Four Muslim family members who were struck and killed in a hit-and-run the northwest end of London, Ont., on Sunday evening were the victims of a pre-meditated, intentional hate crime, police say.
In a news conference on Monday, police said all the victims were from the same family and it is believed they were targeted because of their Islamic faith.
The family was struck by a black pickup truck as they waited to cross the street at the intersection of Hyde Park Road and South Carriage Road around 8:40 p.m.
Emergency crews were called to the scene by several 9-1-1 callers.
The family has identified the victims as Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother.
The couple’s nine-year-old son Fayez was seriously injured but is expected to survive.
Police arrested a 20-year-old man from London without incident a short time later, around 10 minutes away from the scene. He was wearing a vest that appeared to be like body armour when he was arrested.
Nathaniel Veltman is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He was expected to appear in court Monday.
“There is evidence that this was a planned, pre-meditated act motivated by hate. It is believed these victims were targeted because they were Muslim,” said superintendent Paul Waight. “There is no known previous connection between the suspect and the victims.”
Waight would not further elaborate on the kind of evidence gathered and only said it was culled from a variety of sources. However, during questions from the media, he said there was no suspicious online activity to alert police of Veltman’s intentions.
It is unclear if Veltman is a member of a specific hate group, but evidence was gathered from online sources, among others, to determine that the act was a hate crime.
There is no indication at this stage that any other people were involved in the planning and execution of the act, but it has not been ruled out, Waight said.
He added that the RCMP has been in contact with the London Police Service and they will be “liaising with them in terms of potential terrorism charges” along with the Ministry of the Attorney General.
The suspect was not known to London police and does not have a previous record of criminal convictions. Waight said he had contact with other police services in the past but “nothing of a very serious nature.”
London Police Chief Steve Williams reassured London’s Muslim community that they are safe.
“We take hate-motivated crime very seriously. We have specially trained investigators who have resources at their disposal to oversee and run these investigations and we will do whatever is required to keep our community safe and we stand with the community, we understand their concerns,” he said.
A witness tells CityNews she saw a large black pickup truck “fly” past her while she was waiting at a red light, shortly before the incident on Sunday.
“It was enough to shake my car and the next car. It was one of those things when you’re in shock and… you just see them blow a couple more red lights,” said Paige Martin. “I just thought it was someone driving very erratically until five minutes later when I was on my way back home. I mostly just saw a whole slew of people just on the ground, waving their arms, just trying to help people. There was a couple of police officers doing compressions.”
Martin said witnessing the scene left her shaken and emotional.
“I’m still in shock. I am very shaken up. Knowing that there’s a kid, multiple kids, it’s awful. This family’s just out for a walk. Actually seeing that and hearing about it and being right there, it’s awful and my heart is so broken for them today,” she said through tears. “I feel like this hasn’t sunk in yet for me and I’m just someone who witnessed it, let alone the actual family and everybody involved.”
The Thames Valley District School Board says one of the victims who died in the incident was a student at Oakridge Secondary School.
The statement, issued by the board’s director of education as well as the chair, says the student will be “deeply missed by fellow students and staff,” and the loss will be felt across the entire school board.
The statement says a traumatic events response team will be at the school, as well as others that are affected, for as long as necessary and flags outside all the board’s schools will be lowered until June 11.
It says the board remains “steadfastly committed to combating racism, Islamophobia, and discrimination in all its forms.”
London Muslim community leader and spokesperson Nawaz Tahir called the “horror” of the incident “unfathomable.”
“The London Muslim community has a long history in this city. This is our home and it is as much a part of us as we are a part of it. The individual that did this doesn’t understand that,” he said in a virtual news conference on Monday. “We will stand strong against hate, we still stand strong against Islamophobia. We will respond to those trying to inflict terror on our community with love. Hate will never overshadow the light of love.”
He called on all Canadians to ask themselves how to make sure this never happens again.
The Family killed in London Ont. attended the London Muslim Mosque. We spent time there tonight speaking with Imam Aarij Anwer – “We are all brothers and sisters in humanity” pic.twitter.com/PDQcoeoOrm
— Adrian Ghobrial (@CityAdrian) June 7, 2021
London mayor Ed Holder said on behalf of all Londoners that their hearts are broken and called the incident an act of “mass murder perpetrated against Muslims … rooted in unspeakable hatred.”
“The magnitude of such hatred can make one question who we are as a city and who we are as Londoners,” he said. “We can say ‘this isn’t who we are’ and I know that to be true. Words though, are not enough. We must demonstrate, behave and act on those words. This act of Islamophobia … must be followed by acts of compassion, acts of kindness, of humanity, acts of solidarity, empathy, justice and above all, love,” he said.
Holder expressed his grief for those killed and sent condolences to the family and the broader Muslim community in London, assuring them that the city remains a safe space for them.
“We wrap our collective arms around you today as we grieve and together our hearts will mend,” he said.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims published a statement on Twitter on Monday, writing that the organization is “beyond horrified and demands justice.”
BREAKING: The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) is beyond horrified and demands justice after the horrific hate-motivated car attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario who were out for a walk on Sunday evening. pic.twitter.com/o1wXqjpnRb
— NCCM (@nccm) June 7, 2021
Flags outside London city hall will be lowered for the next three days.
Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the federal Integrated Security Enforcement Team “is engaged in the investigation and working collaboratively with local police.”
Statement from Public Safety Minister @BillBlair says the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team is engaged in the investigation into the London attack & working collaboratively with local police. Federal resources are also available to assist the London police #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/OMGfyoszno
— Cormac Mac Sweeney (@cmaconthehill) June 8, 2021
An official fundraiser has been setup to help the family. People can donate to it here.
Files from the Canadian Press were used in this report