Police struggle to establish motive in deadly Toronto ramming
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Police struggle to establish motive in deadly Toronto ramming

Suspect Alek Minassian to appear in court after killing 10 people and injuring 15 in apparently deliberate attack

Police inspect a van suspected of being involved in a collision killing 10 people at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. on April 23, 2018, in Toronto, Canada. (Cole Burston/Getty Images/AFP)
Police inspect a van suspected of being involved in a collision killing 10 people at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. on April 23, 2018, in Toronto, Canada. (Cole Burston/Getty Images/AFP)

Police in Toronto on Tuesday were still piecing together witness accounts and surveillance video in an attempt to determine why a driver plowed a rented van along a crowded sidewalk, killing 10 people and injuring 15 in what authorities said was a deliberate attack.

Twenty-five-year-old suspect Alek Minassian was quickly captured in a tense but brief confrontation with officers a few blocks away from where his van jumped the sidewalk Monday and continued for a mile (one and a half kilometers), leaving a trail of bodies in its wake. But authorities so far have not disclosed a possible motive or cause even as the police chief agreed with witnesses that it seemed intentional.

“The incident definitely looked deliberate,” Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters at a late-night news conference.

Saunders said Minassian, who lives in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, had not been known to police previously. An online social media profile described him as a college student.

Alek Minassian, the alleged driver in the ramming which killed 10 people in Toronto, Canada on April 23, 2018 (Alek Minassian/Linkedin)

Canadian media outlet CBC News reports that in a Facebook post, Minassian appears to praise Elliot Rodger, a California man who stabbed and killed three people and shot dead another three individuals in a 2014 rampage. However, CBC was unable to verify that the Facebook profile belonged to the suspect in Monday’s attack, and on Tuesday the page appeared to have been removed from the social media network.

Shereen Chami, a former classmate of Minassian, told Reuters that he had attended an education program for students with special needs. She told the news agency that Minassian was not violent, but that she remembered him walking the corridors with his head down and making meowing sounds.

Officials would not comment on Minassian’s possible motive except to play down a possible connection to terrorism. Asked if there was any evidence of a terrorist link, the chief said, “Based on what we have there’s nothing that has it to compromise the national security at this time.”

A senior national government official said earlier that authorities had not turned over the investigation to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a sign that investigators believed it was unlikely that terrorism was the motive. The official agreed to reveal that information only if not quoted by name.

Authorities released few details in the case, saying the investigation was still underway, with witnesses being interviewed and surveillance video being examined.

“I can assure the public all our available resources have been brought in to investigate this tragic situation,” Toronto Police Services Deputy Chief Peter Yuen said earlier.

Police said the suspect was scheduled to appear in court at 10 a.m. Tuesday, and that information on the charges against him would be released at that time.

Law enforcement and first responders on scene at Yonge St. at Finch Ave. after a van plows into pedestrians April 23, 2018, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Cole Burston/Getty Images/AFP)

The driver was heading south on busy Yonge Street around 1:30 p.m. and the streets were crowded with people enjoying an unseasonably warm day when the van jumped onto the sidewalk.

Ali Shaker, who was driving near the van at the time, told Canadian broadcast outlet CP24 that the driver appeared to be moving deliberately through the crowd at more than 30 miles per hour.

“He just went on the sidewalk,” a distraught Shaker said. “He just started hitting everybody, man. He hit every single person on the sidewalk. Anybody in his way he would hit.”

Witness Peter Kang told CTV News that the driver did not seem to make any effort to stop.

“If it was an accident he would have stopped,” Kang said. “But the person just went through the sidewalk. He could have stopped.”

Video broadcast on several Canadian outlets showed police arresting the driver, dressed in dark clothes, after officers surrounded him and his rental Ryder van several blocks from where the incident occurred in the North York neighborhood of northern Toronto. He appeared to make some sort of gesture at the police with an object in his hand just before they ordered him to lie down on the ground and took him away.

Witness Phil Zullo told Canadian Press that he saw police arresting the suspect and people “strewn all over the road” where the incident occurred.

“I must have seen about five, six people being resuscitated by bystanders and by ambulance drivers,” Zullo said. “It was awful. Brutal.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his sympathies for those involved.

“We should all feel safe walking in our cities and communities,” he said. “We are monitoring this situation closely, and will continue working with our law enforcement partners around the country to ensure the safety and security of all Canadians.”

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