Toronto Van Attack

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

Man Charged With 10 Counts Of Murder In Toronto Van Attack

April 24, 2018 - 10:50 am
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TORONTO (WCBS 880/AP) -- A judge in Canada has ordered the 25-year-old man suspected of plowing a van into pedestrians in north Toronto detained on 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 of attempted murder.

Suspect Alek Minassian learned of the charges in a brief initial hearing before a judge in Toronto on Tuesday.

Minassian wore a white jail jumpsuit and had his hands handcuffed. He showed little emotion.

He was asked to say his name and if he understood an order not to have any contact with anyone injured in Monday's crash scene on a busy sidewalk.

He did not enter a plea to the charges and was ordered to return to court on May 10.

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, leaving people bloodied and dead in his wake. But authorities so far had 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.

Officials would not comment on a possible motive except to play down a possible connection to terrorism, a thought that occurred to many following a series of attacks involving trucks and pedestrians in Europe and New York as well as the presence in Toronto this week of Cabinet ministers from the G7 nations.

Asked if there was any evidence of a terrorist link, the chief said only, "Based on what we have there's nothing that has it to compromise the national security at this time."

But some evidence has cropped up indicating that Misassian had a history of misogynistic postings on social media.

"He does not have a criminal record but was known to national security officials. His name and picture came up in web forums in a Facebook posting praising misogynistic gunman in a deadly 2014 campus rampage near Santa Barbara. They're looking at that as a possible tie-in to what happened here and a potential motive," CBS News correspondent Chris Mavridis told WCBS 880.

Mavridis said a couple of cryptic Facebook messages posted just minutes before the attack referenced the gunman in the 2014 Isla Vista, California incident, Elliot Rodger. Rodger stabbed three people to death and shot and killed three more before killing himself.

“And it was part of something – a movement – called involuntary celibacy, which is essentially guys who are turned down by women so much that they are involuntarily celibate,” Mavridis said. “And from what I understand talking to some of his former classmates in high school, he had some mental issues and he was in… a special class, and he would walk down the hallway basically staring at the floor, and they said – all the ones that I spoke to, about six former classmates all said this independently – that he had kind of a verbal tic, where he would say: ‘I’m afraid of girls. I’m afraid of girls.’”

Minassian’s Facebook post called the killer the "Supreme Gentleman." It also declared: "The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys!"

The post called the killer the "Supreme Gentleman." It also declared: "The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys!" 

The 22-year-old Rodger had used the term "incel" -- for involuntarily celibate -- in online posts raging at women for rejecting him romantically. Like-minded people in internet forums sometimes use "Chad" and "Stacy" as dismissive slang for men and women with more robust sex lives. 

Monday's Facebook post mentions that "Private (Recruit) Minassian" is speaking.

Seemingly referring to the post at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, a police official described it as "cryptic," and said the suspect used a rented van in the deadly incident Monday. 

"As has been reported in the media, the accused is alleged to have posted a cryptic message on Facebook minutes before he began driving the rented van," Toronto police Homicide Detective Sgt. Graham Gibson said Tuesday.

Facebook said it has deleted the suspect's Facebook account, saying "There is absolutely no place on our platform for people who commit such horrendous acts.

Mavridis said Minassian was described as a loner who lived with his father in a middle class neighborhood just north of where the incident occurred. An online social media profile described him as a college student.

"His LinkedIn page says he's attended a local community college for the past seven years. Students said that he was in class last week. They described him as keeping very much to himself and very socially awkward. Some of his high school classmates described him as autistic and the target of merciless teasing," Mavridis told WCBS. "Neighbors where he lived described him as quiet, a loner. They'd rarely see him, just occasionally when he would go out for a jog."

Some people also told Mavridis that some people who knew Minassian in community college “described him as very socially awkward, and the kind of guy who tried very many times to talk to girls in the class and ask them out and was denied, a lot.”

It was also revealed Tuesday that Minassian had some experience in the Canadian armed forces.

“It’s not clear how he would have cleared psychological screening though, and that’s got a lot of Army brass rattled today. We’re told he requested to be released from his contract after just 16 days of basic training, which according to a couple of the people that I spoke to in basic training today said is nearly impossible, so they’re still trying to get to the bottom of that,” Mavridis said. “One military official I spoke to said he would have only undergone orientation, basic stuff – basically how to make your bed and take a couple of notes; no weapons or infantry training.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will do whatever it can to keep its citizens safe, while staying true to its values. Speaking at a news conference Tuesday he said, "We cannot as Canadians choose to live in fear every single day as we go about our daily business.''

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

"We are looking very strongly to what the exact motivation was for this particular incident to take place," Saunders said. "We need every single piece of this puzzle so we can have a fulsome picture and account as to exactly what took place here."

The incident occurred as Cabinet ministers from the major industrial countries were gathered in Canada to discuss a range of international issues in the run-up to the G7 meeting near Quebec City in June. Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale called the incident a "horrific attack" and said the G7 foreign ministers extended their condolences.

Authorities have not yet released a list of victims. Those known to have been killed include a 30-year-old woman from Toronto, Anne Marie D'Amico, who was active in volunteer work, as well as a female student at Seneca College, which Minassian also attended. A Jordanian citizen and two South Koreans were also among those killed.

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 mph.

"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 said 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."

Police shut down the intersection of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue following the incident and Toronto's transit agency said it had suspended service on the subway line running through the area.

The stretch of Yonge Street where the victims were struck remains closed to traffic and was expected to stay blocked off for several days as police continue what is likely to be a lengthy investigation.  

The incident prompted police to beef up security and close several streets around the Air Canada Centre on Monday night for the Toronto-Boston NHL playoff game. Police tweeted that similar road closures may be in effect for the Toronto Raptors NBA playoff game on Wednesday night.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)