‘This is our home’: Lone survivor of Vaughan, Ont. condo mass shooting speaks out

Doreen Di Nino is thankful that she and her husband, John Di Nino are alive and can go on with life. The 66-year-old lone survivor of one of the Greater Toronto Area’s worst mass shootings spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday, in an exclusive interview with Global News.

“I don’t cry for myself. I cry for the other ones that are gone. I’m just happy to be here with my husband, my children, my grandkids. That’s my happiness. Yeah, we have a second chance at life,” Doreen said while holding back tears, explaining she’s happy to be back in the Vaughan condominium building she still thinks of as home despite the tragedy.

“I was determined to come home. This is my home and we needed to do this. I know that John didn’t want to come home but I thought, ‘No, why? This is our home, he’s no longer a threat,’” Doreen explained.

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It was just before 7  p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, when Doreen said she heard fire alarms going off as she and her husband were hosting friends for dinner, in a penthouse unit where they live.

Read more: SIU clears York police officer who fatally shot Vaughan condo gunman

She said she waited to hear an announcement from security, but instead heard a bang followed by a knock at the door. Her husband John said he cautioned Doreen to touch the door in case there was a fire, which Doreen said she did before looking through the peephole.

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“I saw what I thought was a young boy with a hoodie on. I thought it was maybe one of our family members so I just opened it and I just went, as soon as I saw his face, I went, ‘Oh my God,” Doreen recalled.

She recognized the man at the door as Francesco Villi, the owner of a condo unit on the first floor. Court documents obtained by Global News found that Villi, 73, had been engaged in a legal battle with the condominium board. Doreen’s husband was the president of the board.

Doreen said he raised his arm and fired a shot, the bullet hitting her in the face.

“The bullet had gone in through my jaw and exited the back of my head. It actually hit the screen door and shattered all the glass,” she said.

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“I was fully alert. I realized what was going on. The blood was just coming out of my mouth and my friend, she pulled me away, because I think was holding the door, and I remember a tooth. I thought ‘Oh my God, I lost a tooth,” and that’s all I was thinking.”

Doreen recalled her friend and her husband throwing things at Villi including a crystal vase. At one point, John remembered seeing Villi pointing the handgun at him but for some reason, Villi didn’t shoot.

Read more: 3 men, 2 women killed in shooting at Vaughan, Ont., condo building: police

“In the same fashion that he lifted the gun to shoot my wife, he did the same in my direction. There was nowhere for us to hide or refuge, but I don’t know why the gun didn’t go off,” John recalled.

“Eventually, the friend managed to get in between myself and the gunman and ran to the door and slammed it shut,” added John.

Doreen spent roughly six weeks in hospital and points to right corner of her lips where the bullet penetrated her skin.

“It’s a little crooked, it’s numb, there’s a scar under my chin where they opened it all up because everything got shattered,” she explained. She has a titanium plate in her jaw which she says doctors have to reconstruct because she has nerve and bone damage, not to mention three lost teeth.

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She also complains of pain in the middle of the head where the bullet exited. And sometimes experiences numbness in her ear and buttocks.

A few weeks ago, she had a CT scan and the doctor told her the bone seems to be regenerating, recommending they wait three months before doing any more reconstructive surgery.

“What I did get disappointed about is he did say they’ll never remove the titanium plate.” She said you can feel the hardness of the plate and because she has numbness in her lip, it affects how she eats.

Read more: Condo was seeking to force gunman out of building before Vaughan, Ont. shooting: documents

Last week, the Special Investigations Unit cleared the York Regional police officer who shot Villi of wrongdoing, concluding the use of force was justified. The report also confirmed that Villi bought the Beretta semi-automatic pistol legally in 2019.

John said there was never any doubt in his mind that the police officer’s actions were justified given Villi’s deadly rampage through the condominium, killing people on three separate floors, but he questions how someone like Villi was able to legally purchase a gun.

“What is troubling is when you have someone who has challenges, who (is) maybe in crisis and you put a weapon in their hand, that is a vicious cocktail,” John said.

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The couple, who have been married for 17 years, are now focused on rebuilding their lives and say the terrifying experience has only brought them closer and now they’re trying to put it behind them.

“I want to forget about it. I don’t want to think about him. I want to be able to open my door and leave my condo and not think about it. Before I would look over my shoulder when I got out of elevators, but now I’m feeling better,” Doreen said.

Five people were killed as a result of the incident. They have been identified as  57-year-old Rita Camilleri, 79-year-old Vittorio Panza, 75-year-old Russell Manock, 71-year-old Helen (Lorraine) Manock and 59-year-old Naveed Dada.

&© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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