WARNING: This story contains details that some readers may find disturbing.
As the details of Bruce McAthur’s horrific crimes were read aloud in a Toronto courtroom, Sean Cribbin was overwhelmed by feelings of guilt that he survived an encounter with the serial killer who targeted Toronto’s Village for nearly a decade while eight others did not.
“I felt like I didn’t deserve to be sitting amongst them,” Cribbin said, describing being next to the family and friends of McArthur’s victims. “But I just had to see him. That was me facing my demon.”
McArthur pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Dean Lisowick, Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman.
“I was sitting there and hearing the abbreviated charges of what he did to those people, I was thinking for me to get out of there unscathed, I felt guilty,” Cribbin said. “I felt humbled and I felt a lot of guilt.”
WATCH: Sean Cribbin describes year leading up to Bruce McArthur pleading guilty
Seeing McArthur hunched over in the prisoner’s box as he repeated the words “guilty” to each charge, Cribbin was struck by the 67-year-old landscaper’s diminished physical appearance from the jovial “Santa” figure he remembered.
“I saw a pathetic old man,” Cribbin said. “I can’t believe that he did those things because he looked so weak.”
Cribbin told Global News in an interview last year that had agreed to meet McArthur at his apartment in the summer of 2017 for a sexual encounter that included bondage and submission role-playing. It ended with Cribbin falling unconscious, after he agreed to take drugs.
He said he awoke to McArthur violently using his weight to pin him to the bed. The assault was only stopped when McArthur’s roommate arrived home.
When police interviewed Cribbin after McArthur’s arrest, they told him that McArthur had apparently taken photos of him that showed him bound and in what he described as a “kill position,” with the murder weapon pressed to his throat.
He is haunted by the fact Andrew Kinsman was killed in June 2017, roughly one month after Cribbin had missed a date with McArthur in early May.
“Maybe the roommate wouldn’t have taken a half day off work and I would have proceeded to be killed that day. Maybe that would have satiated his thirst or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “Maybe that would have gotten Andrew safe.”
Cribbin — who has Parkinson’s — said the last year has been traumatic for him with the looming possibility of a trial, where he could be called as witness.
Cribbin is reminded of the attack almost daily. He can see the location where McArthur picked him up in his van from his apartment window. Nightmares that find him waking in the middle of the night, screaming and in tears, are common.
“I used to be very confident and very outgoing. I don’t go out in Toronto anymore,” he said. “I’m not dead and buried, but I’m not the person I was.”
Crown attorney Michael Cantlon read an agreed facts detailing the killings which took place between 2010-2017, revealing that six of the deaths were “sexual in nature” with the bodies being staged afterward.
During a search of McArthur’s 19th-floor apartment, police found a bracelet worn by Navaratnam, jewellery belonging to Lisowick and a notebook belonging to Esen. They also found a duffel bag with duct tape, a surgical glove, rope, zip ties, a bungee cord and syringes.
DNA from four of the victims was found in McArthur’s van and on the unnamed murder weapon.
Court also heard that police found Kinsman’s calendar with a single entry reading “Bruce” for June 26, 2017, the day he disappeared. Surveillance footage recorded of him getting inside the killer’s van became the key piece of evidence that lead police to McArthur.
Families of the victims will have the opportunity to address McArthur, with victim impact statements at his three-day sentencing hearing scheduled for next week.
While he won’t be given a chance to address McArthur, Cribbin said he hopes the focus of the sentencing is on the families who lost loved ones, and the damage done to the community.
“I’ve been impacted, but it’s about the families and I really don’t want to take away from that,” he said.
Each count of first-degree murder carries a life term, with no chance for parole before 25 years. If McArthur received concurrent sentences, he would be in his 90s before he can apply for a conditional release.
“I always felt like I didn’t believe in the death penalty,” Cribbin said. “I had to re-evaluate my thoughts.”
Meanwhile, there are renewed calls for an inquiry into why it took police so long to catch McArthur.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said that a review would “delve much more deeply into everything that happened” and could begin once the legal process is officially closed.
“I think it is likely that a further inquiry will be needed,” Tory said Wednesday during a press conference. ”With regards to timing, I think we are a step closer to that being able to be done responsibly now, but I am not sure we are all the way there given there are appeals that could be launched.”
Justice Gloria Epstein is heading an external review examining the way Toronto police handle missing-persons cases and has asked that her mandate include McArthur’s case. Epstein has written a letter to the Toronto Police Board asking for the ability to examine contacts between McArthur and police.
For Cribbin, he has mixed emotions there will be no trial. He’s worried there might never be answers to the question of why this happened that he and other family members are seeking.
“There will never be a happy ending to the story,” he said. “These stories don’t have happy endings.”