On Wednesday morning, as he made his way to school, Shammah Jolayemi was forced into a black Jeep Wrangler by three men.
Nearby pedestrians told police they heard the 14-year-old screaming “help me” as three men shoved him into the vehicle. He would be held by his captors for almost 40 hours for, what police say, is a massive drug debt owed by his stepbrother.
“We believe the motive was because of his older brother's involvement in a drug rip off worth over $4 million,” Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said during a Friday morning press conference. “This is speculation but it’s obvious they couldn’t locate the older brother, neither can we at this point in time, so obviously the younger brother would have been the target they chose.”
The abduction led Toronto Police to take a unique step on Thursday when Steve Watts, the head of their organized crime unit, went in front of news cameras to make a plea directly to the kidnappers.
"I appreciate high-level cocaine business, the situation that faces them, but he's a 14-year-old, innocent child,” Watts said. "He is not a part of that business, not a part of that lifestyle.”
“We would encourage those who took Shammah to drop him off in a safe place.”
They seemed to listen. On Thursday night, at 10:20 p.m., Jolayemi was found safe in an abandoned barn in Brampton, Ontario. Police say he was found in a “dishevelled state.” A burned-out vehicle that was similar to the one that abducted Jolayemi was found less than 30 minutes away from the barn Jolayemi was left in. Police would not say what led them to the abandoned barn, but said they had no contact with the abductors and “very limited contact” with the older brother.
Jolayemi was given medical attention and reunited with his family Thursday night, and police have yet to interview him. Chief Saunders warned the kidnappers against further retaliation.
“He probably will be the most-watched young man in the city right now so you would have to be more than a fool to try and apprehend him or try and harm his family,” said Saunders.
Police say they were able to connect the kidnapping with Jolayemi’s disappearance after his parents contacted them when he didn’t show up home after school. Jolayemi's parents should have been notified of his absence by 11 a.m. but, because teachers did not input attendance data correctly. Toronto District School Board has suspended four teachers for the screw-up. Police were only able to connect the abduction to Jolayemi when his parents reported his absence at 5:27 p.m., after he failed to return home from school—nine hours after he was abducted.
Saunders said that police don’t have any suspects and asked witnesses to come forward with information.
“There are people out there who definitely know what went on,” Saunders said. “There are too many moving parts to this thing.”
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