In what police described as a “premeditated” incident, a man driving a pickup truck slammed into and killed four members of a Muslim family in the south of Canada’s Ontario province.
According to Detective Superintendent Paul Waight, a 20-year-old suspect wearing a vest “like body armour” fled the scene after the incident on Sunday evening and was apprehended at a mall seven kilometres from the crossroads in London, Ontario, where it occurred.
“There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate. It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim,” he told a news conference.
The victims’ names have not been disclosed, but they include a 74-year-old lady, a 46-year-old man, a 44-year-old woman, and a 15-year-old girl, who, according to London Mayor Ed Holder, represent three generations of the same family.
Following the attack, a nine-year-old child was taken to the hospital and is now recovering.
“Let me be clear, this was an act of mass murder perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, rooted in unspeakable hatred,” said Holder.
Nathaniel Veltman, who has been identified as the culprit, has been charged with four charges of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
Veltman, a London resident, did not know the victims, according to police.
Local authorities are also in contact with federal police and the attorney general about adding “potential terrorism charges,” according to Waight.
He provided scant specifics on the inquiry, but did say that authorities looked at the suspect’s social media posts.
Waight said police didn’t know if the suspect was a member of any specific hate organisation at this time and wouldn’t go into detail about any evidence pointing to a probable hate crime, but that the attack was planned.
The attack shocked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who tweeted that he was “horrified.”
“To the loved ones of those who were terrorised by yesterday’s act of hatred, we are here for you,” he said, singling out the nine-year-old in hospital.
“To the Muslim community in London and to Muslims across the country, know that we stand with you. Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities. This hate is insidious and despicable — and it must stop,” he added.
Flags will be lowered for three days in London, according to Holder, which has between 30,000 and 40,000 Muslims among its more than 400,000 citizens.
‘Out for a walk’
The five family members were walking together down a sidewalk at at 8:40 p.m. on Sunday when a black pickup truck “mounted the curb and struck” them as they waited to cross the junction, according to police.
One individual who observed the horrific crash’s aftermath said she couldn’t stop thinking about the victims. Paige Martin was stopped at a red light at 8:30 p.m. when a huge pickup truck sped passed her. Her car trembled as a result of the impact, she said.
“I was shaken up, thinking it was an erratic driver,” Martin said.
She claimed she arrived at a crossroads near her home minutes later to find a horrible, chaotic scene with first responders rushing to help, a police officer conducting chest compressions on one person, and three other persons lying on the ground. Several drivers stepped out of their cars to assist, while a few dozen people stood on the sidewalk.
“I can’t get the sound of the screams out of my head,” Martin said.
From her apartment, Martin said she could see the scene and watched an official drape a sheet over one body about midnight. “My heart is just so broken for them,” she said.
A grandmother, father, mother, and their teenage daughter were among the three generations who died, according to Zahid Khan, a family acquaintance. He stated the family had come from Pakistan 14 years ago and were active members of the London Muslim Mosque, where they were dedicated, decent, and generous.
They were simply out for a walk, as they did every day,” Khan remarked through tears as he stood near the crash site.
The father was a physiotherapist and cricket fan, according to a fundraising campaign, while his wife was pursuing a PhD in civil engineering at Western University in London. The grandma was a pillar of the family, according to the website, and their daughter was finishing ninth grade.
On Thursday, Qazi Khalil says he encountered the family while out for their nightly walk. He stated the family lived close by and would get together on vacations.
“This has totally destroyed me from the inside,” Khalil said. “I can’t really come to the terms they are no longer here.”