‘Mass murder’: Muslim family targeted, killed in attack motivated by hate, Canadian police say
A man killed four members of a Muslim family and seriously injured another with his pickup truck in a “planned, premeditated attack motivated by hate,” police in Canada said Monday.
Nathaniel Veltman, 20, was arrested Sunday after witnesses said he struck the family of five with his vehicle while they were waiting at an intersection in London, Ontario, police said at a press conference. Veltman, a resident of London, was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder and is due in court Thursday.
The victims were identified as Salman Afzal, 46; his wife Madiha, 44; their daughter Yumna, 15; and a 74-year-old grandmother whose name was withheld in a statement issued by extended family. A 9-year-old boy was hospitalized with serious but not life-threatening injuries.
“Everyone who knew Salman and the rest of the Afzal family know the model family they were as Muslims, Canadians and Pakistanis,” the statement said. “They worked extremely hard in their fields and excelled. Their children were top students in their school and connected strongly with their spiritual identity.”
A GoFundMe said the father was a physiotherapist and cricket enthusiast and his wife was working on a PhD in civil engineering at Western University in Ontario. Their daughter was finishing ninth grade, and the grandmother was a “pillar” of the family, the page said.
A line of police officers look for evidence at the scene of a car crash in London, Ontario on Monday, June 7, 2021. Police say multiple people have died after several pedestrians were struck by a car Sunday night. (Photo: Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press via AP)
The teenage girl who was killed “will be deeply missed by fellow students and staff at Oakridge Secondary School,” according to a statement from the school.
Zahid Khan, a family friend, said the family had immigrated from Pakistan 14 years ago and were dedicated, decent and generous members of the London Muslim Mosque.
“They were just out for their walk that they would go out for every day,” Khan told the Associated Press through tears near the crash site.
Detective Superintendent Paul Waight of the London police department told reporters police had not determined if the suspect is part of a specific hate group and did not have a criminal record. He was arrested without incident while wearing a vest that looked like body armor in a mall parking lot and did not have any accomplices, according to Waight.
Waight said London police are working with federal authorities and prosecutors to potentially file terrorism charges but declined to describe what evidence indicated the crime was motivated by hate.
“We believe the victims were targeted because of their Islamic faith,” Waight said.
Mayor Ed Holder said the attack was the worst mass murder the city of London had ever seen and ordered flags outside city hall to be lowered for three days of mourning.
“This was an act of mass murder perpetuated against Muslims,” Holder said. “It was rooted in unspeakable hatred.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “horrified” by the attack.
People attend a memorial at the location where a family of five was hit by a driver, in London, Ontario, Monday, June 7, 2021. Four of the members of the family died and one is in critical condition. A 20-year-old male has been charged with four counts of first degree murder and count of attempted murder in connection with the crime. (Photo: Brett Gundlock/The Canadian Press via AP)
“To the Muslim community in London and to Muslims across the country, know that we stand with you,” he tweeted. “Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities. This hate is insidious and despicable — and it must stop.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims will hold a vigil at the family’s mosque Tuesday night that will be livestreamed on social media.
Muslims in Canada have become “all too familiar with the violence of Islamophobia,” council CEO Mustafa Farooq said in a statement. In 2017, a French Canadian man known for far-right, nationalist views went on a shooting rampage at a Quebec City mosque that killed six people.
“This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil, and should be treated as such,” Farooq said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg
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