A driver who crashed into a family walking down a sidewalk, killing four people and injuring a child, targeted them because they were Muslim, police in Canada said Monday.
"Let me be clear: This was an act of mass murder perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, and rooted in unspeakable hatred," Ed Holder, mayor of London, Ontario, said during a press conference.
The victims, whose names have not released at their family's request, included a 74-year-old woman, a 46-year-old man, a 44-year-old woman, and a 15-year-old girl, according to the London Police Service. A 9-year-old boy was being treated at a local hospital for what police described as serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
The victims, who police said were all part of the same family, were waiting to cross an intersection at Hyde Park Road and South Carriage Road at about 8:40 p.m. Sunday when a black pickup truck mounted the curb and struck them. Police said the vehicle continued to speed down the street and ran a red light. The driver was arrested several minutes later after he stopped in a mall parking lot 7 kilometers, or roughly 4.3 miles, away from the scene, Detective Superintendent Paul Waight said.
Waight said that while there is no known connection between the driver and the victims, police believe the killing was intentional and that the family was targeted because of their faith.
"There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act motivated by hate," he said during the press briefing.
Police did not provide any details about how they came to that conclusion or any additional information about the evidence they have gathered.
Omar Khamissa, a spokesperson with the National Council of Canadian Muslims who is representing the London Muslim Mosque, told BuzzFeed News that the family was on a walk after dinner — one of the few leisure activities that they could do during the pandemic — when they were attacked.
"This is a family that did their post-dinner walk like all of us do... They just went for a walk and four of them will not be returning home," he said. "These innocent human beings were simply killed just because they were Muslim."
Khamissa declined to identify the victims, citing the extended family members' request for privacy, but said that the family was known in London's Muslim community for their generosity.
"Their family had the biggest heart — anytime you needed something done or the community would give them a call, and they will be available," he said.
The driver, identified as 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman, was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, officials said. The investigation into the incident is ongoing, and additional charges of terrorism are being considered.
Waight said Veltman did not have any previous contact with the London Police Service; however, he did have contact with other agencies that was "nothing of a very serious nature." He confirmed that Veltman was wearing a vest that appeared to be some kind of body armor at the time of his arrest. Police believe he acted alone.
The Muslim community has deep roots in the area, Khamissa said; the London Muslim Mosque is the oldest in Ontario, and is the country's oldest operational mosque.
"This has been their home, and they're just as much a part of it as everyone else," he said of the community. "The person that committed these crimes is a terrorist. And he committed these terror acts against the community. But he didn't know that this community is so strong that they will stand against hate, they will stand against Islamophobia, they will respond to terror with love."
Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, described the deadly car crash as "a terrorist attack" and called on prosecutors to file additional charges of terrorism.
"Muslims in Canada have become all too familiar with the violence of Islamophobia," Farooq said in a statement, citing recent assaults and threats made against Black Muslim women in Alberta, the killing of a volunteer at a Toronto mosque last year, and the 2017 shooting at a Quebec City mosque where six were killed and several others were wounded.
"This loss of a family, the loss of a child in our community because of Islamophobia — this is a sorrow that will run deep for a long time," Farooq said. "But let that sorrow be the ground where we stand for justice, and stand for change."
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also described the killings as a terrorist attack. No terrorism charges have yet been filed.
"Their lives were taken in a brutal, cowardly, and brazen act of violence," he said. "This killing was no accident. This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities."