TORONTO—A speeding van plowing into a crowd of unsuspecting pedestrians is a scene you would expect in a Hollywood thriller, not in real life. Not in your own backyard.
With the nation still reeling from the tragic loss of 16 people in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in Saskatchewan earlier this month, another tragedy struck—the van attack in Toronto on Monday, April 23, which claimed the lives of 10 and left more others injured.
Alek Minassian, a resident of Richmond Hill, Ont., has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder after he allegedly ran down pedestrians with a rental van near the busy intersection of Yonge St. and Finch Ave. in the North York area of Toronto.
In the days following the attack, more details are emerging about the victims but few about Minassian’s motive, as police continue their investigation. But the community has come together to honour the lives lost.
The service of the first responders and care providers has been highly commended, as has the officer who arrested Minassian, Const. Ken Lam, for his remarkable restraint in how he handled an extremely tense situation.
Although Minassian had an object in his hand that looked like a gun and was threatening to shoot, Lam kept his cool and arrested Minassian without firing a shot, proving the value he placed on the sanctity of life in the face of a man who seemingly had no such sentiment.
‘We’ll persevere through this’
Local residents created an impromptu memorial site shortly after the attack, lighting candles, laying flowers, and writing tributes to the victims of the carnage.
With a bouquet of flowers in hand, local resident Lazar Mile made his way to the makeshift site the next day.
“My wife was walking by. She ended up seeing some of the bodies that were covered in tarps and stuff, so it was a little devastating,” said Mile, who has lived in the neighbourhood for five years.
“It was heartbreaking to see it happen, not just for the neighbourhood, but Toronto as a whole.”
Still, the incident doesn’t change how he feels about the safety of the city he calls home.
“I think Toronto is still a very safe city. I think we’ll persevere through this and we’ll stick together,” he said.
For some, the healing process will take time.
“I don’t know what the healing process would be for this. This will take some time,” said Mary Lou David, a music teacher who came to pay her respects at the memorial site.
“Right now, all I can do is pray.”
Monica Yeoh said people in the area are really stepping forward to give neighbourly support to each other at this difficult time.
“People are helping one another. I definitely noticed that, even last night, when I paid my respects at the memorial,“ said Yeoh. “I like the fact that everybody helps one another.”
This sense of community and caring is one way Torontonians can preserve the norm and help each other cope with the violence of the attack.
“It’s a really sick man, this man who took out his anger on everybody else,” Yeoh said.
Minassian, 25, made a brief court appearance on April 24, the day after the attack, speaking only his name. His next court appearance will be via video on May 10.
Minassian’s LinkedIn profile lists him as a student at Seneca College from 2011 to this year.
Details emerged on April 24 from the Department of National Defence that Minassian was briefly a member of the Canadian Armed Forces last year but quit before finishing his training.
A Facebook post reportedly by Minassian shortly before the attack makes reference to the 2014 Isla Vista tragedy in California, where a gunman killed six people and injured several more before turning the gun on himself. In a video before the attack, the gunman said his reason was rejection by women. Minassian’s reference to the incident may suggest he had a similar motive.
Alexander Alexandrovitch, who says in his Facebook profile that he attended the same high school as Minassian, describes the suspect as “mentally unstable.”
“He was known to meow like a cat and try to bite people,” he wrote on Facebook.
Minassian’s neighbours have said they didn’t know the family well and that the family members usually kept to themselves. Minassian’s family is thought to consist of four people, with another young male besides Minassian living in the household.
“We have a very quiet community, and nobody really bothers anybody else very much,” said Wes Mack, a neighbour of the family.
“It’s very tragic, very, very sad, and it’s hard on the community as well.”
Additional reporting by Carrie Gilkison and Becky Zhou