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Van plows into pedestrians along Toronto sidewalk; 10 killed, suspect held

The sidewalk was strewn with bodies and injured pedestrians after the van jumped the curb and traveled about a mile, a witness said.
Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press/AP
The sidewalk was strewn with bodies and injured pedestrians after the van jumped the curb and traveled about a mile, a witness said.

TORONTO — The killing began on a busy lunchtime thoroughfare in Toronto on Monday when a white rental Ryder van ran over a pedestrian crossing the street — then mounted a sidewalk and began plowing into people indiscriminately.

“One by one, one by one,” said a witness who identified himself as Ali. “Holy God, I’ve never seen such a sight before. I feel sick.”

By the end, at least 10 people were dead and 15 were injured, said authorities.

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The driver’s actions, they said, appeared intentional, but did not seem to have been an act of terrorism. “The city is safe,” said Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders.

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The driver, who was identified as Alek Minassian, 25, was in custody after initially refusing to surrender.

“Get down or you’ll be shot,” the officers warned him after he exited the van in a scene captured on video.

“Shoot me in the head,” Minassian said.

He was subdued without any shots being fired.

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Nearby, the bodies of the dead and injured, some covered by orange tarps, lay on a broad sidewalk that was scattered with debris, including a child’s stroller.

The carnage was reminiscent of deadly attacks by Islamic State supporters using vehicles that have shaken up Nice, France; Berlin; Barcelona, Spain; London and New York. But late Monday, Canada’s public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, said this time appeared to be different.

“The events that happened on the street behind us are horrendous,” he said, “but they do not appear to be connected in any way to national security based on the information at this time.”

Officers spoke with a potential witness.
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/AP
Officers spoke with a potential witness.

With the driver under arrest, Canadian authorities began the process of reconstructing how — and why — a day filled with the promise of early spring became a scene of horror.

“There were a lot of pedestrians out, a lot of witnesses out, enjoying the sunny afternoon,” said Peter Yuen, deputy chief of the Toronto police service.

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John Flengas, acting EMS supervisor for Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, which said it received 10 victims from the scene, described it as “pure carnage.” He told CTV News on Monday that he had seen “victims everywhere.”

One witness said the van had mowed down everything in its path: pedestrians, mailboxes, electrical poles, benches and a fire hydrant. Another, who rushed to help the pedestrian struck while crossing the street, said, “Pieces of the van went flying everywhere.”

Meaghan Gray, a spokeswoman for Toronto police, said authorities received a report at 1:30 p.m. Monday that the van had mounted a curb near Yonge Street and Finch Avenue West. Stephan Powell, a spokesman for the Toronto Fire Department, said pedestrians were struck at “at least two locations.”

Two of the 10 victims taken to Sunnybrook were declared dead on arrival, Dr. Dan Cass, its executive vice president, said at a news conference. Five were in critical condition and three were in serious condition, he said.

Cass said that he did not have information about the nature of the victims’ injuries and that the hospital had not yet confirmed the identities of the dead.

In a statement Monday, John Tory, mayor of Toronto, said, “My thoughts are with those affected by this incident and the front-line responders who are working to help those injured.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “We’re monitoring the situation closely.”

Yonge Street is Toronto’s main artery, and is widely celebrated as the longest street in Canada. It cuts through the city from Lake Ontario through downtown before reaching the suburbs and then into farmland.

The deaths occurred in the far north, a densely populated part of the city surrounded by many new condominium towers. On Monday, many shops in the area remained closed, at the request of authorities. And a makeshift memorial was developing at a stone wall just south of Finch Avenue.

Witnesses said the van traveled about 40 miles per hour, striking anything in its path on a wide sidewalk.
Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press via AP
Witnesses said the van traveled about 40 miles per hour, striking anything in its path on a wide sidewalk.

Konstantin Goulich, a local resident, appeared with bags of markers and rolls of cardboard from a dollar store.

“Guys, please come and write how you’re feeling: your wishes for the victims, if you’d like to say something. Every bit of support counts,” Goulich said to passers-by as a van across Yonge Street removed bodies from the scene.

“If you can’t write in English, write in your own language, write in Chinese, write in Korean,” he said.

Late in the day, well south of the scene of the killings, extra security was obvious around the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto, where the Toronto Maple Leafs were playing. Large municipal dump trucks, apparently filled with sand and gravel, were used to block off roads, including one major thoroughfare near the ice rink.

The van used in the rampage was stopped about a mile south of where it took place, said Dan Fox, a civil servant who passed the vehicle on his way to work Monday. He said it had “significant damage.”

“It looked like the side of the van had scraped along the side of the building,” Fox said in a phone interview, the sound of police sirens wailing behind him. “The driver-side door was open, but I didn’t see anyone in or around the van.”

The episode in Toronto appeared to be the deadliest use of a vehicle in Canada to deliberately mow down pedestrians.

Last October, a police officer in Edmonton was struck with a car and stabbed, and four other people were later deliberately hit by a U-Haul truck. The driver of both vehicles, a Somali immigrant, was arrested in what Trudeau called a terrorist attack.

In 2014, a driver in the Montreal area struck two members of the Canadian armed forces and was shot and killed by police, who described the attack as Islamist terrorism. One of the victims died.