Raptors announcer credited with calming massive crowd after shooting

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TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors’ play-by-play announcer is winning widespread praise for calming a jittery crowd after a shooting at a jammed Nathan Phillips Square, convincing fans to remain strong and “stay together.”

As people at the back of the crowd fled gunshots in panic, Matt Devlin calmly announced a brief suspension of Raptors’ NBA Championship festivities on Monday, promising more information soon and reminding fans they were there to celebrate.

“This is about love, it’s about rejoicing,” he told the crowded square, with an estimated one million people in the vicinity.

Police later said four people suffered serious but not life-threatening gunshot wounds.

Devlin was credited with preventing panic from spreading.

“Amazing job … taking over the mic and keeping all under control during police response. You my sir settling the crowd saved (many) injuries, great work!” one Toronto police officer tweeted.

Devlin said in an interview he went to the side stage for information after hearing there was an emergency, and then asked Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Raptors’ owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, if he could make an announcement to keep everyone calm.

Devlin then told the crowd:

“We’re here to celebrate, which we will. But I just want everybody to just take a moment, please stay strong. There is an emergency that is being dealt with,” he said, speaking for about two minutes.

Devlin said in an interview he had an earpiece, but largely spoke off the cuff.

“I had … to make sure everybody was calm, because you don’t want that to trigger something else. Hopefully I was able to do that in some small way,” he said.

“I felt like I wanted to keep talking, because the longer that I talked, the calmer people would be. And hopefully that’s the case.”

Scott Reid, a former senior adviser to prime minister Paul Martin, had praise for the authorities’ overall response, and for Devlin in particular.

“The decision to concentrate immediately on quelling the specific risk of a public stampede — and to do it from the stage, interrupting the owner while shrewdly choosing to not mention a shooter. That all took balls. And brains,” Reid tweeted.

“Finally, giant props to @Matt_Devlin who, by definition, could not have known what was in motion but had the steel and professionalism to deliver that message, striking just the right balance. With the team, the city and the world watching. Impressive.”

The festivities quickly resumed as police continued their investigation and arrested a total of three suspects and seized two firearms.

Jack Rozdilsky, professor of disaster and emergency management at York University, said the dangerous episode was handled well by all.

“Authorities moved in quickly, they made decisive actions, they isolated the area. Somehow information was either relayed up to the stage or on the stage, maybe things were noticed and then the MC knew what to do immediately with public messaging.”

The Canadian Press