TORONTO — The man identified as the van driver who traumatized Toronto was a socially troubled computer studies graduate who briefly joined Canada’s military last year and posted a hostile message toward women on Facebook moments before his deadly rampage, according to accounts by police and his acquaintances on Tuesday.
The suspect, Alek Minassian, 25, was charged in a Toronto court with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder one day after the van rampage along the sidewalk of a busy Toronto street.
Police have said that Minassian, a resident of the Richmond Hill suburb of Toronto, appeared to have intentionally struck the victims in what was likely to count as Canada’s deadliest vehicular assault. Government officials have said the attack did not appear to be an act of terrorism but have not ruled it out.
The rampage shattered a peaceful Monday afternoon when a white Ryder rental van roared down Yonge Street, a main Toronto thoroughfare, and plowed into pedestrians along a nearly 1-mile stretch. Ten people were killed by the van, which police said Minassian had rented that morning.
Detective Sergeant Graham Gibson of the Toronto police said 14 people were hurt — not 15 as authorities had earlier reported — with wounds ranging from “scrapes and bruises to terrible injuries.” He declined to specify the genders of the victims.
The driver stopped the van on a sidewalk and engaged in a tense standoff with the police, claiming to be armed and daring officers to shoot him in the head. He surrendered seven minutes after police received the first emergency call.
While police did not disclose a motive for the rampage, interviews with former acquaintances of Minassian, witnesses, and others, and his now-deleted Facebook account, portray him as a troubled young man who harbored resentments toward women and who had a penchant for computer programming. He also appeared to be determined to die.
Former classmates at Thornlea Secondary School outside Toronto said Minassian had displayed extreme social awkwardness. “He was an odd guy, and hardly mixed with other students,” said Ari Blaff, a former high school classmate who is a graduate student in international relations at the University of Toronto. “He had several tics and would sometimes grab the top of his shirt and spit on it, meow in the hallways and say, ‘I am afraid of girls.’ It was like a mantra.”
Minassian did not express strong ideological views or harass women, Blaff said, but he was isolated and others privately made fun of him.
Josh Kirstein, who took a photography class with Minassian in high school and works in the mental health field, said Minassian had difficulty communicating and expressed fear that women could hurt him. “He would cower and avoid eye contact when he saw a girl,” he said. “He would shut down completely.” Kirstein added, “I never saw him have a normal conversation.”
Other signs of sympathy for misogyny appeared on Minassian’s Facebook account.
In a posting that Gibson said the suspect had made minutes before the van rampage, the account praised Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in a May 2014 rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., before shooting himself.
Rodger had posted a YouTube video describing his rage that women had rejected him and that he was a virgin at age 22.
The Facebook posting by Minassian praised “incels,” or involuntary celibates, a term used in a Reddit group where men vented frustrations that tipped into misogyny. “The Incel Rebellion has already begun!,” the posting stated. “We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
Rodger had referred to men who are successful with women as “Chads” and to the unattainable women who rejected him as “Stacys.” Rodger had also called himself an “incel.”
Last November, Reddit banned a community dedicated to “incels,” which had 40,000 members and had included posts lauding the rape of women. Some posts were titled “all women are sluts” and “reasons why women are the embodiment of evil.”
Minassian’s Facebook account has been suspended, but the company confirmed in an e-mail the authenticity of the posting.
Minassian recently graduated from a computer studies program at Seneca College in North York, a Toronto suburb.
While he appeared to be skilled at computers, he did not take to military life. The Canadian Department of National Defense said in a statement that Minassian joined the armed forces on Aug. 23 of last year and quit two months later, after 16 days of basic training.
At the court hearing Tuesday, Minassian was represented by a court-appointed lawyer with whom he had an extended, whispered conversation from a prisoners’ box.
He was being held without bail and the next hearing is on May 10.
Meanwhile, details about the 10 victims began to emerge. Though the names of most weren’t immediately released, their families began mourning and memorials in their honor grew.
One was an 80-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Sewell, who loved Toronto sports teams nearly as much as her own family, a grandson said.
Another was Anne Marie D'Amico, who worked at Invesco. A city councilor referred to her as a ‘‘brilliant’’ young woman who volunteered to build houses in the Dominican Republic in 2015 and 2017.
Other victims in Monday’s attack included people from Jordan and South Korea, as well as a local college student.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.