A 20-year-old man accused of using his pickup truck as a weapon in a mass killing targeting a Muslim family acquired a 2016 Dodge Ram just three weeks before the deadly attack.
An eyewitness to the man’s arrest says the truck had a collision bar, a device that protects the front end of a vehicle. He said the man who got out of the truck was wearing a helmet and what looked like a bulletproof vest as police took him into custody.
“He had a full-on police-style push bar in the front,” Cole Stevens said, describing the arrest in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “If you look at an OPP cruiser, it’s the same thing they have on theirs.”
Mr. Stevens, a sales manager, was in the parking lot of a London shopping mall on Sunday night. He said a Dodge Ram pickup truck raced in, followed by police cruisers, and officers arrested the driver as other squad cars raced by.
Nathaniel Veltman was charged on Monday with four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder. Police officials described him as the perpetrator of a premeditated killing against people “targeted because of their Islamic faith.”
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On Sunday evening, a Muslim family of five were strolling on a sidewalk when a Dodge Ram pickup truck struck them. The vehicle did not stop at the collision scene. Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and their daughter Yumna Salman, 15, were fatally wounded. The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was taken to hospital and will survive. The boy’s 74-year-old grandmother, whose name has not been released, was also struck and killed.
Minutes after the attack, police made the arrest at the shopping plaza. A London-area man barely out of his teens, Mr. Veltman worked part time at local agricultural company GrayRidge Eggs Inc. Authorities have not linked him to any other suspects or known hate groups.
Publicly available financing records show the accused bought a 2016 Dodge Ram pickup truck on May 17 for about $25,000 from a London auto dealership. On Tuesday, a representative of South West Auto Group told The Globe that police asked him not to speak about the matter.
Since the mass killing, Mr. Veltman’s internet footprint has been partly erased. Facebook scrubbed his profile just hours after Sunday’s attack. The social-media company has taken this step immediately after other mass killings – including the van attack in April, 2018 and the Danforth shooting in July of that year, both in Toronto.
“There is absolutely no place on our platform for people who [allegedly] commit such horrendous acts,” Facebook representative Alex Kucharski said in an e-mailed statement. “We have found and immediately deleted the suspect’s Facebook account.”
Police in London said earlier this week they are working with federal police and prosecutors to see if they can pursue criminal terrorism charges in the case. On Tuesday, authorities stressed they will now let court processes unfold without further commentary.
“We are unable to speak to investigative details, and there will be no further updates at this time, as the matter is currently before the courts,” said Constable Sandasha Bough, a London Police Service spokesperson. A police van was parked outside the accused man’s apartment on Covent Market Place in London’s downtown on Tuesday. There, detectives were executing a search warrant, and an officer left the building carrying a lock-box.
Mr. Stevens, the eyewitness to the arrest, said the driver arrested on Sunday at the shopping mall exited his Dodge Ram pickup truck shouting and appeared dressed as though he were battle-ready. But in the end, he went quietly and without resistance, as police took him into custody without violence.
“He was wearing a military-style helmet and he took that off and got on the ground,” Mr. Stevens said. “And that’s when they figured out he had the vest on underneath, because he pulled up his sweater.”
Mr. Stevens said the man “was wearing what you’d call a bulletproof tactical vest.”
The next court appearance for Mr. Veltman is scheduled for Thursday morning at the London courthouse.
With files from Serena Marotta
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