The friend of a man who was shot dead outside a nightclub in Calgary over the weekend after defending a woman says he was the type who was always there to help.
Friends and former teammates of John Smith Jr. remembers him as a passionate basketball player and mentor.
Smith, 31, was the victim of what Calgary police on Sunday called a “random crime.” Smith was shot after intervening on behalf of a friend who was facing unwanted sexual advances and physical contact.
Nikola Ivanovic met Smith in 2016 while the two were playing basketball for the Trojans at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). Smith was his first friend in Canada, he said.
Smith’s family said he was also completing a degree in business administration at Calgary College.
Ivanovic said the news that Smith had been shot and killed was “incredible”.
“I was devastated, mad, sad – all, all at the same time,” he said. “He was never a guy who would get in trouble or anything. He was always a type of guy who was there to help us.”
Police say around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Smith Junction Underground nightclub in downtown Calgary left with a girlfriend when two men strolling outside began harassing the woman.
Smith intervened and was shot outside the bar. Police transported Smith to the hospital, where he later died.
Ivanovic said the woman was Smith’s girlfriend and that he was at the club with two other friends.
Calgary’s basketball community is still losing weight, he said.
“He would always put other people in front of him,” Ivanovic said. “I have never met a person like John, with so much intensity, originality. He was not selfish. He was just generally one in a million types.”
Smith brought Calgary home after moving from Washington to play college basketball. He also volunteered and coached at children’s basketball camps, Ivanovic said.
“On the court? He was an animal. John had been driven by a winner and a champion.”
Trojan coach Marty Birky said Smith was brave, charismatic and always pushed himself to get better.
“From what he was wearing to what he wanted to say … he expected to win in every game he played, expected to make every shot he shot,” Birky said.
Assistant coach Pat Boulin reminded Smith of having “American swagger.”
Boulin said his favorite memory of Smith came during a fight against the Red Deer Polytechnic; the team was down by two points and had 12 seconds left of the match – and the trojans had just called a timeout.
“He looked at me and he said, ‘Don’t worry, Pat, I have this. “And I rolled my eyes a little,” Boulin said. “He hit a deep three with just three seconds left … he just gave me a small wink. That’s by far my favorite memory of John. ”
SAIT provides college community resources and grief counselors, Birky said.
The family says they are ‘forever ruined’
On Wednesday, Calgary police shared a statement on behalf of Smith’s family – his mother, Cylon Bates, and his two sisters, Sade and Krystal Smith.
“John was not only a brother and son, but our best friend. He had a heart of gold, was brilliant, funny, talented, driven and authentic himself. He was truly a revolutionary performer of black joy. He got everyone around him “to feel seen, heard and empowered for self-love. He was a protector,” the family statement said.
“We are devastated by his passing. A large part of us is gone. Our family is broken forever. He is left by his family and boyfriend, whom he truly loved.”
Police are asking for help finding suspects
Another man, who was familiar with the suspect, was also shot, police said. That man fled the scene in a black Mercedes sedan with BC license plates and drove himself to Foothills Medical Center. Police say he is not currently cooperating with the investigation.
The shooter fled the scene on foot east along Eighth Avenue SW, police said.
Police have released photos of the suspect along with a description. They say he is shorter than six feet tall, with a visible tattoo on his neck and dark, wavy hair. He was wearing a white Nike training top, blue jeans and white runners.
Anyone with information about the homicide or the identity of the suspect can call the police non-emergency phone number at 403-266-1234. Tips can also be submitted anonymously to Crime Stoppers.
Investigators will also hear from anyone with dashcam, cell phone or CCTV photos or video from the area that night, especially if it appears to be capturing the suspect or the black Mercedes.