Calgary basketball coach killed in ‘random crime’ after defending friend

A man who was shot dead in downtown Calgary Sunday was defending his friend from harassment, police said. 

On Sunday, police were called to Junction Underground nightclub just before 2:45 a.m. for reports that someone had been shot outside the bar, which is located on Eighth Avenue southwest. At that time police transported a man to hospital where he died shortly later. 

An autopsy identified the man as 31-year-old John Mitchell Smith Jr.

Police say he lived in Calgary for years after he moved from Washington to play college basketball.

They believe Smith left the nightclub with a female friend around 2:30 a.m. when two men, who were loitering outside, started making unwanted sexual advances and physical contact with the woman. 

Smith’s family issued a statement saying he was “truly a revolutionary embodiment of Black joy.” (Calgary Police Service)

Smith intervened, according to police, and a man shot him. He also shot the man who was with him, who later drove himself to Foothills Medical Centre. Police say that man is not co-operating with the investigation. 

Police say the shooter fled the scene east along Eighth Avenue S.W. 

“John was a victim of a random crime,” said Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta with the Calgary Police Service homicide unit. 

“He was a man that volunteered countless hours coaching basketball and serving with organizations that make our city a better place. Helping his friend cost him his life and we will do everything we can to bring his killer to justice.”

Police shared a statement on behalf of Smith’s family. 

“John was not only a brother and son, but our best friend. He had a heart of gold, was brilliant, funny, talented, driven and authentically himself. He was truly a revolutionary embodiment of Black joy. He made everyone around him feel seen, heard and empowered to self love. He was a protector,” the Smith’s family said in a statement. 

“John excelled on and off the court. He was a mentor and trainer to youth in the States and Calgary. He was also the President of the Black and Indigenous Student Union and a budding model. He planned on returning to SAIT to finish his degree in Business Administration and play his final season of basketball.”

“We are devastated by his passing. A huge piece of us is gone. Our family is forever broken. He is left behind by his family and girlfriend, whom he truly loved.”

Police release photos of suspect 

Police have released photos of a man they say is a suspect in the weekend shooting in downtown Calgary. (Calgary Police Service)

Police say the suspect is shorter than six feet tall, with a visible tattoo on his neck and dark wavy hair. He was wearing a white Nike tracksuit top, blue jeans and white runners. 

Police say anyone with information on the homicide, or the suspect’s identity, can call the non-emergency line at 403-266-1234. Tips can also be submitted anonymously to Crime Stoppers.

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