At least nine people were killed and 16 were injured when a man driving a rental van struck pedestrians on a Toronto sidewalk Monday, police said. The driver was taken into custody after the incident and the investigation is ongoing. A motive for the incident has not yet been determined.
“The van involved in multiple pedestrians struck in the Yonge and Finch area of Toronto has been located and the driver arrested,” Toronto Police said on Twitter. Law enforcement sources told CBS News that the incident appears to be a deliberate act, but the reason for it is not yet known. CNN is also reporting that it was an intentional act.
The driver has been identified by CBS News as Alek Minassian, 25.
“At this point it’s too early to tell what if any motive there was. We are also unable right now to tell the extent or the number of persons injured,” Toronto police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray told CBS News.
Video from the scene showed the driver standing on the sidewalk toward police officers who yell at him to put it down. He can be heard saying, “I have a gun in my pocket,” while pointing a black object, possibly a cell phone, toward the officer. You can watch a video of the driver’s arrest here:
The driver was also asking police to shoot him in the head. A second video, taken from above the scene, shows the suspect walking into the street with his arm extended toward a police officer with the black object still in his hand. As the officer approaches him, the man drops the object and gets to his knees. The officer then places him into handcuffs. No shots were fired during his arrest. The suspect’s name has not yet been released.
A third video shows police putting the driver into handcuffs against a police vehicle:
During his arrest, it appears the suspect was attempting “suicide by cop,” by waving his arm toward the officer and pointing at him.
Toronto Police said on Twitter that officers were called to Yonge Street and Finche Avenue East at 1:27 p.m. for a collision. Police said it is too early to confirm how many pedestrians were injured. The van traveled about a mile during the incident and was going about 30 to 40 mph, according to witnesses. The van jumped the curb and hit pedestrians walking on the sidewalk in an area of northern Toronto.
A nearby hospital, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, said in a statement, “Following an incident involving a van striking a number of pedestrians in the Yonge and Finch area, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre has received seven patients from the scene in its Trauma Centre. Sunnybrook’s Emergency Department has been locked down as an added precaution and access to the Bayview Campus is being controlled. Sunnybrook has activated its Hospital Emergency Operations Centre (HEOC) and is meeting currently to ensure beds are available for the injured.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter, “Our thoughts are with all those affected by the terrible incident at Yonge and Finch in Toronto. Thank you to the first responders working at the scene – we’re monitoring the situation closely.”
Witness Alex Shaker told CTV News that he was driving southbound on Yonge Street when he saw the van traveling at a high rate of speed in the same direction on the sidewalk. “He started going down on the sidewalk and crumbling down people one by one,” Shaker said of the van driver. “He just destroyed so many people’s lives. Every single thing that got in his way.”
Carol Roberts, who also witnessed the incident, told CTV News she saw “a lot of people lying lifeless on the ground. It was just so many bodies.” Another, Phil Zullo, told the news network he saw “shoes and hats flown everywhere.”
The van is marked with logos for the Ryder rental company.
“I was in my car and I saw a white van going on the sidewalk,” witness Ham Yu-Jin told the Toronto Star. “I heard a big bang and the van hit a bus shelter and hit people. I turned my car on and chased the van. I’m so lucky, I could have been hit. This is not a car accident.”
Shayne Klayman, another witness, told The Star, “I looked out my window and everyone is just running in front of the vehicle trying to flag down cops and direct cops to where the assailant was. I never heard screams like that before ever in my entire life. People were running all around trying to flag cops down, like running in front of moving cars trying to flag an officer down.”
Toronto Police said on Twitter, “Investigators are appealing for information from the public. A hotline for witnesses to the incident will be announced later today. A separate hotline for family members will also be made available. It is anticipated that investigators will be on scene for several days, leading to road closures. Alternate routes instead of Yonge Street are Beecroft Road and Doris Avenue.”
Ralph Goodale, Canada’s Public Safety Minister, said at a press conference the investigation is being led by Toronto Police. Goodale said he was not able to speculate about the motive behind the incident. While asking a question, a reporter compared the North Toronto incident to terror attacks in Europe and elsewhere using vehicles, to which Goodale responded, “We cannot come to any firm conclusions at this stage. The police are conducting … a thorough investigation to determine what happened and why it happened, the motivations involved, but until they are to provide us with details, that put this completely in a factual context, it would be inappropriate to speculate. I can though say that there is complete cooperation and collaboration among all of the relevant police organizations to make sure all of the appropriate resources are made available and that we get the answers you and the public want just as rapidly as possible.”
There have been several vehicle-ramming attacks in Europe in recent years, along with a rental truck attack in New York City in October 2017, carried out by ISIS-inspired or affiliated attackers. Authorities have not raised the terror threat alert for Canada.
“There is no information available to me at the present that would indicate a change in the risk level,” Goodale said.
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