Families mourn victims of deadly van attack
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, April 26, 2018 4:27AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 26, 2018 9:27AM EDT
TORONTO -- The families shattered by a deadly rampage through the streets of Toronto include a seven-year-old boy now left without a mother and a son forced to bury the father who travelled overseas to visit him, community members said Wednesday.
While officials remained mum on the identities of the 10 people killed after a van mounted a sidewalk along bustling Yonge street, some who knew the victims released details of the individuals who lost their lives Monday afternoon. Fourteen people were also injured in the incident.
The latest identified victims include Renuka Amarasingha, a school board employee who was the sole caregiver for her seven-year-old child, Jordanian citizen Munir Abdo Habib Najjar who had recently travelled to the city to visit his adult son, and a woman in her 90s who lived in a Toronto Community Housing complex in the area where the van attack happened.
Other victims include two unnamed Korean nationals, an unidentified female Seneca College student, an investment company worker with a love of volunteering and an 80-year-old grandmother who was passionate about local sports.
Police have charged 25-year-old Alek Minassian in connection with the incident, laying 10 first-degree murder charges and 13 attempted murder charges. An additional attempted murder charge was expected to be laid soon, investigators said.
A monk at the temple Amarasingha frequented said she was an active member of Toronto's Sri Lankan community and noted that the brutality of her death left many questioning the safety of the country they now call home.
"We think that Canada was a peaceful country, (but) that is a doubt we have if people do these kinds of things," Ahangama Rathanasiri of the Toronto Maha Vihara Buddhist Meditation Centre said in a telephone interview. "This is a very sad incident."
Rathanasiri described Amarasingha as a kind and generous person who attended regular services and brought cookies to Sunday school students every week.
Those students included her son, he said, adding the community is trying to raise money to provide for his future.
Amarasingha had spent the past three years working as a nutrition services staff member at various schools throughout the Toronto District School Board, the organization said in a statement, adding she was also an adult student at one time.
On the day of the attack she had just completed her first day of work at Earl Haig Secondary School, located near the crime scene, the board said.
"We extend our sincere condolences to Renuka's family and friends," board chair Robin Pilkey said in the statement. "This is a difficult time for the students and staff that knew her and we will continue to provide support to them in the days and weeks ahead."
Rathanasiri said Amarasingha's friends first became alarmed when she did not return home on Monday afternoon to look after her son as usual. Friends are currently caring for Amarasingha's son, he added.
Details also began to emerge about Munir Abdo Habib Najjar, a Jordanian citizen in his 80s who also died in the attack.
Harry Malawi, a family friend and president of the Jordanian Canadian Society, said Najjar was visiting his family in Toronto with his wife when he was killed. He had only been in the country for a couple of weeks when the van attack took place, Malawi said, adding the family is in the midst of a three-day mourning period.
"They are secluded right now and they ask everybody to accept their privacy," he said. "We stand together, we want to help the family heal ... physically, psychologically, emotionally and financially, they need all the help they can get."
Another victim was Betty Forsyth, whose death was confirmed by a neighbour on Wednesday.
Mary Hunt, 84, said Forsyth's nephew broke the news that her neighbour of more than 10 years died in the van attack.
She called Forsyth a "lively person" who loved to feed the birds and squirrels on her regular walks through the neighbourhood.
"Everybody knew Betty because she used to walk in the morning to feed the animals," Hunt said.
She said they would often go to Casino Rama together and had made plans to go there this weekend.
"I will see how I feel and if I will have the energy to go Sunday," Hunt said. "But I will miss her."
Meanwhile, the grandson of 80-year-old Dorothy Sewell confirmed her death Tuesday. Elwood Delaney of Kamloops, B.C., described his grandmother as an avid sports fan who "almost had as much love for the Blue Jays and Leafs as she did for her family."
Tennis Canada said the victims also included long-time volunteer Anne Marie D'Amico. She worked at Invesco Canada, a U.S.-based investment firm with offices close to the crime scene.
"She was a really friendly, warm person ... always caring for other people ahead of herself," said Gavin Ziv, vice-president of national events for Tennis Canada.
Seneca College said another one of the victims was a female student, but didn't offer further details. A South Korean news agency said two unnamed Korean nationals were also among those killed.
Although police continued to comb the one-kilometre stretch of road where the attack took place, the area had largely reopened to the public on Wednesday. Mourners continued to visit the area to add to a growing makeshift memorial to the victims, leaving flowers, candles and messages of support in myriad languages.
Police have asked witnesses to the attack to come forward, saying they need every piece of information they can obtain as they proceed with their investigation.
Investigators are also looking at a Facebook post, allegedly made by Minassian, that praises Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and then himself at the University of California in 2014. The post also references involuntary celibacy, colloquially referred to as "incel."
A Facebook spokeswoman said the account has since been deleted.
With files from Nicole Thompson and Daniela Germano