Curtin Journalism student Tiffany Verga has been on exchange at Ryerson University in Toronto. This is her account of the events of that day, and the aftermath.
Toronto, Ontario: At 1:10 pm Monday 23rd April a driver who would later be revealed as 25-year-old Alek Minassian plowed into pedestrians on Yonge St, a popular commuter location in Toronto leaving at least 10 people dead and 15 injured.
At the same time, I was at Yonge-Dundas Square the Toronto equivalent to Times Square, a tourist spot constantly filled with pedestrians, unaware of the tragedy that had just unfolded.
Tourists were taking photos, walking through the shopping centre, cycling and completely undisturbed by the sirens which were whirring around in the background a familiar sound because of the proximity to three hospitals.
At 2:16 pm a friend in the city messaged me to let me know an incident had happened on Yonge Street and to let family and friends who knew I was in the area that I was okay.
At the time it seemed like a hoax, nothing was coming up on the internet and I thought my friend was just trying to scare me.
However, this was quickly followed by Facebook asking me to mark that I was safe and notifying me when every one of my friends in the city had done the same.
Screenshot of Tiffany Verga’s Facebook message from Ciaran Wark on Monday 23rd April 2018.
While standing in Yonge-Dundas square, people were starting to get restless because little information had been released and police cars were blocking off the four main roads which surrounded the main crossing.
A sense of chaos started to unfold as people began to speculate we were near the location of the attack.
First, one police car pulled up onto the square and then quickly four had parked at every corner with emergency service vehicles passing through the traffic lights constantly.
People were talking about what happened, that there was a van and people had been injured but little was known and people were jumping to the worst conclusions.
A Turkish local next to me said he was praying the incident wouldn’t be linked to any Middle Eastern activities and simultaneously parents were ushering their kids to stop gawking at the police and get out of the area.
At the time we didn’t know that the auto-pedestrian incident whilst on the same street was 12 kilometres away and that we were fine.
Over the afternoon more details were released, Subway lines closed, and 2.2 kilometres between Sheppard station and North York Centre subway station one of Toronto’s busiest transport stretches were blocked.
Over the afternoon the death toll rose from 4 progressively to 10 and intensified the distress of everyone in the city and those watching the tragedy from outside the city.
Other residents living in the same apartment complex as me were also checking up on friends in the area.
It was a weird and daunting feeling to see how many people had thought we were caught up in the situation and it was a moment I was very thankful for social media to be able to let everyone know I was safe.
The next morning, on Tuesday 24th April 2018 I took a train on the 1 Yonge-University train Northbound towards Finch, a train that would go through the closed-off area.
The weather was cloudy and grey and instead of the usual rush hour jam on the subway there was just a heavy silence.
People were offering their seats to one another, smiling to one another and then continuing being quiet.
Subways heading into the area were diverted with small shuttles that neared the scene, they were crowded and there was a sombre mood that filled the entire journey.
As I walked past Yonge where the incident occurred there was yellow police tape across the entire sidewalk.
People stared out at the barren street normally filled with commuters.
Instead, police officers and large industrial vacuum cleaners were erasing the events of the day before.
A makeshift memorial had been placed in the distance across a wall with candles and posters, it was a small, beautiful thing on a street that just held a lot of sadness.
This really solidified that a tragedy had taken place just hours before and that it wasn’t just a blocked off road.
A local woman who lived in the area said she no longer feels comfortable in her neighbourhood.
“It’s not safe, I told my husband because I’m the person who is not working I’m just studying, I’m going to the gym across the road always and then having my breakfast around the area and walking around here because it is a good place for shopping walking and everything,” she said.
“Today my husband told me do not go out anywhere, do not go outside.
“It is a busy crowded area and we don’t know what happened, this kind of problem can motivate other people to do the same thing.”
The same fears were held by others in the area who stared out at the empty street behind the yellow lines looking for more information.
Canadian International Academy of Business and Technology Accounting Instructor, Senthooram Vettievelu said he found out yesterday about the incident while at work across the road.
“Our daily life is struggling here now, people and students didn’t come to the college today and all the stores are closed. Too many students didn’t show up to class so all the teachers had to leave for the day,” Mr Vettievelu said.
He said it was an event that has so quickly impacted the city.
“We never knew this could happen, security is tighter than ever but because it wasn’t a shooting and the incident happened with the car we weren’t prepared. It could happen in the future,” he said.
“Our safety is not controllable by the police these happenings; the police department cannot do anything because no one can expect it, everyone expects things like gun shootings but not a car, it happened another way.
“Toronto is not safe for life at the moment, anything can happen.”
These words were echoed by the lack of people out on the streets in Toronto today with everyone preferring to stay in until things settle down.
The hashtag #TORONTOSTRONG has been popping up online to show support for the victims, families and city and people have gone out to the scene to place messages of support.
As a student only temporarily living in the city it has all been a little surreal.
The day was seemingly normal and people were enjoying the rare sunshine that had finally made its way to the city after one of the harshest and longest Canadian Winters.
Not at one point would anyone nor I have predicted that the worst could happen or that a van similar to any of the other cars on the road could be used so inhumanely as a weapon.
I’ll be leaving soon and that sadly is with a little comfort.
However, one thing to say from my experience of this is that the people of Toronto are stronger than one crazed driver, they are a family and will support the families and victims.
The mood from the public and everyone around me suggests that they won’t let one individual’s actions define their city. The sense of community has strengthened in the light of this horror.