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Relative of slain London, Ont. family says public support made him feel less alone

A relative of four members of a Muslim family killed last weekend says the outpouring of support from friends and strangers alike has helped
A woman sits and weeps at the scene of Sunday’s hate-motivated vehicle attack in London, Ont. on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Geoff Robins

A relative of four members of a Muslim family killed last weekend says the outpouring of support from friends and strangers alike has helped him feel less alone in his grief.

The uncle of 44-year-old Madiha Salman spoke this afternoon at an outdoor service to pay tribute to her, her husband Salman Afzaal, 46, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman and Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother Talat Afzaal.

He says the messages of comfort he and other relatives have received over the last week have marked “a first step towards finding a way to heal” as they grapple with sleepless nights and survivor’s guilt.

The four family members died last Sunday night while out for a walk after a man in a truck drove them down in what police have called a premeditated attack because they were Muslim.

The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured and remains in hospital.

Pakistan’s ambassador to Canada also spoke at the service, saying all of Pakistan stands “shoulder to shoulder” with those who lost their loved ones.

“Our hearts are bleeding because of the atrocity that has befallen this wonderful, marvellous family,” he said.

Earlier Saturday afternoon, a funeral procession wound its way from the O’Neil Funeral Home to the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario.

The funeral was held in the centre’s parking lot, with space for the public in nearby soccer fields.

The family is set to be buried at the Islamic Cemetery of London in a private ceremony later Saturday.

Three London police officers in full dress uniform stood at attention as the four hearses arrived at the mosque and saluted as the SUV carrying the family pulled into the parking lot.

Volunteers distributed masks and water bottles to the crowd, which was separated by gender, reminding those gathered to respect physical distancing rules. Chairs were also set up for seniors.

Shortly before the service, Imam Aarij Anwer, who was set to lead a prayer, said people have come from across the province to help London’s Muslim community heal.

The family and Muslim community has received an outpouring of support in the last week.

The attack has prompted a discussion over racism in Canada. Calls for a national summit on what to do about Islamophobia continue to grow across the country.

Around 8:40 p.m. on Sunday, police allege a 20-year-old London man veered his black pickup truck onto the sidewalk at an intersection in the city’s northwest corner and into the family of five.

Witnesses said the truck was moving at high speed. Police arrested the suspect about five minutes later in a strip mall parking lot seven kilometres away.

The suspect purportedly told a taxi driver in the parking lot to call police because he had killed someone, Yellow London Taxi said.

The cab driver called police and flagged down a passing cruiser for help. Police and witnesses have said the suspect wore something akin to body armour and a military-style helmet.

Nathaniel Veltman faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He is next set to appear in court on Monday.

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