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'We wanted for him to be found alive:' Sisters of man presumed killed searched for months

The sisters of a man presumed to have been killed after vanishing from Toronto’s gay village said they searched for him for months only to have their last hope snatched away this week when police charged a man with his murder.

Patricia Kinsman and Karen Coles told a news conference Friday that news of Bruce McArthur’s arrest came as a shock, but also brought respite from the worry and despair that had plagued them since their brother, Andrew Kinsman, went missing last June.

“It’s not what we wanted, we wanted for him to be found alive,” Coles said. “But at least now we know instead of spending every day thinking, wondering, worrying, ‘Is he injured? Is he hurt? Someone’s hurting him.”’

Patricia Kinsman said she and Coles were like second mothers to their brother and looked for him for six months, aided by his friends co-workers and even strangers. Their last search was on Dec. 9, she said.

Andrew Kinsman was “well-known in his community, he was a hard worker, he was loved by all,” Coles said.

Both sisters said they don’t know and had never heard of the man accused of killing their brother and Selim Esen, who also disappeared from the gay village last year. The men’s bodies have not been found.

McArthur, a 66-year-old Toronto man, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the case on Thursday and made a brief appearance in court Friday. He was returned to custody until Feb. 14.

Police have said they believe McArthur is responsible for the deaths of other men, though they did not say who or what led them to that conclusion. They said new evidence surfaced this week that gave them a “definitive link,” but did not elaborate further.

McArthur had sexual relationships with Kinsman and Esen and all three were on dating apps, police said.

Many in Toronto’s LGBTQ community will need time to process and grieve, said Greg Downer, a friend of Kinsman and the founder of a Facebook group called “TO Missing Rainbow Community Members.”

He acknowledged that many in the community have expressed frustration with how police handled the investigation but said he had come to trust their process and was grateful that a suspect had been found.

Others who live in, work in, or frequent the gay village expressed relief that an arrest had been made but said they’re angry police didn’t heed their concerns over a possible serial killer earlier.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders has defended the force’s handling of the case, saying officers had been working with the evidence they had at the time.

Alphonso King and his husband John Allan, who knew Kinsman and were among those who packed a downtown Toronto courtroom for McArthur’s brief Friday appearance, said there was hope for closure now that an arrest had been made in the case.

But the pair also said they felt police had put lives at risk by ignoring the community’s concerns over the disappearances for so long.

“The community tried to tell them, ‘We think it’s a serial killer, we think that the cases are related, we think that there’s a possibility that it was all tied to one of the (dating) apps or something like that, that there has to be a link,’ and they assured us that there wasn’t,” King said.

“They completely dismissed that notion. They guaranteed us the cases weren’t related, they guaranteed us there wasn’t a serial killer around,” Allan said. “So that’s why we’re pissed off.”

The couple said everyone who knew the missing men has been traumatized. Bereavement counselling was being offered through at least two community groups Friday.

Sina Shahlaee, who lives and works in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood and saw McArthur in the area, said it felt like police didn’t take the case seriously until it became too high-profile to ignore.

There has been more police presence in the area recently but it remains to be seen whether that will continue once the investigation is over, he said.

Shahlaee said he didn’t feel safe in the area after the two men vanished, adding he stopped going out at night. He then started carrying a personal safety alarm after a missing woman, 22-year-old Tess Richey, was found dead in a nearby building, a case police have said is unrelated.

The arrest has been “a relief,” he said. But it was also shocking to realize that the suspect was someone he had encountered in the neighbourhood, he said.

Now, he said, “what we want to know is what happened.”