TORONTO (BBC News, CNN, Telegraph) – Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old driver charged with killing 10 people and injuring 14 more by ploughing a rental van into pedestrians in Toronto on Monday, April 23, appeared in court in the city.
Alek Minassian, a resident of the Richmond Hill suburb of Toronto, was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. 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 May 10.
A man believed to be his father sat in the front row of the court and wept. Asked by reporters after the hearing if he had anything to say, the man, identified as Vahe Minassian, replied “sorry.”
The younger 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 Monday’s attack, after a tense standoff with a police officer.
Police say Minassian was not previously known to authorities. Public safety minister Ralph Goodale said there “would appear to be no national security connections” and Canadian broadcaster CBC cited government officials as saying Minassian was not associated with any known terror groups.
Facebook has deleted Minassian’s account, but a copy of a post has emerged published by the suspect shortly before the attack on Monday. The post, which Facebook confirmed as real to the BBC, praises Elliott Rodger, a 22 year old from California who killed six people with his car in 2014. It reads: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
The term “incel” refers to a now-banned group on the message site Reddit where young men discussed their lack of sexual activity and attractiveness to women — often blaming women for the problem. “Chads and Stacys” refers to attractive men and women who are perceived as better than or unavailable to “incels,” which is short for “involuntary celibate.”
The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) confirmed that Minassian was a member for two months in late 2017. He did not complete his recruit training and requested to be voluntarily released from the CAF after 16 days of the training.
Minassian had previously attended a school for students with special needs in north Toronto, former classmates said. A former classmate said Minassian often succumbed to peer pressure — such as running down a hallway shirtless when dared by other students. The classmate, who didn’t want to be identified, said they bonded during special-needs classes at Wyndham Ridge Public School and Thornlea Secondary School.
The classmate said Minassian was very self-deprecating. “If you put him down or disrespected him or insulted him, he would agree with you,” the classmate said.
Minassian also had severe anxiety when interacting with females and would freeze, unable to respond, the classmate said. “He was genuinely terrified with interacting verbally or physically at all, except for his mother,” the classmate 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 Minassian had not been violent. “He wasn’t a social person, but from what I remember he was absolutely harmless,” she told Reuters.
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.
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 Minassian was regarded as being “quite brilliant.”
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.
Police said the suspect in the van mounted the curb 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 1 km (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.
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.
Panna Patel, 42, who witnessed the attack said it “was like he was playing a video game, trying to kill as many people as possible.” “He was looking people directly in the eye, making eye contact, it was so scary. He wasn’t remorseful at all.”
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 pointed an object at the officer and claimed to have a gun.
“I don’t care. Get down,” the officer said, before arresting Minassian without firing a shot. The arrest was filmed by two bystanders and the officer was praised for not opening fire. Trudeau praised the police response, saying officers “faced danger without a moment of hesitation.”