With the driver under arrest, Canadian authorities begin process of reconstructing the day of horror
TORONTO: The killing began on a busy lunchtime thoroughfare in Toronto on Monday when a white rental Ryder van ran over a pedestrian crossing the street — then mounted a sidewalk and began ploughing into people indiscriminately.
“One by one, one by one,” said a witness who identified himself as Ali. “Holy God, I’ve never seen such a sight before. I feel sick.”
By the end, at least 10 people were dead and 15 were injured, said authorities.
The driver’s actions, they said, appeared intentional, but did not seem to have been an act of terrorism. “The city is safe,” said Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders.
The driver, who was identified as Alek Minassian, 25, was in custody after initially refusing to surrender.
“Get down or you’ll be shot,” the officers warned him after he exited the van in a scene captured on video.
“Shoot me in the head,” Minassian said.
He was subdued without any shots being fired.
Nearby, the bodies of the dead and injured, some covered by orange tarps, lay on a broad sidewalk that was scattered with debris, including a child’s stroller.
The carnage was reminiscent of deadly attacks by Daesh supporters using vehicles that have shaken up Nice, France; Berlin; Barcelona, Spain; London and New York. But late Monday, Canada’s public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, said this time appeared to be different.
“The events that happened on the street behind us are horrendous,” he said, “but they do not appear to be connected in any way to national security based on the information at this time”.
With the driver under arrest, Canadian authorities began the process of reconstructing how — and why — a day filled with the promise of early spring became a scene of horror. Authorities released few details about Minassian on Monday night.
“There were a lot of pedestrians out, a lot of witnesses out, enjoying the sunny afternoon,” said Peter Yuen, deputy chief of the Toronto police service.
John Flengas, acting EMS supervisor for Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, which said it received 10 victims from the scene, described it as “pure carnage”. He told CTV News on Monday that he had seen “victims everywhere”.
One witness said the van had mowed down everything in its path: pedestrians, mailboxes, electrical poles, benches and a fire hydrant. Another, who rushed to help the pedestrian struck while crossing the street, said, “Pieces of the van went flying everywhere.”
Meaghan Gray, a spokeswoman for Toronto police, said authorities received a report at 1:30pm. Monday that the van had mounted a curb near Yonge Street and Finch Avenue West. Stephan Powell, a spokesman for the Toronto Fire Department, said pedestrians were struck at “at least two locations.”
Two of the 10 victims taken to Sunnybrook were declared dead on arrival, Dr. Dan Cass, its executive vice-president, said at a news conference. Five were in critical condition and three were in serious condition, he said.
Cass said that he did not have information about the nature of the victims’ injuries and that the hospital had not yet confirmed the identities of the dead.
In a statement Monday, John Tory, mayor of Toronto, said, “My thoughts are with those affected by this incident and the front-line responders who are working to help those injured.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “We’re monitoring the situation closely.”
Shops remain closed
Yonge Street is Toronto’s main artery, and is widely celebrated as the longest street in Canada. It cuts through the city from Lake Ontario through downtown before reaching the suburbs and then into farmland.
The deaths occurred in the far north, a densely populated part of the city surrounded by many new condominium towers. On Monday, many shops in the area remained closed, at the request of authorities. And a makeshift memorial was developing at a stone wall just south of Finch Avenue.
Late in the day, well south of the scene of the killings, extra security was obvious around the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto, where the Toronto Maple Leafs were playing Boston in a playoff game. Large municipal dump trucks, apparently filled with sand and gravel, were used to block off roads, including one major thoroughfare near the ice rink.
After the game, which Toronto won, jubilant fans streamed out of the arena, but the only sign of the day’s events on Yonge Street were clutches of police officers wearing bulletproof vests. Some fans expressed shock about the carnage that had taken place earlier in the day.
“We don’t expect this in Canada,” said one fan, Luca Pitsocia, a 21-year-old aspiring paramedic.
The van used in the rampage was stopped about a 1.5km south of where it took place, said Dan Fox, a civil servant who passed the vehicle on his way to work Monday. He said it had “significant damage”.
“It looked like the side of the van had scraped along the side of the building,” Fox said in a phone interview, the sound of police sirens wailing behind him. “The driver-side door was open, but I didn’t see anyone in or around the van.”