The Toronto van attack and the people who rushed to help

The people who rushed to help — ‘I hope the families know their loved ones weren’t alone’

When an unthinkable terror unfolded on a busy street, shopkeepers, city officials, passers-by and countless others ran to offer assistance. ‘The goodness in human nature shone through.’

by

View from a condo near the Yonge and Finch area where multiple pedestrians were hit by a van on April 23, 2018. Photo by CityNews viewer Sandy McHugh.

Angela Park’s store, M Brand Shop, is glossy and magenta-coloured on the outside, bright and infused with a K-Pop soundtrack inside. Located on the west side of Yonge Street, one block south of Finch Avenue, the shop sells Korean beauty products and clothing.

On Monday afternoon, Park was working at the counter with the store’s front door thrown open to the beautiful day outside. It was just after lunch on one of the busiest streets in Toronto, amid the fast-growing urban epicentre of North York, with its bustling intersections, gleaming condo towers and concrete plazas filled with pedestrians. Suddenly, Park heard a series of impacts and a woman screaming, and she ran to the front of the store to see what was going on. “I didn’t see the van hitting the people,” she says. “Just sounds.” She looked south down Yonge and saw a white van near the intersection with Kempford Boulevard. The van was still in motion, but beginning to slow.

Park saw an elderly man lying on the ground, and a woman standing nearby told her there were more victims. Park turned to look north, toward Finch. There were more bodies on the ground.

Behind the wheel of the white van, police now say, was 25-year-old Alek Minassian—a computer whiz apparently convinced he was waging some sort of “rebellion,” as he described it.

Mere moments before the rental truck began plowing into unsuspecting pedestrians on Yonge, the Richmond Hill resident posted a cryptic message to his Facebook account—a rallying cry that, prior to Monday afternoon, would have baffled most Canadians.

“Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161,” the post read. “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

The message counts among numberless clues as to the mindset of a man now accused of one of the worst mass murders in Canadian history—an act so chilling and theatrical many immediately supposed it to be an act of international terrorism. By the time the driver had finished, his rampage had killed 10 people and injured 16. But to those on or near the path of the white van at the time, the scale of carnage was surreal to the point of defying any motive. Aria Rastgou was inside a Bank of Montreal at North York Centre, when he saw the vehicle careering down the sidewalk in front of the building. “I thought it was some crazy guy driving to beat the traffic,” he says, “but then I saw everybody running. Then I saw someone’s shoe, with blood on the ground, and I realized it’s way more serious than I thought.”

Jalal Faghihi, an Uber driver, was northbound on Yonge in his car, on his way to meet his wife Nisha for lunch at a nearby Iranian restaurant. After he passed Sheppard Avenue, he noticed a white van in the southbound lanes veer onto the sidewalk and hit two people. “I thought to myself, ‘Why is this guy doing that?’” Faghihi says. He pulled over and saw two injured people nearby; one, a man with a badly bloodied face, was able to walk; the other person was lying on the ground. Faghihi couldn’t tell if the person was male or female.

He watched the van pull back onto the street, before it hit a sign and lost its bumper. Then it swerved onto the sidewalk again. “It was doing a zig-zag. Hit and go, hit and go,” Faghihi says. “It didn’t stop.” Through his open car window, he could hear people screaming. He got out of his car and walked toward the corner where people had been struck. He was worried his wife could be in danger because she was travelling from work downtown to meet him right there. “I crossed the street, and I could see, very clearly, the van hit four more people down the street,” he says. “It kept going and almost immediately police were chasing.”

The 911 calls had started coming in at 1:26 pm. Emergency responders included Stephan Powell, district chief for Toronto Fire Services, which received multiple calls for the same incident on Monday. “They were coming from all over,” Powell says. “They were coming from people on the street with cell phones. They were coming from taxi cab drivers. They were coming from businesses, everybody along that strip who witnessed it.” More than 870 calls to 911 were placed in total.

Their protocol is to respond directly to the address a call comes from, and then investigate outward from there. It’s not uncommon for firetrucks to pass each other headed to different addresses for what ends up being the same incident because more than one person has called it in, but it’s a discipline that works well for them, Powell says. On Monday, though, they were being dispatched to multiple addresses down the corridor around Yonge and Finch. “We responded as if they were each individual (personal injury) incidents,” he says. “As it unfolded, we realized it was one vehicle involved in it.”

At the same moment those first 911 calls came in, Bill Perivolaris, a special constable with the Toronto Transit Commission, received a call for a “red alarm”—a silent distress signal triggered by a transit driver in high-level emergencies—from a bus at Yonge and Finch. “There was yelling and screaming on the bus, so I knew it was serious,” he says.

He was with his partner at Sheppard Station, so he drove north on Beecroft Road, parallel to Yonge, and arrived at Yonge and Finch at 1:28 p.m. As Perivolaris looked south on Yonge, he realized that the call wasn’t for an emergency on the bus, but rather for what was happening on the streets and sidewalks. He saw three bodies, then a fourth about 100 yards south. “I realized that this is much bigger in magnitude than I originally thought,” he says. “This was carnage all the way down the street.”  He turned on the emergency lights on his vehicle and blocked off the street, clearing a path for other first responders.

He began figuring out where he could help. He instructed his young partner—she was three weeks on the job—to help a nearby victim with arm injuries. A police officer was performing CPR on a man on the ground. “I asked him if he needed assistance,” Perivolaris says. “He said ‘No, move on to the next one.’” So he went to try to help a woman lying beside a barrier around a patio. “I checked for the vitals on her, but I couldn’t find any, so I moved to the next victim,” he says. “No vitals on that one, either.”

A tarp covers an unidentiified body on Yonge St. at Finch Ave. after a van plowed into pedestrians on April 23, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

Perivolaris started sprinting down the street to the next victim about a block away; a bystander there was already trying to help. Perivolaris performed CPR on that victim, while a police officer and fire manager arrived to assist. But it was futile. “EMS eventually pronounced him dead,” Perivolaris says.

Back up at Yonge and Finch, a few minutes after the van crashed through the area, Eric Chak walked out of a Vietnamese restaurant where he’d been eating. He noticed a person across the street lying face down; there was blood everywhere. People were gathered around to help, but he felt certain the person was already dead. He froze. “It didn’t really kick in that I have to go and help somebody,” he says. “I couldn’t think.”

‘The injuries were insane’

At first, he thought it was a hit-and-run with just one victim, but then he noticed more people running around trying to help, and more bodies on the ground. He looked north, near the Yonge and Finch intersection, and saw five injured people; he approached one after another, and discovered two of them were not breathing. Two others were conscious and bleeding from head wounds, but with only long-expired first aid training to go on, Chak was unsure how to help. “There was one person that we were going to perform CPR on, but when another person and I flipped her over, she was actually still breathing but unresponsive,” he says. “We just put her in a recovery position so that she wouldn’t choke on her own blood. It was not a pretty scene.”

Chak found himself standing for 30 seconds at a time, calculating his next move. “I figured if that was me—bleeding and lying there—I wouldn’t want people to just stand there and call the police. I’d want somebody to at least talk to me,” he says. “It’s not something you can prepare for. No amount of first aid courses is going to help with the trauma that happened. The injuries were insane.”

When the first responders arrived, Chak directed them to the still-breathing woman he’d helped turn over, thinking she had the best chance to survive. He didn’t want to be there if she died, and he walked away believing she was still alive. “The moment felt like forever,” he says. After the EMTs took over, Chak went back to work as an information security analyst with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. “At that moment,” he says, “I didn’t really feel much.”

First responders close down Yonge Street in Toronto after a van mounted a sidewalk crashing into a number of pedestrians on Monday, April 23, 2018. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Very soon after the van plowed through the area, stunned people began walking into the Shoppers Drug Mart near Yonge and Finch, some of them weeping. Eventually, a man came in and asked for first aid supplies and a defibrillator. Tami, a Shoppers employee who asked that only her first name be used, had no idea what had happened. Nevertheless, she gathered up gloves, gauze, water, scissors—anything that seemed helpful—and followed the man outside. “I’m running as I’m carrying stuff out of the store,” she recalls. “I’m thinking in my head, ‘What do I need to bring?’ Because I had no idea what the scene was going to be like.”

‘Thank god you are safe’

Immediately, the sense of shock and chaos on the sidewalk made it obvious that this wasn’t a simple hit-and-run. She saw five injured people on the ground, including a young man with a head wound who was screaming in pain. To one side of the store, Tami saw a woman so badly injured that it seemed obvious she would die, and no one was working on her. Others were crumpled in strange postures that suggested they had been thrown by an impact; some of their shoes had been knocked off. “There were dozens of people in panic,” she says. “Everybody was everywhere and no one knew what they were doing.” Once the first responders arrived, they took over the scene and ushered the bystanders away. “Unfortunately, one body was left behind—they put a blanket over it,” Tami says. “I’m not sure what happened to the other people.”

On the street, Faghihi was still searching frantically for his wife. Knowing she was supposed to meet him for lunch, he called her phone—10 or 12 times, he thinks—but she didn’t pick up. He approached a nearby police officer and asked if he had any information about who had been injured. “He said unfortunately no, we had to wait,” Faghihi says. “I was so worried. I’d never had an experience like that before.”

Finally, to his immense relief, Nisha called. She’d been stuck in the subway when the TTC, out of caution, shut down service underground; passengers hadn’t been allowed to leave. She had no idea what had happened up at street level to rattle her husband in this way. “When I saw her, I hugged and kissed her,” he recalls. “I said: ‘Thank god you are safe.’”


Just south of North York Boulevard, about 1.5 km south of Finch, the van turned off Yonge and followed an alleyway to Beecroft Road, where it turned left and headed south—with Minassian allegedly at the wheel. A man driving north was stopped at a red light at Beecroft and Sheppard Avenue, when he noticed the van approaching. “What caught my eye was that the wheel on the driver’s side was kind of crooked, so it was squealing,” says the man, 60, who did not want to be identified. “Because of the damage in the front of the van, I thought the guy was running away from a hit-and-run.”

A dash cam in the man’s vehicle captured the white van barreling through the red light, weaving around cars and trucks as it passed through the intersection. Three pedestrians—including a woman pushing a stroller, and another woman looking at her cellphone—had finished crossing the street just seconds earlier.

Bryna Kligman was the woman with the stroller, returning from a prenatal medical appointment at Sunnybrook Hospital and pushing along her two-year-old son. After her appointment, they had visited a nearby park, then taken the subway to Sheppard Station, stopping briefly at Whole Foods before walking west along Sheppard toward home.

‘I waved my arms trying to point to where the van had turned’

Kligman crossed Beecroft on the south side of the intersection. After she crossed, she heard the damaged van approaching before she saw it; it all so happened quickly, none of the other cars at the intersection even honked at the vehicle blowing through the light. “I thought ‘This is very odd, why is a smashed van running through an intersection?’” Kligman says. It continued south on Beecroft, then Kligman saw it make a sharp left turn onto Bogert Avenue, heading east back toward Yonge.

She could hear multiple sirens, and a few seconds later, she saw a single police cruiser pursuing the crippled vehicle south on Beecroft. It proceeded through the intersection more cautiously than the van had. “I was sort of waving my arms around trying to point to where the van had turned,” Kligman says. “I could see he didn’t know where the van had gone.”

She called her husband at 1:31 p.m., right after her near-miss. Something seemed off about the whole situation, but it wasn’t until Kligman got home, settled her son and turned on the news that she understood what she had witnessed. “My stomach dropped,” she says.

When she saw the dash cam video, Kligman realized how close she and her son came to the van’s path; it had felt like a longer gap to her. She can’t bring herself to walk past that spot again right now. “We’re very shaken,” she says. “You don’t really feel safe going for a walk.”


A few minutes after Kligman’s encounter with it, the mangled white van finally came to a halt on the sidewalk next to a glass storefront on Poyntz Avenue, two blocks south of Sheppard. The van was facing west, as though it had just turned off Yonge. The driver, wearing a blue shirt, black hooded jacket and pants, climbed out from behind the wheel.

‘Shoot me in the head’

Constable Ken Lam had parked his Toronto Police Service cruiser on Poyntz directly in front of the van. He stood in the middle lane, his legs in a defensive lunge and his gun pointed toward the man, who in turn pointed a dark-coloured object at him.

“Get down,” Lam yelled. He repeated it several more times, in exactly the same tone of voice, commanding but not panicked. The man, his chin raised belligerently, made a series of quick-drawing motions from his right hip, as though he was trying to provoke the cop. His entire body looked like a live wire, a nerve rubbed raw.

Lam then made one of the many small, smart moves that would be praised in the days to follow for turning down the temperature on a combustible situation: he leaned in the open door of his police cruiser and turned off his siren. The effect was like a room in which a baby has suddenly stopped screaming.

“Come on, get down!” Lam yelled to the driver again, as a trio of bewildered bystanders emerged from a doorway behind the van and walked gingerly toward Yonge.

“Kill me,” the man said.

“No,” Lam responded. “Get down.”

“I have a gun in my pocket,” the driver said, his voice rapid and clipped.

“I don’t care,” Lam replied.

The suspect repeated his threat, but Lam just reiterated his command again and again, unwavering: “Get down.”

Lam stepped into the open space in front of his cruiser, moving slowly toward the suspect. “Get down or you’ll get shot,” he said.

“Shoot me in the head,” the man said.

Lam backed away, retreating slowly into the middle lane again.

 

Then the driver advanced toward Lam, off the sidewalk and into the street in front of the cruiser. Lam holstered his gun and drew his baton, first hovering parallel to the man and then walking toward him.

In an instant, the suspect’s entire mien changed: the aggression evaporated into docility. He raised his arms, letting the object in his right hand tumble to the pavement. Lam closed the distance between them with his baton raised, yelling, “Get down. Hands behind your back!” The driver dropped to his knees and then to his belly on the sidewalk in front of the van he had allegedly turned into a weapon. Lam kneeled over him and handcuffed him. It was over. From the moment the first pedestrian was struck to the arrest, seven minutes had passed.

Police inspect a van involved in a collision that killed 10 people at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. on April 23, 2018 in Toronto.
(Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)


Investigators are still piecing together a possible motive—and no doubt scouring the Internet for other social media traffic linked to Alek Minassian, whom police would soon identify as the driver. But his final Facebook dispatch leaves little to the imagination: the accused killer seems to have despised women, so much so that he allegedly followed in the footsteps of another misogynistic mass murderer.

Elliot Rodger killed six people in California in 2014, leaving behind a trail of YouTube videos that blamed women for rebuffing his advances, leaving him a virgin at age 22. “I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman,” Rodger said, in one of his rants. “I will punish all of you for it.” Among fellow “incels”—so-called involuntary celibates, who inhabit some of the dingiest corners of the Internet—Rodger is lauded as a saint, a brother brave enough to fight back against the “Stacys” (the women who reject them) and the “Chads” (men who do have sexual intercourse).

‘I just can’t believe it’

For now, at least, that single Facebook message is the only known connection between Minassian and the incel movement. If he did indeed loathe women, or complain to others about his inability to find love, that evidence has yet to emerge. One thing is certain, however: many people who did cross paths with the alleged killer never considered him a potential threat. Not even close. In high school,  he was shy and awkward, a stereotypical computer geek who kept largely to himself. But violent he was not, acquaintances say. “I just can’t believe it,” says Toronto entrepreneur Vigan Nazarian, who hired Minassian to help develop a wine-shopping app. “I could not in a million years [have] said this was the guy.”

One of two brothers, Minassian graduated from Thornlea Secondary School north of Toronto, where he attended a specialized program for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Classmates recall that he often meowed like a cat or hugged himself tightly—the kind of self-regulating behaviour commonly seen in people with autism. In front of a computer, however, he was a borderline genius who excelled at coding.

Alek Minassian’s house is seen in Richmond Hill, Ontario, on April 24, 2018. (LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

Minassian enrolled at Seneca College in 2011, and later earned a scholarship in the school’s software development program. Over the next seven years, he bounced between work and college, gaining real-world experience while continuing to pursue his degree. For reasons that remain unclear, Minassian abruptly changed directions last summer when he enlisted in the Canadian Forces—though not for very long; after only 16 days of basic recruit training in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., he requested a voluntary release. (A source has since told the Toronto Star that Minassian’s military service ID— C23249161—matched the obscure number sequence that appeared in his pre-attack Facebook post.)

By March 21—one month before the Yonge Street rampage—Minassian seemed poised for his next job in the high-tech sector. Only a few weeks away from finishing his studies at Seneca, he emailed a recruiter to touch base. “I had a couple of credits left to complete my degree but I took a pause from school and worked for a while to get some experience, but this semester I went back to school to complete my degree,” Minassian wrote. “The semester ends end of April so I will be available at that time or early May.”

At some point, it appears, his plans drastically changed. Police are now trying to figure out why.


Men Cry just north of Mel Lastman Square at the Starbucks on the west side of Yonge. Police say that a white van mounted the curb and struck pedestrians walking along the sidewalk. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

On Monday, by the time Minassian was arrested, dozens of ambulances, police cars and fire trucks had converged on the scene, surrounded by hundreds of bystanders simply hovering, trying to make sense of what had happened. They spoke in murmurs, or not at all. Despite all the vehicles and chaos along that street, the scene was so eerily quiet that you could hear the idling engines of the ambulances standing at the ready. The staggered silence would last through the rest of the day.

Once the scope of the incident became clear, a unified command centre was set up, and Powell, the district fire chief, took on the role of information officer.

Throughout the sprawling scene, firefighters, EMS workers and police worked to triage and provide first aid to the victims as they found them. In some cases, firefighters rode alongside patients and EMS to the hospital, performing CPR in the ambulance on the way. Powell marvels at how well-managed the scene was, in spite of its complexity, and how complete strangers offered glimmers of light on such a dark day. “Everyday citizens wanted to help,” he says. “The goodness in human nature shone through.”

Franklin Edishou had been in the back of his Pizza Nova shop at Yonge and Finch when the attack happened, so he saw nothing. But once he watched the police tape off the street, he realized it was going to be a long day for the first responders. First, he gave them a case of bottled water. Then, he started making pizzas—two at a time—and taking them out, making sure not to cross the yellow crime scene tape, but instead calling over nearby EMTs or police officers to pass the boxes among their colleagues. He kept cooking all afternoon. “This was a tragedy. I was just doing a small part. This was my duty,” he says. “It wasn’t supposed to happen here.”

Witnesses hug outside at TTC bus while detectives take information at Yonge and North York Blvd. Police say that a white van mounted the curb and struck pedestrians walking along the sidewalk. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

The emergency room was strangely quiet

Nine kilometres to the south, at Sunnybrook Hospital, Dr. Oskar Singer, an anesthesiologist, had one case left for the day, so just after lunch, he had run up to his office to grab some documents. As he’d passed through the main operating room, a colleague mentioned that he’d heard a Code Orange—the hospital’s internal alert for a mass casualty situation—was possibly going to be called. The two doctors checked an all-news channel on TV, but they didn’t see anything to explain it. Singer went down to the operating room where he was about to help with a scheduled surgery and asked to put it on hold in case the Code Orange came through.

Ten minutes later, a voice on the PA system announced that all units were to stand by for instructions. “One of the things that jumped to my head was, was it real, actually?” Singer says. The hospital had recently completed some mock training to see how staff would respond to a real situation. But soon, his colleagues confirmed that this was no exercise.

By this point, scattered reports of a traffic accident involving multiple pedestrians had trickled into the hospital, but details were scarce. They cancelled all elective surgeries for the rest of the day and tried to prepare for whatever was coming. “I think the challenge for a lot of us at this point is we don’t actually know what’s going to come in,” Singer says. “Is it going to be one person? Is it going to be 100? Is it going to be no people?”

Paramedics at Sunnybrook hospital where multiple patients from the Yonge and Finch area have reportedly been received. CITYNEWS/Jason MacLellan

The hospital has a remote telephone system, so he grabbed one of the phones and went downstairs to the emergency department with a couple of colleagues to assess what was coming in, while another colleague got all the operating rooms on standby. Almost immediately, the victims started to arrive. “In the course of 45 minutes, maybe a little bit more, I believe we got 10 patients transferred to us, all of which had pretty notable injuries,” he says.

Most of the patients had no identifying information, so the hospital assigned identification numbers on bracelets to keep track of all bloodwork and imaging. As EMS personnel rushed patients into the hospital, a ward clerk would sometimes trail behind the patient to attach the bracelet while on the move so that EMS didn’t have to pause.

The hospital’s trauma bay has space for three patients. Some were stabilized there as medical staff did blood transfusions, secured their airways and managed pain, then they were sent for CT scans to check for underlying injuries. The most seriously injured were sent straight to the OR.

Singer would call ahead to alert the teams upstairs to the types of injuries coming so they could set up the operating rooms accordingly. “I think we had about four patients go to the OR in the course of 20 minutes, which I think has never happened in such a manner in my five years here at Sunnybrook,” Singer says.

They kept working for hours, carried along by coffee, water and adrenaline. The emergency room itself was strangely quiet because many of the patients had been cleared out of the main hallways to make room for the massive influx of victims. The trauma room at one end of the emergency department, though, was loud with the noises of vitals machines, suction devices and voices.

The PA system announced a Code Omega, calling for specialized porters to bring a massive delivery of blood from the hospital’s blood bank, where other staff were packing units of blood into coolers. They often used O-negative type blood, which is least likely to cause adverse reactions when there’s no time to discern a patient’s blood type.

With so many injured people, the air in the trauma bay took on the metallic scent of the blood that soaked the patients and their clothing. The medical staff noticed little if any of this. “In the moment, you’re sort of zoned into the task at hand,” Singer says. “You sort of tune everything out other than what you’re doing.”

The second a patient was moved out of the trauma bay to head to an OR or for a scan, a cleaning crew swooped in to clean the space for the next patient. “It just almost looked like this had been rehearsed many times over, even though this was the first time Sunnybrook had gone through such a complex Code Orange,” Singer says. “Even though it’s hard to rehearse for things like this, it looked like there was a game plan from the get-go.”

He extended his shift and finally left the hospital around 5:30 pm, once his colleagues were satisfied they had enough staff to handle everything. The surreality of it all didn’t settle over him until he got home. He lay in bed that night thinking about it all. Battered internal organs, heart, lung and spine damage, brain injuries, broken limbs—a vehicle driven at high speed into a person causes so much damage. “Just the amount of energy involved in a high, heavy steel structure hitting a soft human being is unfortunately very devastating,” Singer says.

In all, Sunnybrook received 10 patients that day. Two of them arrived with “vital signs absent” and were pronounced dead at the hospital. The other victims were treated at nearby hospitals.


‘We’re going to carry on with a life that is admired around the world’

In the early evening at the crime scene, a quartet of officials stepped in front of the microphones for a somber, slightly stunned press conference. They were surrounded by the soft purple dusk of what had been the first really beautiful spring day in the city, set against a lurid display of emergency lights and camera flashes.

Toronto Mayor John Tory, left to right, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, Premier Wynne and Ralph Goodale, Federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, walk together towards a news conference after viewing the scene where nine people died and 16 others were injured when a van mounted a sidewalk and struck multiple pedestrians Toronto on Monday, April 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders announced the arrest of the suspect, misidentifying him as Alex, rather than Alek Minassian, of Richmond Hill. Saunders said his day-shift officers would be staying on late, and the evening and midnight shift had been called in early to “make sure the city is safe and sound.”

He pleaded for anyone who knew anything to call a special hotline (they would receive more than 100 tips in the first few days), and offered the number of victim services for people who needed help processing what had happened. “The official count that we have right now, unfortunately, we have 10 people that have succumbed to their injuries,” he said. “And we have 15 that are in various hospitals across the city.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale spoke briefly, too, offering woodenly reassuring statements about cooperation among levels of government and support pouring in from all over.

But it was Toronto Mayor John Tory, who, after he had gone through his own recitation of official condolences and dry administrative details, allowed himself a more elegiac response to a city reeling. “Finally, I will just say to people that I hope they will understand, as I know they do—people who live in this city, who have come to this city from around the world—this kind of tragic incident is not representative of how we live or who we are or anything to do with life in this city on a day-to-day basis,” he said, grasping his way through the statement. “We’re going to carry on with heavy hearts, but…we’re going to carry on with a life that is admired around the world, and…we will do that in the way that Torontonians do things.”

Among the 10 lives lost were Chul Min “Eddie” Kang, a feisty chef who worked at a Brazilian steak house, and Geraldine Brady, an 83-year-old Avon representative with a relentless work ethic. There was 94-year-old Betty Forsyth, who never missed her daily walk regardless of the weather—often feeding the neighbourhood wildlife along the way—and Dorothy Sewell, 80, a huge Blue Jays and Maple Leafs fan described by her grandson as “the best grandmother anyone could have asked for.” Andrea Bradden, 33, was an account executive known for her infectious laugh and joyful energy, and Sohe Chung, 23, was studying studying cellular and molecular biology at the University of Toronto. She attended the same high school—Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School—as another victim, Anne Marie D’Amico, a 30-year-old tennis lover who couldn’t do enough as a volunteer for various causes. Jordanian citizen Munir Najjar, 82, had been in Canada only a few weeks; he and his wife were visiting their son. Ji-Hun Kim, 22, was another victim about whom few personal details were immediately available. Renuka Amarasingha, 45, meanwhile, had just started a job as a nutrition services staff member at Earl Haig Secondary School, and was known as a devoted single mother to a seven-year-old boy.


The morning after the attack, Minassian appeared in court and was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. Wearing a white jumpsuit, he was led into a courtroom packed with reporters and a few uniformed police officers, where he briefly consulted with the duty counsel he’d been assigned because he didn’t yet have his own lawyer.

Court sketch of Alek Minassian who appeared in court to face 10 charges of first-degree murder and 13 charges of attempted murder on April 24, 2018. CITYNEWS/Marianne Boucher

He stood throughout the short hearing, his arms handcuffed behind his back, his expression intense and inscrutable. He spoke once when asked to state his name, replying in a clear, confident voice.

An older man believed to be his father appeared visibly upset during the hearing and was surrounded by a pack of reporters as he walked slowly back to his car afterward, his head low. Police ordered the cameras to give him space. A reporter shouted at him repeatedly, “Do you have anything to say to the people of Toronto, from the bottom of your heart?” The man said nothing, then got into his car and drove away.

Minassian’s next court appearance would be May 10.

A memorial to the victims—and a focal point for the city’s grief—sprang up near the southeast corner of Yonge and Finch in the immediate aftermath of the attack, growing in size throughout the week. It was centred around a low wall framing a small treed plaza called Olive Square.

A candle light vigil is held at Olive Square near Yonge and Finch Streets for the 10 people that were killed and the 15 injured in the van attack along Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch streets in Toronto. April 24, 2018. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

A local resident taped white poster boards to the wall and laid out markers, and mourners scrawled messages of grief, shock and love in multiple languages. They showed up by the hundreds, even in the rain, to lay bouquets of spring flowers, to set out candles and add their own tributes, some typed neatly on patterned stationery and others simply scrawled on Post-It notes. One sign featured a sketch of the CN Tower alongside the message, “Our heartfelt condolences and prayers to all the victims and families. Your pain is our pain too. We love you all!”

In the days that followed, some of the people who had witnessed the violence or tried to help in the aftermath found themselves drawn back to the area.

‘I was not able to help anyone’

Perivolaris, the TTC special constable, returned on Wednesday wearing his uniform. He walked slowly along the rows of bouquets at the memorial site, pausing to hug a woman who had begun to weep.

On Monday, when he’d first arrived on the scene, he’d focused on checking airways or searching for a pulse, and when it was clear someone wasn’t going to make it, he was forced to move on to the next person. In the end, no one Perivolaris tried to save survived. “I was not able to help anyone that way,” he says.

Instead, he had walked back to where he’d first parked his patrol vehicle when he realized the enormous scope of the emergency in front of him. He and a police officer started taping off what had become a crime scene, then he gathered as many witnesses as he could find on a bus for investigators. “We preserved the evidence for the police to be able to have a proper investigation,” he says. Finally, after a 15-hour workday, he’d gone home.

Perivolaris is a 23-year veteran of the TTC, and often strolls this neighbourhood when he’s not working because his girlfriend lives just down the street. He’s experienced tragedy on the job before, but nothing like this.

“It’s emotional because these are my people,” he says. “I’m here all the time.” He was back at work the day after the attack. He has no plans to seek therapy, but says, “If I need to, I will.” For right now, like much of the city, he’s mourning: “I’m very hurt that this had to happen.”

Chak, who had found himself frozen by the moment when he tried to help the victims, gravitated toward the memorial on Wednesday afternoon, too. He had gone right back to work on Monday after the first responders swarmed in to take over from bystanders like himself. He felt numb.

Later, in the quiet of his home, Chak replayed the scene in his head. He thought about what he could have done better, and he tried to get over it all. He didn’t tell his parents or his wife he’d been there, afraid they’d worry for him. They found out when they saw a picture of him in the newspaper.

Chak hadn’t planned on showing up at the memorial, but he could see it from the window of a nearby building and felt drawn to it. He forgot to buy flowers when he walked over, then stood there unsheltered from the rain. “I just wanted the families to know that somebody was with their loved ones, and that they weren’t alone,” he says. “I just hope the families know that there was a lot of people there who tried to help—they weren’t lying there alone.”

—with files from Momin Qureshi (680 News) and Canadian Press

“Lets be better humans” A candle light vigil is held at Olive Square near Yonge and Finch Streets for the 10 people that were killed and the 15 injured in the van attack along Yonge Street between Sheppard and Finch streets in Toronto. April 24, 2018. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)