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Twenty-five minutes of horror on Yonge
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Man in white rental van weaves path of carnage, killing pedestrians along busy street
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By ANN HUI, JOE FRIESEN, OLIVER MOORE, HEATHER NORMAN
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Tuesday, April 24, 2018 – Print Edition, Page A3


On most days, the lunch crowd at the busy north Toronto intersection thins out by about 1:30. But on Monday, the sidewalks were busier than usual. Mothers with strollers and office workers alike lingered outside, savouring their first taste of sunshine after a long, cold winter.

Taxi driver Agyeman-Badu had just turned onto Yonge Street just south of Finch Avenue, when he noticed a white van driving on the sidewalk. He thought it was odd, but ignored it.

But when the van hit a fire hydrant, knocking a yellow newspaper box askew, he snapped to attention. He watched, horrified, as the van continued straight toward a bus shelter where a woman was standing.

A split-second later, the woman was pinned underneath the van. The giant sheets of glass had shattered into thousands of tiny shards around her.

It was just an early sign of what was to come. Over the next 25 minutes, the 2.2-kilometre stretch of Yonge from Finch down to Sheppard Avenue would bear witness to dozens of similarly horrific scenes. Onlookers described panicked pedestrians fleeing amidst screams, past bloodied victims and bodies left laying on the ground.

Dozens of people were mowed down in a killing rampage that Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders described as "deliberate." Officials, meanwhile, called it an "attack" - the worst such attack in Toronto's history.

The official count, as of Monday evening, is that at least 10 are dead and 15 were injured - many of them critically.

"I saw body bags," said Saman Tabasinejad, who lives just a stone's throw from where the attacks started.

"I just saw one, after the other, after the other."

Next to them, she and others said, lay the belongings they'd left behind. A pair of shoes. A handbag. A broken pair of glasses.

The first police call came at 1:27 p.m. An arrest was made at 1:52 p.m.

Mehrsa Marjani was at the Soban café at the corner of Yonge and Finch when the attack began.

She said she saw people strewn across the pavement, including a woman in her 20s or 30s who appeared to have been struck on the sidewalk close to Finch.

"I saw five people injured, one in okay condition, three deadly injured. One died before my eyes," Ms. Marjani said. The woman was covered in blood. "So many people tried to help her." Dainis Covers, a cook at a nearby restaurant, was driving south along Yonge when the "Ryder Truck Rental and Leasing" van beside him suddenly cut him off.

Ahead of both of them, he could see a man crossing the six-lane street on foot.

Instead of slowing down, Mr.

Covers said, the driver of the van seemed to speed up.

"He accelerated at the guy," Mr. Covers said. "The guy flew up.

Probably higher than the van."

Just a few steps south, Amir Farokhpour had just walked out of the furniture store where he works. He had planned to go for lunch, but stopped when he heard a loud bang.

In front of him, the van was veering wildly down Yonge. On the road behind it was a middleaged man, his head covered in blood.

Mr. Farokhpour ran over to help, but it was too late. "He was dead right away."

As onlookers watched in shock, many called 911. Emergency workers tried to keep up with the carnage.

"It's unprecedented. We've never seen anything like this in Toronto up until now," said John Flengas, acting superintendent for EMS Toronto. Several victims died at the scene. Others were transported to the trauma centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

At the hospital, dozens of police cruisers and ambulances flooded the area. An EMS bus was brought in to treat patients.

Sunnybrook hospital locked down its emergency department "as an added precaution" and activated its emergency operations centre.

Staff was meeting Monday afternoon to make sure there are enough beds available for the injured. The scene was "organized chaos," said Dr. Dan Cass, chief medical executive for the hospital, as staff worked to handle the sudden influx of victims. He said staff was still in the process of contacting victims' families.

"The circumstances here are certainly unprecedented," he said.

Back on Yonge Street, the van kept heading south.

Andy Jibb watched from the balcony of his 27th-floor condo.

He had been jolted from his work by the sound of crashes, then screaming. What he found below shocked him. There were at least five bodies laying on the sidewalk.

At least three didn't appear to be moving.

About halfway between Finch and Sheppard, the hulking complex at 5700 Yonge is home to the Ontario health ministry, as well of dozens of business offices. That's where Michele Kelman, who works in IT, was heading back to after lunch at Jack Astor's with a friend.

As they walked, they heard screams from behind them. Ms. Kelman turned and saw bodies flying through the air. Then she saw what had caused the screaming: the front end of a white van heading straight down the sidewalk toward her.

She managed to get out of the way just in time for the van to pass without touching her. But when she looked back, her friend was nowhere to be found.

"There were bodies all over," she said, her eyes red, her hands still shaking. She scanned past a few bodies before she finally found her. Her friend later died.

At some point, the driver turned off of Yonge. The next time it was spotted was down on Bogert Avenue, a block south of Sheppard. There, onlookers watched as the van turned back onto Yonge, cutting the corner in front of Tim Hortons, and crashing into a park bench and Green P parking sign.

Again, the van continued south along Yonge. But it wouldn't travel much further.

Accountant Subhendu Basu was driving along Poyntz Avenue when he heard sirens approach.

There, he saw police cruisers, and noticed a white van approaching.

As the van neared the police cruisers, it slowed to a stop.

A man got out carrying something black in his hands and pointing it like a handgun, Mr. Basu said.

"The cop was taking all precautions, crouching down beside his car and trying to aim," he said. "The [suspect] was just walking out in front pointing at the cop.

The officer manoeuvred toward the suspect, alternately advancing and taking cover until he eventually overpowered him.

Within moments, it was over.

The officer had pushed the man down onto the road. Police arrested him, and Monday night, they identified the suspect as 25year-old Alek Minassian.

"It was just a movie," Mr. Basu said. "I was just absolutely stunned looking at what was unfolding in front of me."

By about 8 p.m., police had almost finished removing bodies from the scene. A black coroner's van parked near the bodies, while police officers continued patrolling the area, doing forensic work.

Across the street, people began gathering in tribute of the victims. A makeshift memorial was created, out of hand-written notes and signs of condolences written out on bristol board.

"I walked out, I saw the bodies on the ground, and I saw the streets I walked pretty much every day so I knew something had to be done," said Konstantin Goulich, who lives nearby and helped to create the memorial.

"We have to have an opportunity to heal, but that will take time. Now we just need to express how saddened we are by what happened here today," he said.

Others, such as Ms. Tabasinejad, the woman who saw the body bags near her home, called the incident sickening.

"It's terrifying. These are my neighbours," she said.

Even for Toronto, the neighbourhood is notable for its dense concentration of newcomers - mainly Chinese, Korean and Iranian families, many who own and run the businesses nearby.

"This neighbourhood is all immigrants, essentially," she said. "I just love this neighbourhood so much."

With reports from Denise Balkissoon, Kelly Grant, Justin Ling and Jennifer La Grassa.

Associated Graphic

Police and emergency officials survey the scene of the fatal van attack on Monday. Toronto's police chief described the attack as 'deliberate.'

AARON VINCENT ELKAIM/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A person injured in the Toronto van attack is put into the back of an ambulance on Monday. More than a dozen people were injured - some critically - in the incident and, as of Monday night, at least 10 were dead.

AARON VINCENT ELKAIM/THE CANADIAN PRESS

An officer stands by the covered body of a victim of the fatal incident on Monday. The Toronto van attack spanned a 2.2-kilometre stretch of city streets.

CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS

Stills from cellphone videos depict the moments leading up to the suspect's arrest on Monday in Toronto: (1) A police officer arrives at the scene where the suspect finally stopped the van, (2) exits his vehicle and turns off his siren, (3) and draws his weapon (4) before managing to tackle and handcuff the suspect.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


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