Baby drivers, baby thieves: Toronto teens rob cars. And then ?

A teenager – because they’re still boys – hunting human prey.

It’s a distinct handful of pathologies: the gun culture that has come to define America, where mass shootings are pathetically common, so that a “mere” five kills hardly qualifies as a massacre ; an obviously mentally disturbed teenager; thoughts and prayers for the victims – who range in age from 15 to their late 50s – in a shooting where the crime scene spanned about two miles in the leafy suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina.

An open state with no gun registry and where no license is required to purchase a long gun or shotgun. There is no minimum age to own rifles and shotguns.

The suspect in Thursday’s carnage is in critical condition. He is 15 years old.

It was the 532nd mass shooting in the United States this year, according to the Gun Violence Archives, an independent nonprofit data collection and research organization.

So it’s them.

This is us: Three 14-year-old boys and one 16-year-old charged with 83 counts, ranging from robbery with firearm, disguise with intent, possession of stolen property (over $5,000) and stolen narcotics , in connection with a series of carjackings and drugstore robberies in Toronto and York Region between September 19 and October 4.

Not crimes of passion, it seems, unless the passion describes a lust for profit by criminal means. Nor, I would say, the actions of a deranged mind because these were alleged crimes committed with foresight and a clear modus operandi.

Two-part heists, as stated by police: rob three cars at gunpoint (or a replica at gunpoint), then bring down eight pharmacies.

“One or two boys would approach the vehicles pointing a handgun at the occupant while demanding their keys, vehicle and belongings,” according to a Toronto police news release. After leaving the scene in the stolen vehicles, according to police, a “group of several boys, often traveling in these stolen vehicles, entered the pharmacies in a takeover-type robbery”, in which one of the boys “produced a handgun and demanded money and narcotics” then “ran away to a waiting vehicle”.

Fourteen year old boys. Too young to drive.

Generally, in Ontario, boys in grade 8 or 9.

In God’s name, where were their parents? The Secret Lives of Young Outlaws. And tell me again how millions more should be invested in community programs targeting high-risk youth, to keep them away from crime, especially at an impressionable age.

Baby drivers, baby thieves. But old enough, apparently, to concoct hijacking and heist schemes, to scare off car owners and pharmacy workers. Too young, however, to end up doing any meaningful time if convicted as a minor. What’s the beauty of it, right? Just as minors are routinely locked up as street dealers and drug deliverers – cleaning up very well for their court appearances, pulling their cheeks off, innocent and naively bewildered.

Many young criminals aren’t mentally ill teenagers harboring psychotic grievances, teenage nihilists raging against the world as they plot chaos in their bedroom. They are lucky want to things, grab things, boy hoods, one small step away from deadly violence. Babes in Armed Vice.

The arrests in Toronto are not even an isolated incident. A quick look through the police blotter reveals a 15-year-old among a group of miscreants accused of carrying out a violent early morning carjacking in Mississauga in June – several individuals approaching a driver lonely in their vehicle, banging on the window, demanding they get out, then punching the driver in the head and dumping him in the stolen vehicle. An 18-year-old from Toronto and a 14-year-old from Brampton, charged in the same month with a shooting and attempted carjacking in Barrie – the driver, who had just gotten into his luxury sedan, shot in the head as he backed out of the driveway when the alleged jackets tried to grab the vehicle; a 14-year-old boy among three men who asked for the keys to a Jeep Wrangler parked in a lot in central Toronto in May.

It’s not just the upsurge in carjackings, with 188 reported so far this year in Toronto, compared to 102 for all of 2021, as a police spokesperson told The Star on Thursday; it is the tender age of the accused. It’s not the petty crime of yesteryear, most often solved with a stern lecture from a cop and parents dragging their children home from the police station by the ear.

It’s a straight-up crime.

Their brains may not yet be fully formed, but the dark intentions of some young people, their malevolent degeneration, surely is.

It’s not a Toronto-centric phenomenon, as police forces across the United States have reported a wave of carjackings involving young people in the past two years. This specificity of crime stands in stark comparison to a sharp decrease in other charges involving youth since 2019, according to data from the Attorney General’s Office, while the subset of these violent crimes has decreased by 46%.

The so-called experts in juvenile delinquency have no explanation for the phenomenon. Or, rather, they have too many explanations for it: a cascading impact of disconnect resulting from pandemic shutdowns, underinvestment in community programs and the sheer “fadishness” of carjacking – for entertainment, for the ride (some posting their escapades online), limited consequences of toothless laws that actually encourage repeated, remorseless recidivism.

But none of this fits the trend when profit is a palpable motive, whether reselling hijacked vehicles overseas (a global illegal business) or coupling carjackings – as in the Thursday’s arrests, the result of a joint investigation by Toronto and York Regional robberies – with robberies.

No, it’s obviously not in the same monstrous league as teenage mass shooters. But a 14-year-old finger on the trigger of a gun is only a jerk away from unforeseen disaster.

Face the facts: carjacking is an easy crime. Quick and easy money. Easy hiding place to earn more money.

All you need is the nerve. And a total lack of awareness.

Rosie DiManno is a Toronto-based columnist who covers sports and current affairs for The Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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