TORONTO — Canadian investigators are piecing together information about the man accused of driving a van into multiple pedestrians at a busy Toronto intersection Monday, killing 10 and injuring 15.
Witnesses described the vehicle plowing into people on the sidewalk and driving in the wrong direction down the street in what police say appears to have been a deliberate act.
The suspected driver, Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill, Ontario, is in custody, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said.
Minassian was arrested in a white rental van less than 30 minutes after police received a 911 call, Saunders said. He is due to appear in court 10 a.m. ET Tuesday.
Asked whether Toronto authorities had previous knowledge of Minassian, Saunders said “there’s nothing we have … on him right now.” However, a U.S. law enforcement official with knowledge of the matter said Minassian had been known to authorities.
An online social media profile described him as a college student.
Minassian’s alleged motive is not yet clear.
Officials were not calling the incident a terror attack at this stage, Canada’s minister of public safety and emergency preparedness Ralph Goodale said. “There would appear to be no national security connection,” he said.
CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Josh Campbell said that investigators had identified a Facebook account they believe belongs to Minassian.
A message posted on the account earlier Monday read: “All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
Campbell said that investigators believe the Facebook post refers to Elliot Rodger, who killed six and injured 14 in a drive-by shooting and vehicle ramming attack near the UC Santa Barbara campus in Isla Vista, California in 2014. Rodger later died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Investigators noted that Rodger was motivated to carry out his attack by a personal grievance related to his immersion in the extremist ideological subculture of men’s rights activists propagated in several online forums such as 4Chan, which believe that women do not actually want gender equality and have been brainwashed by feminist propaganda, he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his condolences to the families of the victims. Calling it a “tragic and senseless attack,” he thanked first responders, who he said “faced danger without hesitation, and their efforts no doubt saved lives and prevented further injuries.”
“We should all feel safe walking in our cities and communities,” Trudeau 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.”
Trail of destruction
Authorities said Minassian left a trail of destruction nearly a mile long, north of midtown Toronto.
Deputy Police Chief Peter Yuen said police received calls around 1:30 p.m. that a vehicle was driving on Yonge Street, striking pedestrians. Police said the collisions happened in the North York area at the intersection of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue.
“Based on witness accounts, we have a vehicle that started north on Yonge Street from Finch and drove southbound at some point in times on sidewalks, at some point in times driving southbound in northbound lanes,” Saunders said.
Saunders added: “So, it’s very clear just from a general perspective to say that the actions definitely look deliberate.”
Ten patients were transported to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and two were declared dead at the hospital, said Dr. Dan Cass, executive vice-president and chief medical officer. Five patients were described as being in a critical condition. Two patients were also taken to St. Michael’s Hospital, their conditions are unknown.
‘Scene from a war zone’
Diego DeMatos was one of the good Samaritans who tried to save victims.
DeMatos said he was driving north on Yonge when he saw the van driving fast southbound. He said he saw the van hit a man and a woman.
“Blood started gushing out of his head, and she was bleeding really badly, too,” DeMatos said.
At first, he thought the collision was a hit-and-run, but he noticed four to five victims on the ground as he drove a few meters further.
DeMatos said he stopped to help another victim, who was already being aided by someone.
“I went over to try to perform CPR on him. … He died in our arms,” DeMatos said.
“It was like a scene from a war zone. There was garbage cans everywhere, broken bus shelters and mailboxes on the ground.”
A cell phone video obtained by CNN partner CTV appears to show a tense standoff with a suspect after the incident. Police have not said whether the person in the cell phone video was Minassian.
The video appears to show a man standing in front of a white van with a damaged front bumper. The man is yelling and extending one arm, pointing an object at an officer standing behind a black car.
The officer has his weapon drawn and pointed at the man. The officer slowly steps toward him and yells “Get down, get down!”
Later in the video, the man is seen on the ground and the officer is cuffing his hands behind him; the object can be seen lying on the ground off to the side.
Reporters asked Saunders Monday whether the individual arrested in the video had a gun in his hand. “There’s nothing that indicates he has a gun,” Saunders said, adding that they need to investigate further to know what the object was.