What we know about the accused in the fatal attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont.

·5 min read
A police officer stands outside the apartment of the London, Ont., man charged in the attack on a Muslim family Sunday that has left four of them dead, with a nine-year-old boy still in hospital. 'He couldn't keep a straight eye contact with you,' a neighbour says of the accused. (Mark Gollom/CBC - image credit)
A police officer stands outside the apartment of the London, Ont., man charged in the attack on a Muslim family Sunday that has left four of them dead, with a nine-year-old boy still in hospital. 'He couldn't keep a straight eye contact with you,' a neighbour says of the accused. (Mark Gollom/CBC - image credit)

The man facing murder charges in the truck attack of a Muslim family in London, Ont., has left no traces on social media about his life, but a neighbour who spoke to CBC News said while the 20-year-old kept to himself, he'd have frequent and noisy gatherings in his downtown apartment.

Details about Nathaniel Veltman are difficult to piece together. Facebook confirmed it took down his profile on Monday. It's known, however, that he was living in an apartment in downtown London and has ties to Strathroy, a small community in the heart of southwestern Ontario farm country.

He's currently in a cell at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre, charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder after what police are calling a hate-motivated, anti-Muslim crime. Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Salman's mother, Talat Afzaal, 74, are dead. Nine-year-old Fayez survived and remains in hospital. The family had moved to Canada from Pakistan in 2007.

A memorial at the intersection of Hyde Park and South Carriage roads in London near the scene of Sunday's attack that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called an ‘act of terrorism.'
A memorial at the intersection of Hyde Park and South Carriage roads in London near the scene of Sunday's attack that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called an ‘act of terrorism.'(Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Mike Arntfield, a former London police officer who's now an associate professor in criminology at Western University, says the case is unusual because people linked to such killings tend to leave "digital legacies" and a "trail of hatred online that clearly points to a certain disposition, a certain set of motivations or ideologies."

"This guy is a ghost," the criminologist said about the accused in the truck attack.

"Conventional Internet search engines reveal basically nothing [about him], other than this story."

Arrested near the attack scene

Police say Veltman was arrested in the parking lot of a shopping mall, about 10 minutes after the family was deliberately run over in the northwest part of the city.

Little is known about Veltman's childhood. He attended Strathroy District Collegiate Institute and then Fanshawe College in London.

At the time of his arrest, he had been working part time at Gray Ridge Egg Farms in Strathroy. Strathroy-Caradoc police say Veltman's name appears in 14 incidents in their records, between 2016 and 2020. None are major criminal matters; and two are Liquor Licence Act violations from 2019 and 2020.

London police Chief Steve Williams said Veltman was not known to police.

"He was not on our radar. He was, essentially, for lack of a better word, a nobody for us in terms of police contact."

London Police have been stationed all week outside the lowrise apartment building where Veltman lives.

One of the accused's neighbours told CBC that Veltman often played video games late into the night.

The neighbour, who CBC agreed not to name to protect her privacy, said she recently heard banging coming from inside Veltman's apartment at 3 a.m., so knocked on his door, asked him to be quiet and reminded him it's a family building.

"He couldn't keep a straight eye contact with you," the neighbour said.

"That's when I was first, like, 'OK, I've got someone unstable living beside me. Next time, let's not go to the door. Let's call [the police], if anything,' because, you know, I don't want to interact with someone like that."

WATCH | Police talk about the accused in the London attack:

Police say Veltman was wearing something similar to body armour when they arrested him late Sunday.

The neighbour who spoke to CBC said she never heard him utter anything anti-Muslim, but still, "something was unusual about him."

She said he always had people inside his apartment and there was constant noise.

"Just banging in general and banging on the walls to the point my pictures are moving. If not that, loud music, video games — it was just intense."

Neighbour shocked to hear of arrest

She said she was shocked to learn of the charges Veltman now faces.

"Someone like that was beside me, and it's just unsettling knowing that someone like that is in a family building."

Nathaniel Veltman, 20, was charged Monday with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. This is a yearbook photo from Strathroy District Collegiate Institute from 2016-2017.
Nathaniel Veltman, 20, was charged Monday with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. This is a yearbook photo from Strathroy District Collegiate Institute from 2016-2017. (Supplied)

Several Veltmans live in Strathroy.

At one Veltman family home in the small town, the curtains were immediately shut when a CBC News reporter rang the doorbell.

At another Veltman address off a long country road in Strathroy, a "no trespassing" sign had been placed near a driveway leading to the property. A neighbour watched through her front window as journalists stopped throughout the day on Tuesday, the same day thousands of people, including politicians, attended a vigil outside a London mosque.

Locals who spoke to CBC said they were surprised to hear the suspect in the attack on the London family was from Strathroy.

A mass murder is defined as four or more deaths in a single incident, said Arntfield. A suspect arrested while wearing body armour could indicate the individual fits into the "pseudo-commando" subtype, he added.

"Regardless of motive, this subtype has a fascination with gadgets, and police and army paraphernelia, they see themselves as a collector with some kind of end game in mind," said Arntfield. Pseudo-commandos tend to be young, he added.

In the first mass murder in London's history, a central question in the case will be why the family may have been targeted for their faith, as police believe, he said. The accused isn't currently being linked to any extremist group, while police are considering whether to lay terror charges.

Arntfield added: "If the suspect does lean toward certain ideologies, do they align with an existing group or have those groups merely imparted some world view on him that he's sort of created his customized version of?"

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