russell and Lorraine Manock, Naveed Dada, and Frank Villi himself. The next morning at court, the condo corporation’s lawyer requested that the motion to force Villi to sell be stayed. There was nobody left to fight.

 

In December 21, three days after the shooting, politicians, mourners and religious leaders gathered in the courtyard at Vaughan City Hall for an evening vigil. Roughly 100 people stood in the crowd, clutching candles. Families, neighbours and strangers listened as the city’s mayor, Steven Del Duca, addressed the crowd. In a stilted speech, he promised that Vaughan was strong and resilient. The community would heal, he said, when the time was right—that wasn’t now, though. Now was a time for grief. York’s chief of police, Jim MacSween, also promised support. Some of the victims’ friends found comfort in those words. Others, like Tony Cutrone and his wife, found the vigil insincere, a political photo op. They left early.

In the days following his rampage through Bellaria, Villi was alternately dismissed, exposed and celebrated. His daughters released a statement asking for their names to be withheld from news reports and reiterating his history of abuse. They said that they’d tried to help him over and over again, only to be rebuffed, and had eventually cut off all contact. But a small, vocal pocket of the internet treated Villi as a David-like hero. Many people, most of whom had little knowledge of the events of the past several years, related to his feelings of being bullied by a powerful board. Comments such as “That’s what happens when you push someone to their limits” filled the space below articles.

Cutrone scrolled through them in disbelief. In the absence of all but the sparsest context, Villi’s anger had resonated with dozens of condo residents. They praised his actions, creating a digital vortex of outrage. During his life, few people on social media had paid attention to Villi’s conspiracy theories; after his death, his Facebook posts received a torrent of support. And it wasn’t just on social media. One former board member—the same one who had claimed that the board were bullies who’d kicked him out—defended Villi to the media, stressing that he wasn’t a monster. “I think he was someone who was failed by the system. For it to get to this level—I don’t understand.”

It took 11 days for York Region’s victim services to arrive at the building for a community meeting and another five months to start offering on-site counselling. In the immediate aftermath, some residents gathered on their own, attempting to comfort one another. One of the residents who joined the impromptu group counselling sessions was Jack Rozdilsky, a York University professor who studies the response to human-induced disasters like mass shootings. He was appalled at the slow, uncoordinated reaction by various levels of government. He was at home in Bellaria Tower II during the shooting and says he saw things that night that he can’t forget. He won’t say more. He started seeing a therapist in February. He has also spoken out about the need to learn from what happened at Bellaria, one of ­Ontario’s worst mass shootings. “We were exposed to media outside our doors and crime scene clean-up and forensic and homicide investigators,” he said. “But where was the army of social, mental and recovery victim support in the aftermath? This second army never showed up.”

The front entrance of the Bellaria Tower II residential complex, where Francesco Villi shot six people in one of Canada's worst mass shootings
When residents were finally allowed back into Bellaria’s Tower II, Villi’s blood was still there. They had to step around it

York Region’s victim services says it doesn’t have the kinds of resources needed to sufficiently address a mass shooting. The non-profit organization gets an average of 40 new referrals a day and has 11 full-time staff; of those, only six are full-time crisis counsellors. Executive director Gillian Freeman has said she made the tough decision to focus on victims’ families in the ­immediate aftermath and accepted that it was the best her organization could do. Mario Racco, the city councillor who visited Villi’s suite, told me he put forward a member’s resolution on mental health. Passed in March, it called, in part, for the city to explore more funding options to support victim services. While the goals of the resolution are worthy, its actions are not yet measurable—how much funding will be freed up remains to be seen.

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John Di Nino has thought a lot about mental health since the shooting—about his, about that of his fellow residents and about Villi’s. He is clear on a few things: he believes that society needs to better support victims of violence. The counselling shouldn’t stop when people’s loved ones are laid to rest but should extend far past that. What happened at Bellaria, he says, should push governments to rethink gun control and criminal reform. But he’s less sure about Villi, whose name he tries to avoid saying, and the explanation for his actions. Most gun owners, he tells me, will never commit a violent crime, and neither will most people who have mental health issues. Put those things together, though, and he knows that can be a recipe for disaster. But this is the question that most often cycles through his mind: What if some people are just plain evil? He often thinks that last factor, more than any of the others, best explains what happened on December 18.

It took John seven weeks to return to Bellaria—and it was only because Doreen insisted. When he wasn’t sleeping at the hospital, John stayed with his brother. In the beginning of her recovery, Doreen could communicate only using a whiteboard: her mouth was wired shut, and she was using a feeding tube. The first thing she asked: What happened to him? She felt relief when John told her that Villi was dead. The second: Who else was shot? For weeks, John wouldn’t tell her. He didn’t know how she would react or whether it would impede her healing. There was no TV in the critical care unit; he could dodge the question. But, when the hospital prepared to move her to the ICU, he knew he couldn’t avoid the subject any longer. He brought her children into the room and, together, they told her. “I felt another break in my heart,” she says. She wanted to go home.

Their first day back was a Friday. Doreen felt a little shaky walking down their hallway, remembering the last time she’d been there, on a stretcher, and why. But, as soon as she made it into their suite and locked the door, she felt at ease. For John, however, those first days back were horrible. He pictured his friends in pools of blood. He was afraid to bump into Villi even though he knew that was impossible. He didn’t want to leave the suite; he didn’t want to go to the garbage chute; he didn’t want to travel through the building to get to their car. But, on Wednesday evening, Doreen told him to get out of his sweats and put on something decent. Victim services was holding a community meeting. “We’re going downstairs,” she told him. “We need to show everybody that, if I can do it, so can they.”

Bellaria itself has been slow to recover: it took weeks before the bullet hole in the Di Ninos’ penthouse was fixed and, because the York police investigation was ongoing, six months before the wallpaper was redone and the carpeting replaced. The question of how to move on when there are reminders everywhere often feels unanswerable. Cutrone remains on the board and has started counselling to help him deal with both his grief and his suffocating survivor’s guilt. Doreen goes to physiotherapy twice a week and is waiting for the surgery that will reconstruct her jaw. Sometimes, memories of that night overwhelm John, and he spends entire days bawling. But the strangest thing, he says, is that he can no longer go out in public without holding Doreen’s hand. He says he knows how it looks: two old farts walking around like teenage lovebirds. But this is something else. This is saying, I’m so happy you’re alive without speaking any words. This is, I need to hang on to you right now so that I know you survived too.


This story appears in the September 2023 issue of Toronto Life magazineTo subscribe for just $39.99 a year, click here. To purchase single issues, click here.

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