Moments after four members of a Muslim family were “intentionally” struck and killed on a London street, the driver accused in their murders parked his truck, instructed a nearby taxi driver to call police, then asked him to record his arrest, according to the owner of the taxi company.
When the driver emerged from his pickup truck — a black Dodge Ram that one witness said was modified with a bull bar on the front — he was wearing body armour and what appeared to be a military helmet, two witnesses said.
The account of the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s attack is among the details emerging about Nathaniel (Nate) Veltman, the London, Ont., man facing four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of four Muslim family members: Salman Afzaal, 46, Madiha Salman, 44, Yumna Salman, 15 and Talat Afzaal, 74.
Veltman is also accused of attempting to murder nine-year-old Fayez, the sole surviving family member, who was injured in the attack.
Veltman made a brief court appearance Monday and is scheduled to be back in court Thursday.
London police have called the crime an intentional act and said the victims “were targeted because of their Islamic faith.” Investigators say there is evidence this was “a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate,” but have revealed few details.
Here’s what we know and don’t know about Veltman. This story will be updated as we learn more.
What we know about Veltman
Publicly available documents show Veltman, 20, lived in downtown London at the time of the attack. Former classmates say he was a student at Fanshawe College, which has a nearby campus, and had previously gone to high school in nearby Strathroy, Ont., about a half-hour west.
A spokesperson from Gray Ridge Eggs Farms confirmed in a statement that Veltman was a part-time employee at the company’s Strathroy plant. The statement said management and staff were “shocked and saddened” to learn about the Veltman’s arrest.
Arman Moradpourian, who worked with Veltman at Gray Ridge from about 2015 to 2018, said he was “beyond shocked” to hear of the news. He said he remembered Veltman as someone who was willing to help and was a “devout” Christian who had been home schooled until he was 16.
Moradpourian, who is half Iranian and was raised Muslim, said Veltman was aware of his ancestry and never discriminated against him or expressed any hateful beliefs — “he never judged me whatsoever,” Moradpourian said.
Veltman had just last month obtained financing to purchase a 2016 Dodge Ram. Witness Nathan Brooks told the Star the truck had tinted windows and a bull bar modification, like a police car.
Police said Veltman sped away from the scene but was arrested about five minutes later, in the empty Cherry Hill mall parking lot that’s just a block away from the London Muslim Mosque.
It was here that Veltman pulled his truck up right behind the bright yellow cab and began aggressively yelling profanities at the taxi driver, asking him to call the police because he killed somebody, according to Hasan Savehilaghi, the owner of the Yellow London Taxi company.
According to Savehilaghi, whose account was first reported by the London Free Press, the taxi driver, a Muslim man in his 50s, was parked and taking a coffee break when Veltman pulled up. He noticed the front of the pickup truck was badly damaged and appeared to have blood on it, according to Savehilaghi.
The cab driver immediately called 911 and, while on the phone, waved down a passing police car on the main road. According to Savehilaghi, the cab driver said Veltman — who was wearing what appeared to be a military helmet and body armour — was laughing the whole time.
As police officers arrived and arrested Veltman, he seemed to be chanting a slogan but the cab driver couldn’t make out the words. Veltman asked the cab driver to record the arrest as he was put on the ground and handcuffed, but the driver did not.
The cab driver gave a statement to the police and has been off work since, Savehilaghi said. He praised the driver’s quick actions in a terrifying moment, noting: “It’s not easy to control your emotions in a situation like that.”
Police have said Veltman had no prior criminal convictions but did have previous contact with police, though it was “nothing of a very serious nature,” according to London Det.-Supt. Paul Waight.
On Tuesday afternoon, a police van could be seen parked outside Veltman’s downtown London address.
Two former classmates confirmed photographs of Veltmen at a 2016 charity run — he would have been 15 at the time.
What we don’t know
Police have not revealed what information led them to conclude — less than 24 hours after the attack — that the murders were motivated by anti-Muslim hate. Waight would not comment on whether Veltman confessed to targeting Muslims.
Waight also said on Monday that, as far as the investigation has shown, police don’t know of Veltman’s membership in any specific hate group.
Police have also said there is no known connection between Veltman and the victims.
So far, Veltman appears to have little apparent social media presence. Since the attack, national security researchers and anti-hate activists been scouring 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 this week that it proactively removed an account believed to be associated with Veltman after news of the attack started to spread.
This week, 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.
With files from Alex Boutilier
Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis
Omar Mosleh is an Edmonton-based reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @OmarMosleh