Oni Joseph dodged a bullet Tuesday evening, and not in the poetic sense.
Better known as Oni The Haitian Sensation, the “slam poetry” champ was in her bedroom in the south end of Ottawa when a .45-calibre bullet flew by her head — so close, she said it left a powdered, “iridescent” residue on her forehead and grazed her son’s lower leg.
The bullet then deflected off a door frame, dented a piece of drywall and came to rest at the top of the carpeted stairs, below a map of Swaziland.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said Wednesday, still shaken and tired from going without sleep all night. “It more than frightened me. It was really traumatic.”
Joseph, 45, said she was in her second-floor bedroom at about 10:45 p.m., looking for materials connected to an online course for her son, Toussaint, 20.
Just as he came in the room, she began to hear a series of “popping” sounds, then something much louder, like a window shattering, then air rushing by her face. Pretty soon, she was “half on the ground” and reaching for her phone to call 911.
She said police were there within a few minutes and began to put yellow tape around her side yard, which connects to a wooded area that leads to the rear of a couple of businesses on Bank Street, south of Albion Road.
They would stay for hours.
Ottawa police confirm they had reports of multiple shots being fired from the 2500 block of Bank and “numerous” shell casings were found. At least two detectives are working the case, including one who has gathered video surveillance from nearby businesses.
So far, no arrests have been made. It was at least the 50th shooting of the year in Ottawa.
It sounds implausible that Joseph was the target of the shooting, as there is no window on the wall that took the bullet hole. It pierced the vinyl siding and left a gouge in the interior drywall, right by a work table that contained art paint brushes in a Cookie Monster jar.
However, she’s suspicious about the circumstances, saying there were rocks thrown at her unit last year and she’s had a dispute with her landlord that is resulting in her eviction at the end of the month.
“Had I been standing up, I could have died. My son could have died.”
Joseph, a single mother of three boys in their early 20s, said she was told by police that seven shots were fired. A neighbour a few doors away, in fact, discovered what looked like bullet tracks in her siding and soffit, with a near-perfect circle in the cladding.
Joseph and two other neighbours said the adjacent car wash, a 24-hour, self-serve operation called Splash & Dash, has been the source of noise and loitering complaints because it’s sometimes used as a late-night hangout.
(A spokesman for Coun. Diane Deans said community police officers told the ward office the car wash has been on their radar. The operators of the car wash could not be reached Wednesday.)
Joseph has been in the public eye on several fronts during the last 20 years. She has competed in spoken poetry contests around the world, published written work, advocated for a number of social issues, engaged in human rights projects and run unsuccessfully as a city councillor, in Bay ward in 2010.
“I want this solved,” she said of the shooting. Her next priority — with an Aug. 1 deadline — is to find a new place to live in what she hopes is a tranquil neighbourhood.