Toronto van suspect charged with murder

Source: BBC

A driver suspected of killing 10 people and injuring 15 more by ploughing a rental van into pedestrians in Toronto has appeared in court in the city.

Alek Minassian, 25, was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.

Mr Minassian wore a white jumpsuit, with a shaved head and his hands behind his back. He showed little emotion.

He was read the charges and ordered to have no contact with surviving victims. He will return to court on 10 May.

A man believed to be a relative of Mr Minassian’s sat in the front row of the court and wept. Asked by reporters after the hearing if he had anything to say, the relative replied “sorry”.p Twitter post by @TomLlamasABC

Mr Minassian’s court appearance came shortly after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed reporters in the city, calling the incident a “senseless attack and a horrific tragedy”.

The suspect was arrested several blocks from the scene of the attack, after a tense standoff with a police officer, during which he pointed an object at the officer and claimed to have a gun.

“I don’t care. Get down,” the officer said, before arresting Mr Minassian without firing a shot. The arrest was filmed by two bystanders and the officer was praised for not opening fire.

Mr Trudeau praised the police response, saying officers “faced danger without a moment of hesitation”.

Toronto attack suspect in stand-off with officer

Mr Minassian confronted a police officer and claimed to have a gun 

Police said the suspect in the van mounted the kerb on Yonge Street between Finch Avenue and Sheppard Avenue at about 13:30 local time (17:30 GMT) on Monday and drove into pedestrians along a 1km (0.6-mile) stretch.

Reza Hashemi, who owns a video shop on Yonge Street, told the BBC he heard screaming on the other side of the road. He said the van was repeatedly mounting the pavement and running into people.

BBC map showing scene of Toronto van attack on 23 April 2018

One witness told City News that the driver was “hitting anything that comes in the way”.

“People, fire hydrants, there’s mail boxes being run over,” said the unnamed man, who said he was driving behind the van during the incident.

As the van continued, the man said he sounded his horn to try to warn pedestrians. “I witnessed at least six, seven people being hit and flying in the air, like killed, on the street,” he said.

Pictures from the scene showed bodies covered in orange sheets along the van’s route. Debris and items of clothing were scattered across the pavements and road.

The van was brought to a halt by police several streets away and was quickly surrounded. The suspect was arrested 26 minutes after the first emergency call was made to the police.

Police said Mr Minassian was from the northern Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill and was not previously known to authorities. “The actions definitely looked deliberate,” said Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders.

Public safety minister Ralph Goodale said there “would appear to be no national security connections” and Canadian broadcaster CBC cited government officials as saying he was not associated with any known terror groups.

Mr Minassian had previously attended a school for students with special needs in north Toronto, former classmates said.

He would be seen walking around Thornlea Secondary School with his head down and hands clasped tightly together making meowing noises, Shereen Chami told Reuters.

But she said Mr Minassian had not been violent. “He wasn’t a social person, but from what I remember he was absolutely harmless,” she told Reuters.

Toronto police and emergency crews can be seen along Yonge Street in northern Toronto, Canada, 23 April 2018

Emergency services flooded the area along Yonge Street

Another former student, Ari Bluff, told CBC that Minassian did not seem to have many friends. “I remember seeing him probably just walking down the halls, usually by himself, or in the cafeteria by himself,” he said.

Mr Minassian went on to attend Seneca College in the North York area of Toronto, where the van incident took place, CBC reported. Reporter James Moore, with Newtalk 1010, told the BBC he had heard reports that Mr Minassian was regarded as being “quite brilliant”.

Canada’s Globe and Mail quotes a fellow student as saying Minassian was good at working with specialised computer chips used to process images.

Who were the victims?

Her colleague, Jon Tam, told CBC News that Ms D'Amico was "full of life, loved to travel, loved to help volunteer".

Anne Marie D’Amico was “full of life”, her colleague  said

So far, the name of only one of those who died has emerged. She has been identified as Anne-Marie D’Amico, who worked for the US investment company, Invesco, CBC reports. The company’s Canadian headquarters are on Yonge Street.

A South Korean foreign ministry official told AFP news agency that two of its citizens were among the dead.

The 15 injured remain in hospitals throughout Toronto.

Van rental company Ryder System Inc confirmed that one of its vehicles was involved and said it was co-operating with authorities.

The incident happened while foreign ministers of the G7 leading industrialised nations – Canada, the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – were holding talks in Toronto.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the G7 meetings would continue on Tuesday as planned. “The work of the ministers obviously goes on. This is a very sad day for the people of Toronto and the people of Canada,” she said.

City Mayor John Tory urged residents to remain calm. “This kind of tragic incident is not representative of how we live or who we are or anything to do with life in the city on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

The White House issued a statement saying the US “stands with the Canadian people” and offering “any support Canada may need”.

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