By Jonathon Van Mren
As most of you will have heard by now, nine people have been killed and at least sixteen are injured after a white van hammered through pedestrians in downtown Toronto today in the Yonge and Finch area. The suspect fled the scene, and made it nearly three kilometres before police apprehended him. Video shows the driver pretending to draw a gun on an approaching officer and saying “kill me”—we don’t know anything about the suspect, but he was captured without any exchange of gunfire.
The initial reports are horrifying. One woman described walking back to work after lunch with a friend, before the van smashed her friend away. She couldn’t tell anyone her friend’s name, because the family hadn’t yet been informed that their loved one had been killed. Another witness said he “saw one old man go flying in the air,” and that he “never heard screams like that before ever in my life.” Multiple witnesses confirmed that the driver was aiming at people to ensure that he mowed down as many as possible. One man said he saw what looked like a stroller get hit.
It’s pretty hard to process this. I saw that there was an “traffic incident” in Toronto on Twitter hours ago, but thought nothing of it until a friend messaged me to ask, “You’re not in Toronto today, are you?” That’s when I scrolled through my feed and saw the gut-wrenching photos of tarp-covered bodies lying on familiar streets on a sunny Toronto afternoon, covering the corpses of people who were just going about their day split seconds before the end. I can’t imagine the pain and anguish of those families who had loved ones snatched from them today must feel.
As soon as I heard, I started running through a mental list of those I know in Toronto and nearby—were my colleagues doing activism downtown today? Any meetings? Thousands of other people ran through that same mental list, and some of them came to the horrifying realization that their loved ones were there. Some are probably still waiting in a state of panic to hear if their family members are okay. How many people are staring at the photos of orange tarps on the sidewalk right now, wondering if it is their loved one lying beneath it? The thought is enough to make your stomach twist.
We’ve sort of gotten used to hearing about attacks like this in other places—even in Europe. Paris, London, Madrid. But Toronto? Seeing the photos of places I walk or drive a few times a month as the backdrop to terrorist carnage is surreal and chilling. Police Association President Mike McCormack told CP24 that he’s never experienced anything like this in decades, but that “Unfortunately, this is the new world order.”
An awful, heartbreaking afternoon in Toronto–and today is going to get much worse for many people as the names of the victims are released. There will be more news in the hours to come, but in the meantime spare a thought and a prayer for them as you go about your day.