Accused in van attack a former 'below-average' CAF recruit, but no red flag: source

Accused in van attack a former 'below-average' CAF recruit, but no red flag: source

RICHMOND HILL, Ont. — The man accused in a van attack that left 10 people dead in Toronto had spent two months with the Canadian Armed Forces last year, and was considered a below-average recruit who wasn't adjusting well to military life, a defence source said Tuesday.

Alek Minassian was a member of the forces from Aug. 23, 2017, until Oct. 25, 2017, a spokeswoman with the Department of National Defence said.

"He did not complete his recruit training and requested to be voluntarily released from the CAF after 16 days of recruit training," said Jessica Lamirande.

Minassian, a 25-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., was charged on Tuesday with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder in Monday's alleged van attack. Police said he will soon face an additional count of attempted murder.

A source with the military told The Canadian Press that Minassian attended the leadership and recruit school at St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and noted that he did not receive any weapons training while there.

The source said Minassian was assessed as a below-average recruit but noted that there were no red flags to suggest something like the van incident he's alleged to have been involved in was coming.

Ten people were killed and 14 people injured after a van mounted a sidewalk and drove into pedestrians along a busy stretch of a north Toronto street Monday afternoon. Minassian was arrested a short time later.

Facebook has confirmed that a widely circulated post that praises Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and then himself at the University of California in 2014, appears to have come from Minassian's account, though it says it's impossible to know who was using the account at the time the post was made.

Det. Sgt. Graham Gibson mentioned the post at a news conference Tuesday.

"As has been reported in the media, the accused is alleged to have posted a cryptic message on Facebook minutes before he began driving the rented van," he said. "It's something that we'll take into account in this investigation."

A Facebook spokeswoman said the account has since been deleted.

"There is absolutely no place on our platform for people who commit such horrendous acts," the company said in an email. "We have found and immediately deleted the suspect's Facebook account."

By Tuesday afternoon, the area surrounding Minassian's home, just 20 minutes north of where the van incident took place, was cordoned off with police tape, with officers entering the home a few times to speak to someone inside.

Elaha Jamal, whose parents live in the neighbourhood, said that in her time living there she noticed that the Minassians kept to themselves.

Minassian had an older brother, she said, and the pair would sometimes be seen walking around the neighbourhood.

"My parents lived here for over 15 years, and (the brothers) never made eye contact with us," she said. "And this community, everybody knows everybody."

Minassian had attended Thornlea Secondary School in Richmond Hill, graduating in 2011, according to school officials who declined to provide further details.

A LinkedIn page with Minassian's name and photograph lists him as a student at Seneca College from 2011 to 2018, but the college did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A man police identified as Minassian's father was present when Minassian appeared in court Tuesday morning. The man said little as he left the courtroom surrounded by media. Asked if he had a statement to offer to the families of the victims, he said simply, "I'm sorry."

—with files by Nicole Thompson and Lee Berthiaume.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press