Alex Lapcevich was sitting in his car Sunday evening when he saw the murder weapon fly by.
A modified two-door Dodge Ram pickup truck zoomed past him at the corner of Hyde Park Road and Oxford Street. Lapcevich guessed the truck was going 150 kilometres per hour down the street. He was confused there were no police cars in pursuit — figuring that someone driving that erratically would have to be being chased.
Just up the road, Nathan Brooks said he and his 11-year old daughter saw the same truck — but all Brooks caught was a dark blur rush past him. He called police right after to report a reckless driver.
As police cruisers zoomed down the street, Lapcevich decided to follow, ending up at the parking lot where the cops confronted the truck’s driver.
“When I got there, there were some cops, but more still on the way,” he said.
“This guy got out of the car with a military helmet and armour on,” he said “He had a big bull bar on the front of the truck and tinted windows. It looked like he was prepared to do something f---ing crazy.”
It was the conclusion of a deadly evening that took the life of four family members — targeted, investigators believe, because they were Muslim — and seriously injured a nine-year-old boy. London police have charged Nathaniel Veltman, 20, with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
Back at the busy intersection where the Afzaal family was struck, Jenny Carp told the Star she was one of the first to arrive at the horrific scene. She and first responders discovered the nine-year-old boy was still conscious.
“I stayed with him, tried to comfort him, and rubbed his head as he cried ‘Where’s my family?’” Carp said. “He was so brave. He was more worried about his family than his own pain.”
As communities across Canada continue to mourn the deaths of the Afzaal family, little is known about the man accused in their murders.
London police called it a “planned, premeditated act motivated by hate,” suggesting the family was targeted because of their Islamic faith. Authorities have released scant information on how they came to that conclusion.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons Tuesday the attack was an act of terrorism — but one of Canada’s top intelligence officials stopped just short of designating a terrorist attack.
Vincent Rigby, the national security and intelligence adviser to the prime minister, called the events in London Sunday a “truly horrific attack” and that authorities believe the victims were targeted based on their religion.
“There is no place for terrorism, intolerance, hate, (or) Islamophobia in this country,” Rigby said during a virtual speech Tuesday.
Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team — which includes the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service — has been “engaged” by London police, a step that could suggest authorities are considering potential terrorism charges.
“The RCMP is giving full support to the London Police Service who are investigating the incident,” wrote Cpl. Dmitri Malakhov, a spokesperson with the RCMP’s Ontario division, in a statement.
“The Canadian Security Intelligence Service takes very seriously the threats posed by individuals who engage in violent extremism,” wrote CSIS spokesperson Keira Lawson in a statement to the Star.
“Recognizing that this is an ongoing law enforcement investigation, it would be inappropriate for CSIS to comment any further.”
National security researchers and anti-hate activists continued to scour the internet for any digital or social media footprint the attacker may have left behind, with little success as of Tuesday night.
Facebook Canada confirmed Tuesday that it proactively removed an account believed to be associated with Veltman after news of the attack started to spread.
“There is absolutely no place on our platform for people who commit such horrendous acts,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.
The social media company said it would also delete any content that supports or glorifies the attack.
On Tuesday afternoon, a London police van could be seen parked outside the small apartment building in downtown London where Veltman lived.
Anti-hate campaigner Brad Galloway said he’s been monitoring chatter among far-right and white supremacist groups across multiple platforms — including messaging app Telegram, the forum 4Chan and Facebook. Even so, Galloway has found out little about Veltman or his possible motivations.
“There’s got to be some information there … I don’t think police would ever say (an attack was hate-motivated) without information,” said Galloway, the co-ordinator of Ontario Tech University’s Centre on Hatred, Bias and Extremism.
Lapcevich told the Star that he was still shaken by what he saw Sunday night, but wanted to “make sure everyone knows what this guy did, and that he gets punished to the fullest extent humanly possible.”
“No one should have to go through that — what he did is just disgusting.”
Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier
Ben Cohen is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @bcohenn