Four members of a London, Ont., family who were struck and killed by a vehicle in the city’s northwest Sunday evening are believed to have been targeted because they were Muslim, the area’s police chief says.
“We believe this was an intentional act and that the victims of this horrific incident were targeted,” Chief Steve Williams told reporters during a news conference Monday afternoon.
“We believe the victims were targeted because of their Islamic faith.”
Williams called Sunday’s attack a “devastating loss” for the community.
“We understand that this event may cause fear and anxiety in the community and in particular the Muslim community and any community targeted by hate. I want to reassure all Londoners that all of us on the call today and many others stand with you and support you,” he said.
“There is no tolerance in this community for individuals who, motivated by hate, target others with violence.”
It was Sunday evening at around 8:40 p.m. when Det. Supt. Paul Waight said emergency crews were called to the intersection of Hyde Park and South Carriage roads, south of Gainsborough Road. He said it’s alleged the driver of a black pick-up truck drove south on Hyde Park Road, mounted the sidewalk and struck the family members.
Waight said the vehicle took off southbound “at a high rate of speed.” Approximately five minutes later, he said the driver stopped the vehicle at Cherryhill Village Mall at Cherryhill Boulevard and Oxford Street West, which is roughly a six-kilometre drive away from the scene.
The accused was subsequently arrested by police. Waight said the suspect was wearing “a vest that appeared to be like body armour” at the time of his arrest.
“There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act motivated by hate. It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim,” Waight said.
“There is no known previous connection between the suspect and the victims.”
Officers said a 74-year-old woman died at the scene. A 44-year-old woman, a 46-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl were rushed to hospital by paramedics, but they later died of their injuries. Family members requested the names of the victims be withheld due to privacy reasons.
A nine-year-old boy related to the deceased was also taken to hospital where he is being treated for serious, but non-life-threatening injuries.
The accused in the case, 20-year-old London resident Nathaniel Veltman, was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and a count of attempted murder. He appeared through an audio link in a London court on Monday. He was remanded into custody and scheduled to appear in court again on Thursday. The charges against Veltman haven’t been proven in court.
Nawaz Tahir, a lawyer and a leader in London’s Muslim community, said the minds of many community members are “numb with pain” after the deaths.
“A Muslim family out for a walk on a beautiful summer evening was run down by a car driven by a man who appears to have been filled with hate. One child remains in hospital and four people will never return home again,” he told reporters.
“The horror that has visited this family, the Canadian Muslim community, and Canada at large last night is unfathomable. These were innocent human beings who were killed simply because they’re Muslim.”
Tahir went on to describe how the Muslim community has a “long history” with London.
“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.
“We will stand strong against hate. We will stand strong against Islamophobia. We will respond to those trying to inflict terror on our community with love. We will survive this test through faith, through love, through our unshakable belief in God and our quest for justice.”
Qazi Khalil, who said he went for walks with the man who died, described him as a dedicated father and an active community member who participated in local events.
“He was a really good dad, a really good person, and a really active community member. He always went to our mosque. He was an active member there as well. So I still, you know… I’m in total shock.”
London Mayor Ed Holder called the act one of “mass murder,” saying many hearts are “broken” after Sunday’s incident.
“This was an act of mass murder, perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, and 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 told reporters.
“It’s up to us – all of us – to answer that question through not only our words, but our actions. 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.”
A crowdfunding campaign was launched on Monday to support the nine-year-old boy. As of Monday evening, it raised more than US$117,000.
Meanwhile, anyone with information about the incident was asked to call a dedicated police tip line at 519-661-5515 ext. 5842 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.