A man accused of killing four members of a Canadian Muslim family by running them over in his pickup truck, targeted them in an attack motivated by hate, police said on Monday.
Police in London, Ontario, citing witnesses, said that 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman, jumped the curb in his vehicle on Sunday, struck five members of the family, ranging in age from 9 to 74, and then drove off at high speed.
Veltman, a resident of London who was arrested after the incident, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He is due back in court on Thursday after being remanded to custody on Monday.
“There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate,” Detective Superintendent Paul Waight of the London police department told reporters.
“We believe the victims were targeted because of their Islamic faith,” Waight said.
Police in London – 200 km (120 miles) southwest of Toronto – were consulting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and prosecutors about potentially filing terrorism charges, he said.
The suspect does not have a criminal record, and is not known to be a member of a hate group, police said. He was arrested in a mall parking lot without incident while wearing a body-armor-type vest, police said. There is no evidence he had any accomplices. It was not immediately known if the suspect had hired a lawyer.
Police have not released the victims’ names, but the London Free Press said that among the dead were Syed Afzaal, 46, his wife, Madiha Salman, 44, and their 15-year-old daughter, Yumnah Afzaal. Syed Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother, whose name has not been confirmed, also died. Their 9-year-old son, Faez Afzaal, is in the hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
The family immigrated from Pakistan about 14 years ago, according to media reports.
Witness Paige Martin told reporters a black truck blasted past her and ran a red light as she was walking, and then she came upon the scene and saw “chaos”: “It was just absolutely like something that you never want to see.”
The attack was the worst against Canadian Muslims since a man gunned down six members of a Quebec City mosque in 2017. London Mayor Ed Holder said it was the worst mass murder his city had ever seen.
“We grieve for the family, three generations of whom are now deceased,” Holder told reporters. “This was an act of mass murder, perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, and rooted in unspeakable hatred.”