Friends, neighbours remember victims of London, Ont. vehicle attack
TORONTO -- Friends and neighbours are remembering the four Muslim family members killed in what police say was a targeted attack in London, Ont., and are demanding community leaders take greater steps to address Islamophobia in Canada.
Rania Lawendy, the national director of the Muslim Association of Canada, told CTV News Channel on Wednesday that emotions are running high in the London community following the attack.
"Obviously our hearts and prayers are with the victims and their family and our grieving community, but at the same time it’s been wonderful to see the outpouring of love and support," Lawendy said.
"It's kind of a juxtaposition between...feeling immense sadness and loss but also having a sense of hope with different messages from different people and the outpouring of love that we saw," she added.
A statement released to the media by a family spokesperson names the deceased as Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha Salman, their daughter Yumna, and Salman Afzaal's mother.
The couple's son, Fayez, 9, survived the attack. He "is on the road to recovery from serious injuries," the statement reads.
The family's statement calls for everyone, from politicians to the public, to "stand against hate and Islamophobia" in favour of humanity.
"We need to understand that the destruction of a family in the brutal and horrific manner like this is something we must all stand against," the statement reads.
Lawendy said her daughter and niece were close friends with 15-year-old Yumna, who was killed in the attack. She said it has been "very difficult" for the girls in the wake of her death.
Lawendy said she met with Yumna’s former Grade 8 class earlier this week to help them cope with their emotions following the attack.
"I was able to kind of talk to them and have them get out their feelings and their fears and their anxieties and they were all just trying to console each other, but as you can imagine it's been a horrific time for these young girls," Lawendy said.
She explained that the youth she spoke with are scared and struggling to understand why the attack happened. Lawendy said many of the kids asked her if an attack like this was going to happen to them.
"Losing your friend is difficult enough especially at such a young age," she said. "And then... have it be a hate crime, that is very, very difficult for all of them, and all of us as a community."
Nathaniel Veltman, a 20-year-old London man, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in connection with Sunday's attack. London police said Tuesday that they have been in contact with the RCMP and would not comment on whether further charges may be laid.
Police allege that Veltman was driving a pickup truck that mounted a curb and hit the family, who were out for a walk. Police said Monday that they were not aware of any connections between Veltman and the Afzaal family, or any link between the suspect and organized hate groups.
LONDON COMMUNITY GRIEVES
At a vigil held in London on Tuesday night, a family friend of the victims spoke a few words about her young friend Yumna before a moment of silence. Vigils have since been held in other cities across Canada in honour of the victims.
"My sister would not have wanted us to live in fear with wearing our hijabs, she would have wanted us to be proud of our identities," said Yasmin Khan.
"She would have wanted us to unite together, to stand for what is right, she would have wanted us to be kind to one another. That's all I ask. Take pride in your hijab and your religion, be humble and be kind."
Khan told CTV News Channel's Power Play that the family was a group of "amazing people."
"They were always there for people. If you did wrong upon them, and the next day you needed help, they would be first at your doorstep," Khan said.
Khan added that the community will do its best to raise Fayez, who is now orphaned because of the attack.
"Family is here and we are all doing what we can to support him," she said. "He is everyone's son now… We will do as much as we can, because that is what our sister and brother would've wanted."
The community is raising money for his future needs with more than $1.5 million pledged so far.
Huda Sallas told CTV National News that Yumna was her best friend. She said she is going to miss her sense of humour.
In addition to being funny, Sallas said her friend was also smart and humble.
"I can't name you all her talent and skills; everything she tried she was amazing," Sallas explained. She added that Yumna had previously created a mural at their grade school, meant to inspire other students.
Sallas said she actually drove by the site of the attack, but did not realized what she had saw until the next day.
"I saw her feet, my best friend's feet next to the man doing CPR on her," Sallas said.
"Hate took away my best friend," she added.
Another of Yumna's friends, Safiyah Lawendy, 14, previously told The Canadian Press that she hopes the attack serves as a wake-up call for those who don't believe Islamophobia is present in Canada.
London Mayor Ed Holder described the attack as "an act of mass murder, and a grotesque expression of hatred rooted in Islamaphobia."
Holder told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday that the city is supporting its Muslim community in its grief.
"This kind of thing, you always imagine, happens somewhere else," he said. "This is the time when we've lost our innocence."
Dr. Ahmed Hegazy, a family friend, told CTV News Channel on Tuesday that he had first met the Afzaals 14 years ago at the mosque, and that his shock had yet to dissipate days after their deaths.
He described Salman Afzaal as "very helpful to everybody, really just somebody who'd go out of his way to help people. His wife was no different."
Friends say the Afzaals were well known within London's Pakistani-Muslim community. Another family friend, Saboor Khan, described them as "gems in our community" and "the best of people."
"Everybody looked up to them, because of how hard they worked," he said.
Saboor Khan, who is also the president of the London chapter of the Muslim Association of Canada, said that his family lives in the same neighbourhood as the Afzaal family and goes out for walks every day.
"This could have been any one of us," he said.
"We have to think about what actions are needed to stop this kind of hate and this kind of violence."
He told CTV National News that it is difficult to imagine that the family went through such a horrific attack.
"It is not appropriate for anyone, any living creature, especially such beautiful people," he said.
Khan said the father, Salman, would regularly help at the mosque and was always seen with a smile on his face.
"He made you feel important. He made you feel good," he said.
A funeral for the family is expected to take place on Saturday.
In the wake of the tragedy, the National Council of Canadian Muslims has launched a petition calling for a National Action Summit on Islamophobia where federal, provincial, and municipal leaders can come together to "take immediate action on dismantling both violent forms of Islamophobia and systemic Islamophobia."
As of Wednesday evening, the petition had over 25,000 signatures.
If you need mental health help in the wake of the London, Ont. vehicle attack, support and resources are available here.
With files from CTVNews.ca's Ryan Flanagan, CTVNews.ca's Brooke Taylor, CTV News London, and The Canadian Press