The 20-year-old Canadian driver who police say deliberately crashed into a Muslim family of five, killing four of them, was a homeschooled devout Christian who was seen laughing at the time of his arrest while wearing body armor allegedly plastered with swastikas.
Nathaniel Veltman, London, Ontario, was arrested on Sunday on four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in connection with the deadly attack, which investigators said was prompted by animosity toward the victims’ faith.
‘This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities,’ Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Parliament on Tuesday. ‘If anyone thinks racism and hatred don’t exist in this country, I want to say this: How do we explain such violence to a child in a hospital? How can we look families in the eye and say “Islamophobia isn’t real”’?
A taxi driver who happened to be near the scene of the deadly attack told the London Free Press of Canada that he observed Veltman’s damaged and blood-spattered truck pull up behind him.
According to the taxi driver, Veltman emerged from his vehicle wearing body armor, a military-style helmet and clothing that was possibly festooned with swastikas, and asked the man to call the police because he had just killed someone.
Yellow Taxi London President Hassan Savehilaghi, speaking to the newspaper on behalf of his driver, said that when officers arrived on the scene and removed Veltman from his vehicle, ‘he was laughing.’
Veltman allegedly asked the cab driver to videotape his arrest.
The victims’ extended family issued a statement identifying the dead as Salman Afzal, 46; his wife Madiha, 44; their daughter Yumna, 15; and a 74-year-old grandmother whose name was withheld. The hospitalized boy was identified as the couple’s son, Fayez. Friends said the family immigrated from their native Pakistan to Canada 14 years ago.
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Pictured: Nathaniel Veltman, 20, is the suspect facing murder charges for allegedly mowing down a Muslim family of five, killing four of them, in London, Ontario, Sunday
Pictured: Victims of the anti-Muslim attack in London, Ontario. Left to right is the only survivor, son, Fayez Salman (9) who is currently in the hospital and being supported by his extended family; Yumna Salman (15), their daughter, was finishing up her grade 9 year at Oakridge Secondary School; mother Mrs. Madiha Salman (44) was in the process of working towards finishing her exams to obtain her PhD at Western University in Civil engineering; grandmother age 74, and father Mr. Salman Afzaal (46), a physiotherapist and beloved member of the London community.
A line of police officers look for evidence at the scene of a car crash in London, Ontario on Monday. The victims, a family that immigrated from Pakistan 14 years ago, were out for their nightly walk at the time
A police vehicle is parked outside what local media describe as Veltman’s apartment building on Covent Market Place in London, Ontario, on Tuesday
Veltman worked as a part-time shipping worker at Gray Ridge Egg Farms, an egg-packing plant in Strathroy, Ontario
‘There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act and that the family was targeted because of their Muslim faith,’ said London Police Service Det.-Insp. Paul Waight during a briefing on Monday.
CTV News reported that Veltman worked as a part-time shipping worker at Gray Ridge Egg Farms, an egg-packing plant in Strathroy, Ontario.
Gray Ridge Eggs CEO William Gray released a statement on the company’s website, saying that management and staff ‘were shocked and saddened’ to learn of Veltman’s arrest on murder charges.
‘We join our community in expressing condemnation of this violent attack and offer our heartfelt sympathy to the family and the Muslim community,’ Gray stated.
Arman Moradpourian, a friend who worked with Veltman, called Veltman a very devout Christian and said he was home schooled. Moradpourian said Veltman didn’t have a problem with him being Persian and raised Muslim.
‘He never judged me,’ Moradpourian told The Associated Press. “He would give his shirt off his back for you.”
Moradpourian said Veltman helped him with rides to grocery stores and helped him mediate family issues.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau places flowers at a vigil outside the London Muslim Mosque organized after the hate-motivated attack on the Muslim family
Ontario Premier Doug Ford walks to place flowers at the vigil on Tuesday
‘There are no words that can ease the grief of having three generations murdered in their neighborhood,’ Trudeau told the crowd at the vigil Tuesday
Thousands of mourners attended the vigil at the mosque the slain family attended. Pandemic restrictions were eased to allow mourners to attend the outdoor vigil
Members of the Muslim community gather to pray on Oxford Street on Tuesday in London, Canada
He said Veltman deleted his social media years ago and remade it a few months ago. He said he used the same name but said it was deactivated after he was arrested. He said Veltman was into video games and fishing.
Another co-worker told the London Free Press of Canada that he last saw Veltman last Friday, and that he seemed ‘broken up’ over the death of his 101-year-old great-grandmother.
But he was reportedly back at work on Sunday. After finishing his shift, Veltman was said to have played a competitive shooting game similar to paintball.
Tina Perry, who had worked with Veltman at the plant for several years, told CTV that her former colleague ‘was always a nice guy’ who mostly kept to himself.
‘I’ve never heard anything bad about him,’ she told CTV News. ‘I’m very shaken up about this.’
A colleague told the London Free Press of Canada that albeit high-strunt at time, Veltman was never violent.
He moved to London six months ago to attend Fanshawe College.
As a teenager in 2016, Veltman was photographed taking part in the St. Clair River Run, a half-marathon, 10-kilometer and five-kilometer race.
Veltman lived in an apartment on Covent Market Place in London, where police were seen on Tuesday.
‘There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act and that the family was targeted because of their Muslim faith,’ said Detective-Inspector Waight during a press conference on Monday.
Everyone who knew the Afzal family knew ‘the model family they were as Muslims, Canadians and Pakistanis,’ the statement from the extended family said. ‘They worked extremely hard in their fields and excelled. Their children were top students in their school and connected strongly with their spiritual identity.’
This image from 2016 shows Veltman taking part in a road race
A GoFundMe campaign said the father was a physiotherapist and cricket enthusiast and his wife was working on a doctorate in civil engineering at Western University in London. Their daughter was finishing ninth grade, and the grandmother was a ‘pillar’ of the family.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the fundraiser has drawn more than $600,000 in donations. The proceeds will go toward charity, according to a note written by Aisha Afzaal, Salman Afzal’s sister-in-law.
Thousands of mourners including Trudeau and the leaders of all of Canada’s political parties attended a vigil Tuesday night at the mosque the family attended. Pandemic restrictions were eased to allow mourners to attend the outdoor vigil.
‘There are no words that can ease the grief of having three generations murdered in their neighborhood,’ Trudeau told the crowd. ‘There are no words that can undo the pain and yes the anger of this community. There are no words that can fix the future of that little boy who has had his future taken away. But know this: You are not alone. All Canadians mourn with you and stand with you.’
Two kids light candles at a makeshift memorial at the fatal crime scene where Veltman drove his Dodge pickup truck into the Muslim family
A girl holds a sign that reads ‘We Love You Yumnah,’ referring to 15-year-old Yumnah Afzal who was killed in the attack
Flowers, candles and praying mourners are seen at a memorial near the scene of the crash
Imam Abd Alfatah Twakkal of the London Muslim Mosque said he hoped the vigil would be a pivotal moment for his community and country in the fight against the scourge of racism and discrimination.
‘Every single one of us need to do our part,’ he said.
Rauf Ahmad and three friends earlier watched the growing tribute at the intersection in the day.
‘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,’ Ahmad said. ‘Humanity is first. We should not care about whether someone is a Muslim, a Jew or a Christian.’
Near the crash scene, Zahid Khan, a family friend, said through tears: ‘They were just out for their walk that they would go out for every day. I just wanted to see.’
Qazi Khalil said he saw the family on Thursday when they were out for their nightly walk.
The families lived close to each other and would get together on holidays, he said.
‘This has totally destroyed me from the inside,’ Khalil said.
‘I can’t really come to the terms they were no longer here.’
Mayor Ed Holder said flags would be lowered for three days in London, which he said has 30,000 to 40,000 Muslims among its more than 400,000 residents.
Canada is generally welcoming toward immigrants and all religions, but in 2017 a French Canadian man known for far-right, nationalist views went on a shooting rampage at a Quebec City mosque that killed six people.
‘Canada is not immune to the kind of intolerance and division we have seen elsewhere in the world,’ Trudeau said.
Veltman made his first court appearance on Monday over a phone line from London police headquarters.
Justice of the Peace Terry Steenson placed a publication ban on any evidence at the hearing.
The charges were read to him: one count of attempted murder of a youth ‘by striking him with a motor vehicle, namely a Dodge Ram pickup truck,’ and four first-degree murder charges.
Steenson said bail on murder charges can only be sought in the Superior Court of Justice and ordered Veltman into custody and to return to court on Thursday.
The victims’ extended family released this statement, calling on the public to stand together against Islamophobia and hate
Mourners said prayers at the spot where the Muslim family were attacked on Sunday in London, Ontario, Canada, leaving four dead
Torpenky Khan looks at a street sign that was destroyed at the location where the family of five were mowed down on Sunday
Abood, 18, left, and his sister Zeina Abdulhadi, 15, light candles at the makeshift memorial
The makeshift memorial in London, Ontario, has been drawing large crowds since Sunday
Ed Holder, the mayor of London, Ontario, visits the scene of Sunday’s crash on Monday. Four members of the same Muslim family died in the attack, and a child was seriously injured
Flowers are left at the site where four members of a Muslim family – a grandmother, father, mother and teenage daughter – were mowed down by Nathaniel Veltman in his pickup truck. The tragedy took place in London, Ontario on Sunday
London police investigate on Monday the scene of a car crash in London, Ontario. Four people died when Nathaniel Veltman rammed his car into the family as they were out for a walk on Sunday evening
One woman who witnessed the aftermath of the deadly crash said she could not stop thinking about the victims.
Paige Martin said she was stopped at a red light around 8:30pm when the large pickup roared past her.
She said her car shook from the force.
‘I was shaken up, thinking it was an erratic driver,’ Martin said.
Minutes later, she said, she came upon a gruesome, chaotic scene at an intersection near her home, with first responders running to help, a police officer performing chest compressions on one person and three other people lying on the ground.
A few dozen people stood on the sidewalk and several drivers got out of their cars to help.
‘I can’t get the sound of the screams out of my head,’ Martin said.
From her apartment, Martin said she could see the scene and watched an official drape a sheet over one body about midnight.
‘My heart is just so broken for them,’ she said.
A shrine has blossomed in London, Ontario, in tribute to the four members of the Pakistani family who died in Sunday’s attack
A line of police officers use long sticks as they probe for evidence at the scene of the car crash
The family died while waiting to cross a road at an intersection near their home in London
A sign posted at the site reads: ‘Love for all, hatred for none’. The accused perpetrator is facing four counts of murder
The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it was beyond horrified, saying Muslims in Canada have become all too familiar with the violence of Islamophobia.
‘This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil, and should be treated as such,’ council head Mustafa Farooq said.
Nawaz Tahir, a London lawyer and Muslim community leader, said: ‘We must confront and stamp out Islamophobia and Islamic violence – not tomorrow, today, for the sake of our children, our family, our communities.’
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the attack, saying it indicated ‘growing Islamophobia’ in Western countries.
‘Islamophobia needs to be countered holistically by the international community,’ Khan said on Twitter.