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Toronto van attack suspect held on 10 counts of murder; portrait of 'socially awkward' man emerges

Toronto van attack suspect held on 10 counts of murder; portrait of 'socially awkward' man emerges
Farzad Salehi consoles his wife, Mehrsa Marjani, who was at a nearby cafe and witnessed the aftermath of a van plowing into pedestrians along a crowded Toronto sidewalk on Monday. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim / Associated Press)

A 25-year-old suspected of plowing a van into a crowded Toronto sidewalk was ordered held Tuesday on 10 counts of murder and 13 of attempted murder as Canadian authorities and the public sought to make sense of what appeared to be one of the deadliest mass killings in the country's modern history.

Alek Minassian showed little emotion as he made a brief appearance in a Toronto courtroom in a white jumpsuit and handcuffs. The judge ordered him detained without bond and scheduled the next hearing for May 10.

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Police, meanwhile, still appeared to be gathering evidence. About 20 officers made their way down the van's deadly path on Yonge Street searching for any evidence. Nearby, mourners had put together a makeshift memorial to the victims.

"It was like he was playing a video game, trying to kill as many people as possible," said Panna Patel, 42, who stopped by the memorial and had been at the scene a day earlier, getting cash from an ATM as it occurred. "He was looking people directly in the eye, making eye contact; it was so scary. He wasn't remorseful at all."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau downplayed the possibility of terrorism, saying that authorities see no national security element in the case.

He told a news conference that the incident "hasn't changed the overall threat level in Canada," though it occurred as Cabinet ministers from the Group of 7 leading industrialized nations were meeting in Toronto.

Minassian lived with his family in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, on a street of sizable, well-tended brick homes. Police said he had no criminal record before Monday.

His father, Vahe Minassian, wept and seemed stunned during his son's court appearance Tuesday.

When asked later whether he had any message for the families of the people killed and injured, Vahe Minassian said quietly: "I'm sorry."

Alek Minassian attended Seneca College, according to his LinkedIn profile; a spokeswoman for the Toronto-area school didn't immediately respond to an inquiry about him Tuesday. Another student, Joseph Pham, told the Toronto Star that Minassian was in a computer programming class with him just last week.

Pham described Minassian as a "socially awkward" student who kept to himself: "He didn't really talk to anyone."

Before college, Minassian attended Thornlea Secondary School in Richmond Hill, graduating in 2011. A Thornlea classmate, Ari Blaff, told CBC News he recalls Minassian being "sort of in the background," not the center of any particular group of friends.

"He wasn't overly social," Blaff told the news broadcaster.

Minassian joined the Canadian Armed Forces last year, but his stint was brief.

The Department of National Defense says he was a member of the military from Aug. 23 to Oct. 25, but didn't complete his recruit training. He asked to be voluntarily released after 16 days, the department said.

Police in Canada's biggest city, meanwhile, were piecing together witness accounts and surveillance video Tuesday to try to determine a motive in what many said seemed a deliberate attack.

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Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters that "the incident definitely looked deliberate."

The onslaught occurred as Cabinet ministers from the G-7 nations were gathered in Canada to discuss a range of international issues in the run-up to the group's meeting near Quebec City in June. Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale called the incident a "horrific attack" and said the G-7 foreign ministers offered their condolences.

The situation prompted police to beef up security and close several streets around the Air Canada Center on Monday night for the Toronto-Boston NHL playoff game. Police tweeted that similar road closures may be in effect for the Toronto Raptors NBA playoff game on Wednesday night.

UPDATES:

2:49 p.m.: This article was updated with details of suspect's background.

9 a.m.: This article was updated with the suspect being held on murder charges.

This article was originally published at 7:35 a.m.

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