TORONTO (NBC) — The man suspected of deliberately driving a van into a bustling intersection in downtown Toronto, running down panicked pedestrians in his path, appeared in court Tuesday and was hit with 10 counts of first-degree murder.
Alek Minassian, 25, of suburban Toronto, also faces 13 counts of attempted murder after Monday afternoon’s mayhem in Canada’s largest city — the worst mass killing in the country in three decades.
Minassian wore a white jumpsuit in court, and only spoke his name during the brief hearing, reported CTV News.
Canadian authorities have as yet given no indication of what motivated the incident, while also downplaying any link to terror. And law enforcement sources said social media posts were still being examined to determine the suspect’s mental state.
At a news conference Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was “no reason to suspect any national security element to this attack.”
While the country was trying to make sense of the “horrific tragedy,” he added, “we cannot as Canadians choose to live in fear every single day as we go about our daily business.”
Law enforcement officials in Canada and the United States who have been briefed on the case told NBC News that the leading theory appears to be mental illness and not terrorism, although that could change.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was in Toronto on Monday for a meeting of G-7 security ministers. He later told reporters that the killings did not appear to be terror related.
Authorities provided no details about Minassian and said he was not previously known to police. The law enforcement officials said he had once been involved in an online discussion about Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old gunman who killed six people in 2014 near Santa Barbara, California.
Rodger, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, was described by police as a loner who was unhappy about a lack of sexual experiences with women during college.
Canadian and U.S. officials familiar with the probe said investigators were looking through social media posts that may be connected with Minassian to determine whether he was associated with an online community known as “incel,” or “involuntary celibate” — made up of men who are sexually frustrated that they cannot be with a woman.
Reddit reportedly banned one such community last year because some members advocated rape.
Amid Monday’s rampage in Toronto, which occurred at about 1:30 p.m. ET, witnesses described a white van apparently rented from Ryder swerving back and forth between the sidewalk and the road. The vehicle sped through crowds at about 30 mph, the witnesses said. Besides those killed, police said 15 people were also injured.
The majority of the victims have not been identified. John Flengas, the acting EMS supervisor at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, which received 10 people, called the scene “pure carnage,” reported CTV News.
Videos shared on social media show a brief sidewalk standoff between a police officer and the suspect after he got out of the van:
“C’mon, get down!” yells the officer, whose weapon was drawn, in the video. “Get down or you’ll be shot!”
“I have a gun in my pocket!” the driver responds. “Shoot me in the head!”
Police were able to arrest him without firing a shot, and no weapon was found on the suspect, officials said.
Canada’s national threat level has been at “medium” since October 2014, when a man gunned down a Canadian soldier at the National War Memorial in Ottawa before he was shot and killed by the Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms.
The car attack Monday follows several other deliberate incidents around the world — including in New York, Spain and France — that were connected to or at least inspired by terrorism.