LONDON, ON: Thousands of people gathered on Oxford Street in London, Ontario, on Tuesday evening for a vigil in honour of the four members of a Muslim family killed in what is termed as premeditated terrorist attack by a young man driving a pickup vehicle.
The victims have been identified as Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and Salman’s 74-year-old mother.
Their 9-year-old son Fayez remains in hospital with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries. Security was tight on Tuesday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, London Mayor Ed Holder and other politicians gathered to show their support to the community at the vigil.
Trudeau denounced the Sunday attack as an ‘act of evil.’ “You are not alone. All Canadians mourn with you and stand with you, tonight and always.”
Trudeau said: “To those who knew the Afzaal family, to the son who survived, to Muslims in London and in communities across Canada, to everyone who feels sad or angry or afraid: You are not alone. Canadians across the country are mourning with you and standing with you – tonight, and always.”
”If anyone thinks racism & hatred don’t exist in [Canada], I want to say this: how do we explain such violence to a child in a hospital? How can we look families in the eye & say, ‘Islamophobia isn’t real’?”
Premier Doug Ford said: ”Hate and Islamophobia have NO place in Ontario. Justice must be served for the horrific act of hatred that took place in London, Ontario. My thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends during this difficult time. These heinous acts of violence must stop.”
Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also spoke in the same vein and stressed love and inclusiveness as inherent traits of Canadians. Nathaniel Veltman, 20, of London, has been charged with four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the attack. It was on Sunday, June 6, 2021, at approximately 8:40 p.m., that Veltman’s black pickup struck the five family members as they walked along the west side of Hyde Park Road, near its junction with South Carriage Road.
The pickup mounted the curb as the family was waiting to cross the intersection. Veltman then sped from the scene and did not stop at the traffic light while turning left on Oxford Street.
Veltman was arrested about seven km away from the scene of the attack in the parking lot of a mall on Cherrryhill Boulevard. He was reported to be wearing a vest which looked like body armour. Police say they believe that the victims were targeted because of their Islamic faith and that it was a premeditated act, motivated by hate.
There is no known previous connection between the suspect and the victims. Erin O’Toole said in a statement soon after the attack: “Reports that the killing of a family in London, Ontario was hate-motivated because of their Muslim faith is horrific and heart-breaking. To the family and friends of the victims, I want to express my deepest condolences during this unimaginably difficult time.
We stand with the Muslim community and reaffirm our commitment to build a country that is free from hatred, where Canadians of all faiths can live without fear of violence or persecution.
London Mayor Ed Holder said: “This was an act of mass murder perpetrated against Muslims against Londoners and rooted in unspeakable hatred. The magnitude of such hatred can make us question who we are as a city and who we are as Londoners.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory said: “We stand with the Muslim community in London and here in Toronto in the face of this tragedy. And we absolutely reject the hatred and Islamophobia that led to this deadly violence. This hate is insidious and despicable – and it must stop.”
Another vigil is scheduled for Friday (June 11) at 7:00 pm. The march – the London Multi-faith March to End Hatred – will start at the attack site on Hyde Park Road and will end at the London Muslim Mosque. The funeral of the four victims is scheduled to be held on Saturday (June 12) afternoon.
Media reports say that Veltman worked at an egg farm in the small community of Strathroy, in southwestern Ontario. It is also said that he attended Strathroy District Collegiate Institute and then Fanshawe College in London. He is not known to have much of a digital presence. London police Chief Steve Williams has already said that Veltman was not known to police, although his name had surfaced in some minor incidents. Police also believe that he acted alone and there was no evidence yet of links to extremist groups.