January 21, 2020

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Guns, drugs, violence... now homicide at the Windsor Hotel

Weeks after a Winnipeg Police Service inspector suggested that the city shut the entire establishment down, gunfire broke out in the entryway of the Windsor Hotel just before 3 a.m. Sunday, leaving three men shot, one fatally.

The bar had already served its last drink of the night, and Wayne Towns, who's owned the venerable downtown establishment since 2010, wasn't around. By all accounts, Towns said Monday, it had been a normal, unremarkable day at the inn.

Until it wasn't.

Yassin Abdu Ahmed.

Yassin Abdu Ahmed.

A group of people — none of whom lived at the hotel, Towns said — made their way into the building's unlocked vestibule, and soon, a fight broke out, spilling into the neighbouring parking lot: three men were shot and taken to hospital, where one of them, 20-year-old Yassin Abdu Ahmed, died, police say. Ahmed is the second person in the city to die by homicide so far in 2020.

Xavier Smith, who mentored a teenaged Ahmed in SWISH, a Basketball Manitoba summer program for inner-city kids, said he was an intelligent, funny kid who was driven to make a positive impact on his community. After moving to Winnipeg in 2010, Ahmed and his family lived in the North End.

"Words really can't define or explain someone's life," Smith said. "He was a positive kid who had a lot of potential."

The Spence Neighbourhood Association held a memorial gathering Monday night for Ahmed, who worked at the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre.

Bullet holes in the lobby of the Windsor Hotel on Monday.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Bullet holes in the lobby of the Windsor Hotel on Monday.

Opened under a different name in 1903, the Windsor became an established music venue, but in recent months, it's been a frequent stop for the Winnipeg Police Service, whose headquarters are a short walk away.

Over a three-day span last November, cops had seized several firearms, cash, and over $20,000 worth of illicit drugs; during the same span, a woman was hit in the barroom with the butt-end of a shotgun and threatened at gunpoint. That stretch led WPS Insp. Max Waddell to ponder the merit of pulling the Windsor's liquor licence, and suggesting its closure would be "a move in the right direction."

"(The Windsor) has been on our radar and continues to be on our radar," Const. Rob Carver of the WPS said Monday. He said police believe the incident began at the hotel, but he didn't specify whether the people involved were patrons or if they'd been guests.

For some residents and frequent patrons of the hotel and bar, the violence was startling, but not entirely unexpected.

Mat Perlman, the venue's former music booker, worked at the Windsor for six years before leaving for other opportunities in 2019. He said that like most bars, guests sometimes got rambunctious, but it didn't usually escalate to the point of violence.

"It was a little rough at times, but to the degree we've been hearing about over the last little while... it was nothing like that," he said.

Police markings appear on the door of the Windsor Hotel, where one of the first homicides of the year took place on Sunday.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Police markings appear on the door of the Windsor Hotel, where one of the first homicides of the year took place on Sunday.

Towns didn't dispute that police presence at the hotel had been higher of late: he said officers have recently stopped by once every few days to check on the bar and the 43 residents who pay a monthly rent. However, he was quick to point out that none of the people involved in the shooting stayed there, and to his knowledge, none had been in the bar earlier that night.

"Most residents have been here five to ten years," Towns said, sitting a few feet away from a window cracked by a pair of inch-wide bulletholes. "This was an aberration," he added.

"Typical downtown," said Gord Haywood, 67, who's lived at the Windsor for over a year.

Carver said the two other men who were shot are now in stable condition, but the police have yet to make any arrests in connection with Ahmed's death. Those with information relevant to the investigation are asked to contact 204-986-6508, or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-8477.

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
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Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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Updated on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 at 7:20 AM CST: Changes headline

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