The suspect has been arrested, and though there is evidence this was a planned attack, there seems to be no connection between the suspect and the victims.
Trigger Warning: This story contains details of islamophobia that may be disturbing to readers.
A family of five waiting to cross an intersection in London, Ontario, had no idea that a truck driver was about to plow into them, simply because they belonged to the Muslim community. Unfortunately, the murderer—20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman—succeeded in his plot as he crashed into the family, killing four and gravely injuring one, reports The Washington Post.
Witnesses of the horrifying incident, which took place around 8.30 PM, said that Veltman jumped the curb in his truck to strike the family of five. Eyewitness Paige Martin told reporters a black truck rushed past her and ran a red light while she was walking, and then she came upon the scene of "chaos." Recollecting the moment, she said, "It was just absolutely like something that you never want to see."
According to Reuters, the names of the victims haven't been released yet, but the London Free Press said that among the dead were Syed Afzaal, 46, his wife, Madiha Salman, 44, and their 15-year-old daughter, Yumnah Afzaal. Syed Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother, whose name is not yet confirmed, also died. Their 9-year-old son, Faez Afzaal, is in the hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
The family is said to have migrated from Pakistan around 14 years ago.
Veltman drove off at a high speed after hitting the family with his truck, but he was arrested several minutes later after he stopped in a mall parking lot, roughly 4 miles from the scene, Detective Superintendent Paul Waight said, per BuzzFeed News. He was found wearing a body-armor-type vest, police said. It is unclear if he had any accomplices or if he had hired a lawyer immediately after.
Waight also added that there is no known connection between the victims and Veltman, but he believes the killings were intentional. "There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act motivated by hate," he said during the press briefing.
The suspect has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, officials said. The investigation is currently ongoing, and there is a discussion of potentially filing terrorism charges against Veltman.
"Let me be clear: This was an act of mass murder perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, and rooted in unspeakable hatred," Ed Holder, mayor of London, Ontario, said during a press conference. Holder also ordered flags outside the city hall to be lowered for three days of mourning.
“To be targeted in this way—a grandmother, a mother, and father, and young daughter killed so senselessly. While the young boy, who is set to survive now, has lost his family. My hands have been shaking for much of the day since I’ve heard this news,” said Amira Elghawaby, a human rights advocate and founding board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, reports CTV News.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a tweet that he was “horrified” by the news. “To the Muslim community in London and to Muslims across the country, know that we stand with you,” he wrote. “Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities. This hate is insidious and despicable—and it must stop.”
London—with about 400,000 residents—has a large Muslim community, and Arabic is the second-most-spoken language to English in the city. Nawaz Tahir, a London lawyer, told reporters that the “horror” of the attack is “unfathomable.”
“We must confront and stamp out Islamophobia and Islamophobic violence,” Tahir said. “Not tomorrow. Today. For the sake of our children, our families, our communities.”
There is immense support pouring in for the community with many taking to the internet to share their disbelief and anger. One person said, "I'll never understand how anyone can hate a person or people they don't even know, based solely on their ethnicity or religious practices! What a needless, totally undeserved, horrific tragedy, that poor little 9 year old boy, left with NO family, and those precious human lives ended for absolutely NO reason!!! I'm beyond sick and furious! No punishment could ever be too severe for Nathaniel Veltman!!! Pure EVIL!!!"
Another one rightly said, "My heart breaks for this senseless act. How can a family be ripped apart over such an awful hate. We are all human made of bones, blood, organs and skin. We need to start treating each other with respect."
Many also shared their concern for the sole-surviving member, the young child who lost his entire family at once. One Facebook user said, "So unbearably horrific. May God bless this nine year old son and give him the strength to somehow carry on."
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images (L) Andrew Fox / (R) quintanilla