A man accused of using a rented van to plough into a busy Toronto footpath has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder as Canadian authorities attempted to make sense of what is thought to be one of the deadliest incidents of violence in the country's history.
Alek Minassian (25), from Richmond Hill, near Toronto, showed little emotion during a brief court appearance on Tuesday. A grey-haired man, believed to be Minassian's father, sat in the first row of the courtroom, quietly weeping as the charges were read out.
The "horrific and deliberate attack" has left Toronto in mourning, Toronto's mayor, John Tory, said on Tuesday. It took place around lunchtime on Monday, as crowds were out basking in the sun on one of the first warm days of the year.
Shocked witnesses described watching as a van jumped the kerb of one of the city’s main arteries, zigzagging as it barrelled into pedestrians and oncoming traffic.
"People started flying in the air," Henry Yang, who was driving behind the van as the incident unfolded, told the Toronto Star. "I started honking my horn, making noises, trying to make a commotion, trying to make people aware that something was going on. I rolled down my windows and started yelling at people, I wanted them to get out of the way."
The van crashed through crowds, fire hydrants and a bus shelter. “It was like he was playing a video game, trying to kill as many people as possible,” Panna Patel told the Associated Press. “He was looking people directly in the eye, making eye contact, it was so scary.”
Canadian authorities have yet to suggest any possible motivation for the attack.
Prime minister Justin Trudeau described it as a "senseless attack and a horrific tragedy". He downplayed any possible link to terrorism, saying that at the moment there was no evidence to suggest there is a "national security element" to the situation.
While police have not yet released the names of those killed in the attack, Anne Marie D’Amico has been identified as one of the victims, remembered by her family as someone with a generous heart “who always did big things for people”.
Two South Koreans were also among those killed, officials in Seoul told Agence France-Presse, and another of its citizens was seriously injured.
One Jordanian citizen was among those killed, an official at the embassy of Jordan in Ottawa said on Tuesday.
On Tuesday a portrait began to emerge of Minassian, the young man alleged to have carried out the attack. A computer software student at a Toronto college, he handed in his final project weeks ago.
Joe Pham, who said he recently took a programming class with Minassian, described him as someone who kept to himself. “He was socially awkward but well spoken,” Pham said.
Canadian military officials said Minassian joined the Canadian armed forces last August but was “voluntarily released” weeks later at his own request. He had completed just 16 days of basic training.
Canadian media cited one possible clue to his motive: a Facebook post by Minassian shortly before the incident that referenced an “incel rebellion”, a shorthand used in some online message boards for “involuntary celibacy”.
The Toronto Globe and Mail reported the post, citing a spokeswoman for the social media company. The post also voiced admiration for a man who killed six college students before taking his own life in California in 2014.
Shortly after Minassian's arrest, police descended on a brick home in Richmond Hill believed to be connected to the 25-year-old. Calling the investigation "far from over", Toronto's police chief Mark Saunders appealed to witnesses to come forward.
“We need to identify if there are more people, if he’s working in concert with anyone, or if this was just a lone act on his own doing.” Minassian was not previously known to police, he said.
The incident unfolded miles north of Toronto’s downtown core, in a neighbourhood that ranks among the city’s most multicultural. Hours after the attack, a makeshift memorial sprung up near the path of devastation, with residents leaving handwritten notes offering condolences and support in several languages.
“Each life had so much love,” said Saman Tabasinejad as she planted roses alongside the messages. “I just want to honour them.”
The 2km-stretch of city blocks where the incident unfolded remained closed to traffic on Tuesday. The area is expected to stay cordoned off for several days as some 20 officers comb the area for clues in what is expected to be a lengthy investigation.
“We are looking very strongly to what the exact motivation was for this particular incident to take place,” said Saunders. “We need every single piece of this puzzle so we can have a fulsome picture and account as to exactly what took place here.” – Guardian