Families, friends gather to remember victims of Toronto van attack one year later

Liam Casey and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, April 23, 2019 3:52PM EDT

Family members and friends of those killed in a van attack in north Toronto a year ago each placed a rose in a vase as the names of their loved ones were read aloud during a ceremony marking the anniversary of the incident.

The ceremony, one of several events today honouring those who died or were injured on April 23, 2018, was set to begin at 1:30 p.m. to coincide with the time of attack. However, it was delayed by roughly an hour as inclement weather forced organizers to relocate indoors.

Chaplain Hugh Donnelly with Toronto Fire Services began the ceremony by addressing those who lost loved ones that day, saying the city shares their grief.

He said the event is also a tribute to those who carry “inner wounds” after witnessing the attack or its aftermath.

Ten people were killed and 16 were injured that afternoon when a white rental van plowed into pedestrians along busy Yonge Street in the city’s north.

Alek Minassian, 26, is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. He is set to face trial next February.

Hundreds of people gathered at nearby Mel Lastman Square on Tuesday to remember the event that shocked the city and to honour the victims and their families.

Dozens wrote messages on the sidewalk in chalk — messages of hope, love and inspiration. More laid flowers next to a plaque that was temporarily erected to mark the grim incident.

Esther Linetski placed an orange carnation by the plaque. Linetski, who works in the area, said she meant to go out to the square for lunch on the day of the attack but was too busy to escape her office.

“I could have been out here,” she said, fighting back tears. “Thankfully I wasn’t one of the unlucky ones.”

Jim Ba also came to the square Tuesday but said he had struggled to do so because of his memories from that day. He credited the community with giving him strength to deal with ongoing visions of the dead and injured — lingering effects of what he saw in the wake of the attack.

“It’s important to be strong, not afraid,” he said.

The city has installed temporary signs in the area to commemorate what it has dubbed the “Yonge Street Tragedy” until permanent memorials are created. It says consultations on the memorials will begin this spring.

Earlier Tuesday, Toronto’s mayor said the attack left the city grappling with grief but also set off a wave of solidarity and support among its residents. John Tory said he hopes the city will show the same strength and heart in the future, and not just in the face of tragedy.

“This unfathomable loss of life left our city in mourning … this was a tragedy the likes of which we’d never seen before,” Tory said.

“We saw people from all walks of life running to the rescue of those in need and offering to help in the aftermath. We saw people of all faiths gather to mourn and to provide comfort to those who needed it so very badly … We saw our city united against evil and dedicated to healing and to love.”

Many of those who helped that day — first responders and Good Samaritans alike — are still affected by what they saw, Tory said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders also commended those who rushed to the aid of strangers at a difficult time.

“Even in our darkest moments, we always remain strong and united,” Ford said in a statement. “We come together, as many will today at vigils across the city. We mourn those we have lost and comfort the families and friends left behind.”

Saunders said the compassion shown in the wake of the attack is “an extraordinary example of who we are as Torontonians.”

Other events were planned Tuesday to remember the incident and pay tribute to the victims and their families.

The Willowdale community is hosting a moment of silence, an evening vigil and a free dinner, among other events. It is also bringing in trauma counsellors and therapy dogs for those who need support.