Chaplains at Toronto hospital describe aftermath of van attack: ‘It just hurt my heart’
As friends and family waited for news of their loved ones after a van jumped the curb and mowed down pedestrians on a busy Toronto street Monday afternoon, chaplains were also at the hospital to offer their support.
Alek Minassian was arrested shortly after and is facing 10 charges of first-degree murder and 13 charges of attempted murder in relation to the incident.
As doctors, nurses and other health professionals worked hard to tend to the injured, chaplains came to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre to tend to those waiting for news.
“I’ve experienced a lot. I’m 75 years old. I have never had, ever, had a crisis situation like I did that day,” Reverend Peter White, bishop and senior chaplain for the Chaplin Offices of Canada, said.
Though he wasn’t the official hospital chaplain, he said he “felt [he] needed to go” after hearing the news of the tragedy.
WATCH: Chaplain describes scene at Sunnybrook hospital following Toronto van attack
He described a chaotic and emotional scene as people waited anxiously to receive news of their beloved.
“They were talking, mingling, crying, people that didn’t even know each other were hugging each other,” he said.
“It was unbelievable — the commotion, the hurt, even anger, the frustration, not knowing what is happening but more than that, no knowing what to do.”
He said he was happy to be there to provide comfort, no matter the religion of those he was trying to help.
“In a crisis situation, it really doesn’t matter whether you’re known or not,” White explained.
“One of the greatest things a chaplain or a minister can do is just be present — hold their hands, give them assurance, because in situations like this, I’m sure today a few will remember, a few won’t even remember what you said.”
“I just pray that all those I met that day found some solace and comfort. Not for myself, but for all the other people that went to try to help to be there.”
WATCH: Chaplains describe ‘chaos, confusion’ at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre after van attack
Reverend Deloy Sherman also provided spiritual help for those there, saying it was his mission on earth to help people.
“I just go to the different family members, the Muslims, from different communities, from different ethnic backgrounds, and I go up to them and talk to them tell them why I’m here: ‘I’m here to support you, I’m with you,’ and they appreciate it,” Sherman said.
“It just hurt my heart.”
He said there were many people who are still in pain and hurting from this incident, and that the emotional toll is high for everyone involved.
Sherman himself said he spoke with the family of Ranuka Amarasingha, a single mother killed in the incident.
“They were just telling me about what a nice person she [is], that she loved her family — she loved her son,” he said.
“So it was very hard for me. One of them held on to my hand, they gripped, they would not release it, so I feel their pain.”
“My heart goes out for them. Sometimes I just have to put on a brave face as a chaplain, just not to break down, just to tell them to keep the faith,” Sherman said.
“I’m usually a very strong person. I go behind the scenes at funeral homes. I’ve seen things, accidents,” White explained.
“But this was a different kind of crisis that I don’t think anybody had ever experienced before. It’s because of the emotion and mood of the people that made it so different.”
Both chaplains praised the medical staff at the hospital for staying calm under pressure.
“You could see the staff was really good. They were coming in, and going out, back and forth, back and forth,” White said.
“I know they’re trained for this but when the real stuff comes it’s like a shock to everybody, no matter who you are, how much you were prepared for this, it was a shock for everybody,” Sherman said.
— With files from Kamil Karamali and Nick Westoll
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