Mother of suspect in London attack praying for victims and their family

In this artist's sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., Thursday, June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. Veltman, accused of deliberately running over and killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., had his case adjourned to next week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould

Last Sunday evening, a young man who doesn’t deserve to have a name aimed his black pickup at a family taking their evening walk along a sidewalk in London, Ont.

He bounced over the curb and smashed into them.

They were Muslim. The women were wearing hijabs and traditional shalwar kameez — loose, pleated trousers with a long shirt. “They were visible,” a family friend acknowledged.

The grandmother died on the spot. Father, mother, and daughter died in hospital. Only the boy, nine years old, survived his injuries.

What that driver did seems abundantly clear. But the motive for his actions remains (as I write this column) unclear.

Why?

Why them?

Why there, at that particular time?

The 20-year-old driver — assuming the Ontario police got the right man — was arrested without incident in a mall parking lot seven kilometres away. According to witnesses, he drove up with the front of his truck covered in blood and told a taxi driver, “Call the police. I’ve just killed some people.”

He was alone at the time of his arrest. I suspect that he had a passenger when he swerved off the road to hit that Muslim family.

By my reading of human nature, we rarely risk doing things we’ll regret when we’re by ourselves; young men especially do them when egged on by someone else.

The same week, the man who killed Barbara Kentner in Thunder Bay, Ont., four years ago was sentenced to eight years in prison. Court records state that he too had been riding around in a pickup.

And someone else in the truck said — conjecture here — “There’s another (expletive) hooker on the road! Throw something at her!”

Brayden Busby leaned out the window and flung a heavy metal trailer hitch as the truck sped by.

“I got one!” Busby, then 18, bragged to his buddies.

Kentner took six months to die of her injuries.

Busby was not a pathological killer. Neither, apparently, was the driver in London. Police said he had no criminal convictions, and left no trail of racist rants on social media. But I’m sure he had a supportive network of some kind. 

When I lived in Toronto, media expressed horror over a boy killed, dismembered, stuffed into a black garbage bag, dumped in a trash bin.

I wrote a letter to the newspapers. I argued that their single-minded focus on an individual killer missed the point. They were ignoring the community from which he drew his values.

“No one does something knowing that it’s wrong,” I contended (quoting from memory). “They do it because they think their friends will approve. It may even give them status within that community.” 

What most of society considers wrong is not necessarily wrong within the Mafia, for example. Or within the Mexican drug world, as Jeannine Cummings vividly dramatized in American Dirt. 

A friend, a clinical psychologist, said he could not treat an alcoholic, a drug addict, a gambler, or a spouse abuser, purely as an individual. Whatever it was did not happen in isolation.

It evolved in a particular context.

 To treat the individual effectively, he also needed to work with the person’s family and close associates. They created the milieu within which the patient’s flaws could flourish.

Treating individuals had no lasting effect if they went back into the environment that had nurtured their behaviour in the first place.

“No man is an island,” poet John Donne wrote, long ago. No one stands alone. Our actions, and especially our attitudes, are shaped by those we hang out with.

My granddaughter is black, adopted from Ethiopia. A boy at her high school made racist comments about her. The school gave the boy himself a lecture. But, as far as I know, it never dealt with the culture in which that boy felt racist slurs were acceptable — his family, his friends, his social media contacts.

His comments simply went underground — sniggers, giggles, behind her back.

My granddaughter walked out of that school, and won’t go back. 

I would hope that as the Ontario police try to determine what motivated that young man in London to run over a Muslim family out for an evening walk, they also talk to his family. And to his friends. To find out the toxic elements in his environment that led him to believe it was all right, even praiseworthy, to mow down innocent people who had done him no harm.

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Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca.