Toronto van attack left ‘predominantly female’ victims, police say

The suspected driver of a van that jumped the curb and drove through a crowd of pedestrians Monday in Toronto has been charged.

Alek Minassian, 25, faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. Due to the gravity of his alleged crimes, he will remain detained while he awaits his next court appearance scheduled for May 10.

Police say they are anticipating a 14th count of attempted murder, but that has not been made official at this time.

Minassian was arrested by Toronto police after at least 24 people were struck by a vehicle on Yonge Street near Finch Avenue in the north end of the city. Ten people are confirmed dead and 14 others are injured. Police had previously said 15 people were hurt.

During a Tuesday news conference, Det.-Sgt. Graham Gibson confirmed “the accused is alleged to have posted a cryptic message on Facebook” moments before the van slammed into pedestrians. That message is believed to have praised Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old killer in a 2014 California rampage known for his reported hatred of women, but police wouldn’t go into details to confirm the connection.

Gibson said the victims were “predominantly female,” ranging in age from their mid 20s to 80s. Injuries range from “scrapes and bruises to terrible injuries,” he added.

It is “far too early to say” whether the suspect was mentally ill, the detective told members of the media. Gibson did confirm that the van used in the attack was rented north of the city.

As for the police response, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said it took officers seven minutes from the first call to the moment of arrest to detain the suspect. He also spoke about police takedown of the suspect, which he called “nothing short of remarkable” since no gunshots were fired.

The suspect’s cellphone was seized by police, Saunders confirmed. Police are also appealing members of the public who witnessed or recorded the incident to come forward to authorities.

“We’re seeing what the city is made of today,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters. “Everything is being done as quickly as possible.”

However, Ontario’s chief coroner said it will take “a number of days” before the names of victims are released.

The accused is from Richmond Hill, Ont., a town located just outside of Toronto. On a LinkedIn page believed to belong to him, it states he has been a student at the Toronto-based Seneca College since 2011.

Pedestrians were hit when the vehicle left the roadway and drove along the sidewalk and in the wrong lanes during a one-kilometre stretch of road, which is one of the busiest in Canada’s largest city.

Saunders had previously told reporters the act appeared to be deliberate. Minassian was not known to Toronto police before the incident, Saunders said.

Victims being identified in media reports

The chief coroner for Ontario says it will be days before the identities of the victims are released, media reports are surfacing.

CBC News reports Invesco Canada president Peter Intraligi confirmed Anne Marie D’Amico was one of the victims.

“I can now confirm that unfortunately one of our employees has succumbed to her injuries,” Intraligi told CBC News via email.

Jon Tam was one of her colleagues at the U.S.-based investment company. In an interview with CBC News, he described her as “very warm, a very happy person” who was “always smiling.” Tam added that she was known for her volunteer work.

Tennis Canada also expressed their condolences regarding D’Amico’s death. In an online statement, the organization said she had been working the Rogers Cup tournament since she was 12 and was voted volunteer of the year in 2016.

“She was always smiling, had the biggest heart and always put other people’s needs ahead of her own,” the statement said. Tournament organizers are expected to pay tribute to her this summer.

CBC News also reports Dorothy Sewell, an 80-year-old woman, has been identified as a victim by her grandson, Elwood Delaney.

“She was the foundation for all things sports here in our family, that’s for sure,” Elwood told CBC News. “She loved her Maple Leafs, she loved her Blue Jays. I don’t think she ever missed a Blue Jays game.”

Global News reports Chul Min Kang has been identified as a victim by his employer, Copacabana Brazilian Steakhouses, in a letter sent to employees.

Meanwhile, Jordanian media has identified Munir Abdu Habib Al-Najjar as a victim, while the South Korean Foreign Affairs Ministry has confirmed two nationals were also killed.

Yahoo Canada has not confirmed the reports of the victims’ identities independently.

Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old man from Richmond Hill, Ont., is suspected of running down numerous pedestrians on a bustling stretch of Yonge Street north of downtown Toronto on Monday. Photo from LinkedIn via The Canadian Press.
Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old man from Richmond Hill, Ont., is suspected of running down numerous pedestrians on a bustling stretch of Yonge Street north of downtown Toronto on Monday. Photo from LinkedIn via The Canadian Press.

The Canadian Press reports Minassian was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces from Aug. 23, 2017 until Oct. 25, 2017, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of National Defence.

“He did not complete his recruit training and requested to be voluntarily released from the CAF after 16 days of recruit training,” Jessica Lamirande told The Canadian Press.

The Globe and Mail reports one of the suspect’s former classmates, who wanted to remain anonymous, described him as a person with a significant social or mental disability. Another unnamed classmate told the newspaper Minassian never showed any signs of extremism, but was somewhat socially awkward.

Yahoo Canada has not confirmed the Globe and Mail’s report.

The charges come after high-ranking public officials weighed in on the deadly incident.

The mayor said the city is “strong and resilient and we will not be thrown off course by one person or one act, no matter how horrific.”

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the event a “senseless attack and a horrific tragedy.” He praised first responders for their work at the scene.

“They handled this extremely difficult situation with professionalism and bravery. They faced danger without a moment of hesitation, and there is no doubt that their courage saved lives and prevented further injuries,” Trudeau said.

“All Canadians stand united with Toronto today.”

Both Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale also reassured members of the public that there does not appear to be a link between the attack and terrorism.

“We have no reason to suspect that there is any national security element to this attack,” the prime minister told reporters.

“The investigation that is underway is still in its very early hours, but thus far, there is no discernible connection to national security in the incident last evening, based on all available information at the present time,” Goodale said.

In the House of Commons in Ottawa, a moment of silent was held Tuesday afternoon to honour the victims.

The incident also caught the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump, who spoke publicly about it for the first time on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

“I also want to express our deepest sympathies to the Canadian people following the horrendous tragedy in Toronto that claimed so many innocent lives,” U.S. President Donald Trump said. “Our hearts are with the grieving families in Canada.”

Trump is being joined at the White House by French President Emmanuel Macron, who tweeted a message in French about the attack on Monday.

“I express my profound solidarity with the Canadian people after the tragedy that has just struck the city of Toronto,” Macron said.

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to raise money to pay for the victims’ funeral expenses. Tory also said the city was teaming up with the Toronto Foundation to create the #TorontoStrong Fund to support victims and their families.

With files from Sarah Rohoman and The Canadian Press