What we know about the Muslim family in the fatal London, Ont., truck attack

·6 min read
Yumna Afzaal, 15, Madiha Salman, 44, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, left to right, were out for an evening walk Sunday when they were run over by a truck in what police say was an attack motivated by anti-Muslim hate. CBC agreed to crop out Salman and Afzaal's son, Fayez, 9, who remained in hospital Monday. (Submitted by Afzaal family - image credit)
Yumna Afzaal, 15, Madiha Salman, 44, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, left to right, were out for an evening walk Sunday when they were run over by a truck in what police say was an attack motivated by anti-Muslim hate. CBC agreed to crop out Salman and Afzaal's son, Fayez, 9, who remained in hospital Monday. (Submitted by Afzaal family - image credit)

They arrived in Canada from Pakistan in 2007, ready to work hard to start a new life for their baby daughter.

Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and Salman's mother, Talat Afzaal, didn't have close relatives in Canada, but Halema Khan told CBC News that they became close to her family.

The couple, their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Salman's 74-year-old mother were killed Sunday after a black truck slammed into them as they were on an evening walk. Nine-year-old Fayez survived.

"We attended each other's happy events, sad events, always being there for each other," said Khan.

"It wasn't an easy journey for them, but they made it," Khan, her two children with her, said at the memorial set up at the scene of the attack.

"They worked day and night. They gave to the community, not just to the Muslim community, but to the general Canadian community."

The couple, their children and his mom developed new habits during COVID-19, including nightly walks, said Ahmed Hegazy, a friend of the family.

Nafisa Azima carries Seena Safdari while laying flowers at the crime scene where a man driving a pickup truck jumped the curb and ran over the Muslim family.
Nafisa Azima carries Seena Safdari while laying flowers at the crime scene where a man driving a pickup truck jumped the curb and ran over the Muslim family.(Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

"Their kids were the kinds of kids you'd want your kids to be friends with," said Hegazy.

"People develop their own habits to try to deal with this lockdown, and one that Salman's family developed was to try to go out for a walk right before sunset. Salman's mother was very fond of these walks, and she was always wanting to get out for these walks.

"Little did they know that this would be their last walk."

A 20-year-old man has been charged with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

CBC News has received permission from the family to publish a photo, with Fayez cropped out. Here's more of what we know about the family (CBC News is working to gather further information on Talat Afzaal, who was an artist and a schoolteacher):

Madiha Salman, 44: 'A sparkling, generous, loving person'

Madiha earned an undergraduate degree in engineering in Pakistan and was the only woman in a class of 174, she told colleagues at London's Western University, where she earned a master's degree and was working to complete a PhD.

"Madiha was a sparkling, generous, loving person that treasured education, female advancement, equality and research," said Jason Gerhard.

Madiha was enthusiastic and powerful, he added.

"She worked in environmental engineering, raised a beautiful family, and contributed strongly to her professional and community networks."

Madiha was Moawaz Sheikh's instructor while at Western and always had time to answer students' questions.

"I always remember she was super helpful. As a student I always asked a lot of questions. She was always able to stay after class, more than other teaching assistants. She was very helpful."

Misty Santerre and her daughter Jasmina were among mourners showing their grief over the fatal attack.
Misty Santerre and her daughter Jasmina were among mourners showing their grief over the fatal attack.(Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Madiha was doing post-graduate work and also a writer, publishing columns in various magazines, said Khan.

"She used her pen to spread love and peace."

Madiha recently lost her father to COVID-19, and other family members were also affected by the pandemic, said Khan.

Two days before she was killed, Madiha and Khan spoke, talking about their children and the schools they attend.

"Her last words that ring in my bell are, 'Please keep my prayer in your family, my family in your prayers.' The words that she said to me."

The family was working hard to get her to finish her PhD, so she could work in her field, said Hegazy.

Salman Afzaal, 46: 'He always had a smile'

Salman Afzaal was a physiotherapist, providing love and care for seniors living in numerous care homes in southwestern Ontario.

"Salman provided care for our moms, our dads, our grandmas and grandpas," said Jeff Renaud, CEO of Ritz Lutheran Villa, one of the care homes where Salman worked.

"If you watched him in action with residents, you could see he was kind and caring, loving and deeply, deeply committed to them, to provide a service to the residents, to help them maintain mobility and a little bit of independence at the end of life."

Salman trained at the University of Karachi and graduated in 1997, according to the public registry of the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario.

Salman spoke English, Urdu and Punjabi, according to the registry.

"He was a great guy. He always had a smile. He was always positive, and upbeat and ready to help us with whatever needed to be done within the home on behalf of our residents," said Renaud, who hired Salman in 2015.

"He could relate well to residents and to other members of our care team. He had a good, easy, genuine approach. He had an excellent reputation as a physiotherapist."

Everyone at the London Muslim Mosque knew Salman and his family, said Hegazy, whose family would often get together with Salman's for Ramadan.

"He was just a beautiful person, always smiling, always willing to help, very kind-hearted."

Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Fayez, 9: 'Great kids, role-model students'

Yumna was in Grade 9 at Oakridge Secondary School, where she became a student in 2020 after graduating from the London Islamic School.

During her time at the London Islamic School, Yumna Afzaal and her mother painted this mural. Both died Sunday, along with two other family members.
During her time at the London Islamic School, Yumna Afzaal and her mother painted this mural. Both died Sunday, along with two other family members.(Rob Krbavac/CBC)

Hassan Moostafa knew the family well and said Afzaal painted a large mural inside the school's hallway. The floor-to-ceiling mural features an image of the Earth floating in space beside the words: "Learn, Lead, Inspire."

Beside the image of the Earth, the mural has the following message: "Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

"She told our principal that she wanted to leave the mural as a legacy for the school, and so every time we go down to that basement, that will be something that will just be a small part of her legacy," said Moostafa.

"She's going to be living a much, much bigger legacy for her family. But that will be a visual reminder for us — every single time all of the children and all of us, congregants and community members, will see and will always cherish."

Moostafa said his daughter was good friends with Yumna and is "very distraught" at losing her and three of her family members in Sunday's attack.

Asad Choudhary, principal of the London Islamic school, said staff and students are praying for Yumna and her brother.

WATCH | Vigil for Afzaal family in London, Ont. draws thousands:

"Great kids, role-model students," said Choudhary. "Definitely gems of our school community. Both of them are good friends, of not just their classmates, but the school community at large. Very talented in their academics."

Principal Mike Phillips said that because Yumna entered Oakridge in September amid the pandemic, much of her time was spent learning from home via video chat. However, Phillips said, she was still able to make an impression on her teachers.

"The teachers that worked directly with her said she was a dedicated honour roll student who loved learning and worked with her peers directly and enjoyed school. Teachers also shared that she was interested in owning her own business and giving back to her community later in life."

Students at Oakridge are planning a green and purple ribbon campaign in Yumna's honour: purple because it was Yumna's favourite colour, green to represent a stance against Islamophobia.

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