Police say Salman Afzal and his family were targeted for their Muslim faith in a heinous crime that killed four and injured one. A driver leaped over a curb and plowed through the family in what is being deemed a hate crime and possible terrorist attack.
Afzal’s Muslim family was out for a walk Sunday, which they do every day, when a man driving a pickup truck jumped the curb, plowing through the family in Canada’s Ontario province. The incident left Salman Afzal, 46, his wife Madiha, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna, and a 74-year-old unnamed grandmother, dead by the intersection. Afzal’s son, Fayez, is currently hospitalized, though his condition is unknown.
The suspect, a 20-year-old man, was wearing a vest described as “body armor” as he fled the scene. The man was eventually arrested at a mall in London, Ontario, about four miles from the carnage. The individual has been identified as Nathaniel Veltman who faced four counts of first-degree murder.
Though Veltman reportedly didn’t know the family, police are describing this as a “planned, premeditated attack” and that it was “motivated by hate.” Detective Superintendent Paul Waight said that “it is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim.
Waight pointed out that law enforcement has gone through the suspect’s social media account. It has not been identified whether Veltman was a part of any specific hate group, however, police are working to determine if Nathaniel Veltman should face terrorism charges.
Salman Afzal and his family were reportedly stand-up citizens, and the community is devastated to hear about this tragedy. The four individuals who died are being mourned as the “model family they were as Muslims, Canadians, and Pakistanis,” according to a statement. “They worked extremely hard in their fields and excelled. Their children were top students in their school and connected strongly with their spiritual identity.”
Friends of Salman Afzal have said that the family migrated to Canada 14 years ago. The father was a physiotherapist and cricket player, according to a fundraising webpage set up for the family, and Madiha was working towards her Ph.D. in civil engineering at Western University. Yumna, their daughter, was a model ninth-grader and the grandmother, a “pillar” of the community.
The incident, which many believe to be a targeted attack, is sparking calls to fight against hate and Islamophobia. The family friends of Salman Afzal said that “this young man who committed this act of terror was influenced by a group that he associated with, and the rest of the community must take a strong stand against this, from the highest levels in our government to every member of the community.”
The community laid flowers near the intersection where the family was murdered in a tribute to the Afzals. A vigil is scheduled for Tuesday night at the mosque where the family frequented.
Rauf Ahman, who was mourning near the tribute with three friends, admitted that “I didn’t think there was racism in Canada and I felt very safe when I came here two years ago, but I do not feel safe now. Humanity is first, we should not care about whether someone is a Muslim, a Jew, or a Christian.”
Flags were lowered for three days in London in response to the attack. There are approximately 30,000 to 40,000 Muslims among the 400,000 residents. Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair declared the attack “a horrific act of Islamophobia” and pointed out that resources are available to assist London police in their investigation, should they require it.
Paige Martin, one of the witnesses of the vile aftermath of the deadly attack, said she “was shaken up, thinking it was an erratic driver.” She was stopped at a red light when the pickup truck zoomed past her. She then found the carnage after the crash, in which Salman Afzal and his family were lying near death.
First responders performed chest compressions and other drivers left their vehicles to help. Martin says she “can’t get the sound of the screams out of my head,” and that her “heart is just so broken for them.”