'He just kept going': Witnesses recall massacre

TORONTO • Shoes, torn clothing and bodies covered with orange tarpaulins were strewn across one of Toronto's busiest streets, with the crime scene seeming to go on forever and a 15-block area turned into a ghost town after a van struck and killed 10 people and injured 15.

One witness, who identified himself only as Ali, said the van mowed down everything in its path: pedestrians, mailboxes, electrical poles, benches and a fire hydrant.

"One by one, one by one," he said, describing the pedestrians being struck. "Holy God, I've never seen such a sight before. I feel sick."

Mr Rocco Cignielli, 42, said: "I heard screaming, yelling. I turned back and saw this truck going that way. He was going in and out, back and forth, zigzagging. He just kept on going."

Pointing to the bodies, he said: "I saw there were people lying on the ground. I saw they were doing heart compression, and I saw two people dying right here in front of me."

Adrian, another witness who did not give his surname, said he saw the tail end of the killing spree.

"I'm still shaking," he said, holding back tears, more than an hour after the incident.

Mr Young Lee, a 56-year-old attorney, said: "I've never seen violence like this here in Toronto.

"I felt a mix of rage and a lot of sympathy for the victims."

The suspect in the attack, Alek Minassian, 25, attended a high school programme for students with special needs where he would often walk the halls with his head down and hands tightly clasped, according to former classmates.

Ms Shereen Chami said her former classmate was not violent. She said Minassian was part of a programme at Thornlea Secondary School, in Toronto's northern suburbs, for high school students with special needs, attending a mix of mainstream and separate classes.

Ms Chami remembers him walking the halls with his hands together and his head down, and making meowing noises.

"He wasn't a social person, but from what I remember he was absolutely harmless," she said.

A Toronto police officer who refused to shoot Minassian was praised for restraint in the face of a suspect who claimed to have a gun.

As the suspect shouted "Kill me," the officer replied, "No, get down." When the suspect said, "I have a gun in my pocket," the officer responded: "I don't care. Get down."

Toronto Police Service declined to name the officer involved in the stand-off. The non-violent end to the stand-off won plaudits on social media. "Wow, at how these Canadian cops brought in this suspected killer," said Twitter user Stuart A. Thompson in a posting.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2018, with the headline ''He just kept going': Witnesses recall massacre'. Print Edition | Subscribe