‘Keep their light burning’: Thousands attend #TorontoStrong vigil for victims of deadly van attack
Thousands of Canadians attended Sunday’s #TorontoStrong Vigil, where religious leaders lit candles, choirs sang songs and flowers were laid in honour of the victims of Monday’s deadly van attack in North York.
Prime Minister Trudeau, Premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory were also at the vigil which took place at 7 p.m. at Mel Lastman Square, seconds away from where the deadly rampage took place.
WATCH:PM Justin Trudeau joins thousands of mourners at #TorontoStrong vigil
Listed speakers at the inter-faith event included rabbis, an imam and a Buddhist monk. Special performances were led by multiple choirs including the Toronto Children’s Concert Choir and the Choir of Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto.
Many used the event to commend emergency service personnel on their work the day of the incident, including the officer who was able to arrest the suspect without firing his gun.
“In Toronto, in Ontario, in Canada, we don’t run away, we run to help others,” said Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl of the Beth Tzedec Congregation, the largest synagogue community in Canada.
WATCH: Choir performs ‘Amazing Grace’ at #TorontoStrong vigil
Frydman-Kohl also referenced other van attacks in cities such as Paris, Beirut and Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Toronto has felt the pain of other places, and those cities now share our horror and hurt,” he said.
Ten candles lined the stage in honour of the 10 victims of the tragic attack. Near the end of the event, the night’s speakers placed a white rose beside each lantern, as Rabbi Eva Goldfinger listed the names of those lost.
WATCH: Thousands sing O’Canada in honour of van attack victims at #TorontoStrong vigil
“Each of those who died are remembered as wonderful human beings who brought light into our world through a combined 539 years of their own acts of loving kindness,” Goldfinger said. “To make up for the loss of their continuing light and love, it behooves us to keep their light burning by continuing and multiplying their acts of openness and generosity and compassion.”
“This will be their immortality. This will be the hope of a better future for us, for Toronto and for our world.”
Before the vigil, thousands took part in what was billed as a walk of “healing and solidarity,” roughly following the route of last Monday’s attack.
WATCH: First responders receive standing ovation from crowd at #TorontoStrong vigil
The thousands in attendance, with the help of students from Earl Haig Secondary School & Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts, sang O Canada to close out the event.
Guy Ormiston told Global News that he made the trip to Toronto from Oshawa for the vigil because he has spent a lot of time in the area.
“For all I know, there is someone who stood beside me at a food truck that died or got seriously injured,” he said. “What’s the reason to do this to other people? There is no reason for it.”
Cecilia Barrator said she walks the stretch along Yonge Street every single day.
“It could have been any of us,” she said. “It could have been any of us, it’s about the community coming together.”
Police said uniformed officers would be present and visible at the event to ensure the public remains safe throughout the vigil.
“The public needs to get together and start the healing process and somehow relate to each other,” said Katrina Arrogante, a police spokeswoman.
“Everybody is affected differently and in how hard they’ve taken this incident.”
Ten people were killed when a white rental van mounted the curb driving southbound down a busy stretch of Yonge Street and began plowing into pedestrians.
On Friday, Toronto Police along with Ontario’s chief coroner identified the names of the people killed.
The victims have been identified as:
Beutis Renuka Amarasingha, 45, of Toronto
Andrea Bradden, 33, of Woodbridge
Geraldine Brady, 83, of Toronto
So He Chung, 22, of Toronto
Anne Marie D’Amico, 30, of Toronto
Mary Elizabeth Forsyth, 94, of Toronto
Ji Hun Kim, 22, who was a student living in Toronto but was from South Korea
Dorothy Sewell, 80, of Toronto
Chul Min Kang, 45, of Toronto
Munir Abdo Habib Najjar, 85, who was visiting Toronto from Jordan
Amarasingha was a single mother of a young son, and during the vigil, the venerable Dr. Bhante Saranapala of the Buddhist community said at the vigil that she had been a devotee of their sister temple in Scarborough.
“Our whole community came together to raise her only son, who is now motherless and fatherless,” Saranapala said. “But we are so happy to see our communities coming together to adopt this beautiful child.”
WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pays tribute to victims of Toronto van attack
Police said that 16 people in total, between the ages of 23 and 90 years old, were injured during the attack. Fourteen people were taken to hospital and two have since been released. After the attack, a 21-year-old man and a 67-year-old woman contacted police to report they were injured.
Aldo Poblete works in the area and was on the phone on Monday during his lunch break walking north of the west sidewalk of Yonge Street when he heard women start yelling.
“I looked up and I saw him hit two victims, I then ran away … and started warning people,” Poblete told Global News Sunday at the vigil. “At first I thought it was an accident and then when i saw him accelerate … I realized it wasn’t an accident and it was on purpose, so immediately I thought it was a terrorist attack, just due to the nature of the incident.”
Poblete said he was immediately in shock.
“I went back to the office shaking, I wanted to make sure my co-workers were safe — I think that was the first thing that came to mind, because a lot of us do take lunch here,” he said.
The week has been tough for Poblete, who said he came back to the scene for the vigil to pay his respect to the victims and their families, as well as to get some closure.
“You definitely don’t take life for granted anymore,” he said.
“I don’t think I have a clear answer as to how I’m healing, but you have to be strong, you have to face your fears, you can’t believe that everybody is evil in this world, you stick together.”
The #TorontoStrong Fund, created through a partnership between the City of Toronto and the Toronto Foundation, has raised more than $1.8 million in donations which will help to provide support to those who were impacted by Monday’s incident.
Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill, Ont., has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder in the incident.
Police say another three attempted murder charges are imminent.
—With files from Nick Westoll and The Canadian Press.
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.