March 5, 2015 / 7:33 PM / 4 years ago

Toronto tunnel builder says he just wanted a cool hangout

TORONTO (Reuters) - The man who built a mysterious tunnel near a venue for this summer’s Pan American Games in Toronto said it had been his dream for years to build an underground hideaway, and he had planned to put a television inside and hang out with friends.

“It wasn’t really a tunnel. I was going to expand it to have a couple of rooms,” Elton McDonald, a 22-year-old construction worker, told the Toronto Sun newspaper.

“I was hoping to put in a TV. I did some barbecuing in there. It was more a place to hang out.”

Police ignited a frenzy of media speculation in February by announcing the discovery of a “sophisticated” hand-dugtunnel near a tennis stadium to be used for the Pan AmGames in July. Much of the speculation was linked to concern about a terrorist plot against the Games.

Days later, police said they had identified two men who had built the 10-meter-long (33-foot) tunnel but declined to reveal their identities since no crime had been committed.

McDonald told the newspaper he’d begun working in construction at age 17 and considered it a fun challenge to dig the hideout with several friends. He told his family about the project so they would understand why he came home so dirty.

When news broke about the tunnel, McDonald said he didn’t speak up because he was afraid he’d be in trouble.

Police tracked him down after his employer recognized some of the equipment used at the site, McDonald said.

The tunnel was discovered Jan. 14 in a suburban woodlot. Reinforced with wooden walls and ceiling supports, it had electricity supplied by a generator, a sump pump to remove water and a pulley system to remove dirt.

Police found a rosary with crucifix and a poppy nailed toone of the tunnel’s wooden supports. McDonald said his sister gave him the crucifix for good luck after a small cave-in, while he’d found the poppy on Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, when war veterans are honored.

Canada has been on heightened alert for terrorist activity since a gunman attacked the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa in October after fatally shooting a soldier at the nearby National War Memorial. The attack by a so-called “lone wolf” Canadian convert to Islam came two days after another convert rammed two soldiers in Quebec with his car, killing one.

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Peter Galloway

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