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How Nathaniel Veltman, a London Christian kid, became the Terrorist

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The admitted white nationalist terrorist committed the vilest of crimes against London, Ontario’s Afzaal family because they were Muslim

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They were standing at the corner that would become an intersection of good and evil. They were innocents waiting for the light to change at Hyde Park and South Carriage roads in London, Ont., so they could safely cross. A dark-haired man. Two women wearing kameezes, traditional Muslim clothing. A couple of kids — a teenaged girl and a little boy — who would make everyone take notice.

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They were the perfect targets, the Terrorist thought. He had been hunting. They were exactly who he was looking for.

They were targets “because they were Muslims.” And they would pay.

Hours later he would tell a police detective he hatched the plan for a hit-and-run attack months earlier by immersing himself in his own “research” on the Internet’s dark web and went “straight down the rabbit hole.”

He kept his plans to himself and was exceedingly careful not to attract the attention of the authorities. He belonged to no group or white nationalist club. He would be “a lone wolf” for a greater cause.

It wasn’t easy. He chickened out twice — once the night before in Toronto, and hours earlier in London when he was driving home from work. He went home and decided he had to do it, no turning back. He said to a police officer after he was arrested that he didn’t want to be “a pussy.”

“I was a ticking bomb ready to go off. It could only go on for so much longer before I did something,” he said to London police Det. Micah Bourdeau.

He pumped up his courage at his little downtown London apartment by reading the manifesto of one of his murderous white nationalist heroes and watching a video of a man in the United Kingdom who used his van to drive into people near a mosque.

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He got in his just-purchased dark-coloured Dodge Ram pickup truck fitted with a push bar on the front and tinted windows and pulled around the corner. He put on his bullet-proof vest under his coat and snapped on an army helmet. He had his air-soft gun, a machete, an axe and a couple of knives in the cab, just in case. Under the vest, he wore the white T-shirt he had designed with spray-painted black crusader crosses on the front and back.

In his mind, this was his Crusade. This was war. “Thought I was going to be a revolutionary,” he told Bourdeau.

After picking out his targets, he quickly headed past the Peavey Mart, made a U-turn around the cement boulevard and started back toward the intersection.

They were still there. No turning back. It was, as he told the police, “pedal to the metal.” He aimed right at them. Up over the curb, onto the sidewalk and the grass to pick them off one by one. The elderly woman, the man, the woman, the kids. Run over them. Make them pay.

Four members of the Afzaal family, from left, Yumnah, Madiha, Talat and Salman, were killed June 6, 2021, in a terror attack in London, Ont.
Four members of the Afzaal family were killed when Nathaniel Veltman ran them down while they were out for a walk in London, Ont., on June 6, 2021. They were, from left, Yumnah, 15; Madiha, 44; Talat, 74; and Salman, 46.

“It had to be brutal,” he would tell the police officer.

Then squeal back onto the road, dust and dirt flying. “It was way easier than I thought it was going to be,” he told the officer. “I thought I was going to chicken out and not do it but (it was) surprisingly easy.”

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He sped away down Hyde Park Road and decided to abandon his idea to go on “a rampage.”

“Once I actually went through with it I was just, I was like, all right, that’s enough, I did what I wanted to do, I’m pretty sure the message is probably pretty strong now,” he said. What he had done was “very distasteful” and it was “very, very damaging to my soul.” Even he knew what to call what he had done.

“I admit that it was terrorism,” he said to the officer bluntly.

His name is Nathaniel Veltman and this will be the only time his name will be used in this story.

What he did on June 6, 2021, was so shocking, so violent, so inhumane, the judge who sentenced him didn’t include his name in her reasons to deny him the infamy he so clearly hoped would come from his murderous acts. Rather than use his name, this story will follow Superior Court Regional Senior Justice Renee Pomerance’s lead.

He is a mass murderer and a white nationalist terrorist. He is the Terrorist.

The Terrorist, 23, a home-schooled kid from Strathroy, Ont., raised on the rigid thinking of strict Christian values and easily manipulated by online propaganda, a college dropout and egg-processing plant worker, was sentenced to life on each of the charges, including the attempted murder.

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The faintest chance for parole, given the gravity of what he did, won’t come for at least 25 years.

His story is pieced together through evidence presented at his trial, search warrant applications, and his astonishing police interviews.

As much as he tried to squirm out of that title at his three-month trial in Windsor, Ont., last fall, a jury convicted him, after only six hours of deliberations, of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for killing four members of the Afzaal family and seriously injuring a little boy, who was left orphaned in the attack.

One might go so far as to characterize this as a textbook example of terrorist motive and intent.

Superior Court Regional Senior Justice Renee Pomerance

Beyond the sheer horror of what he did, his case made Canadian legal history. It was the first time since Canada’s terrorist laws were enacted that terrorism was argued before a jury as an element of first-degree murder, along with the most-recognized plank of the law — planning and deliberation.

The jury members could reach guilty verdicts through either pathway or both. All that was necessary was a unanimous decision, with no explanation required. Their deliberations remain confidential.

That left it to Pomerance to make findings of fact during the sentencing process. She was the ultimate decider of whether the murders were terrorist acts.

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“(I)t is an inescapable conclusion that the offender committed a terrorist act. One might go so far as to characterize this as a textbook example of terrorist motive and intent,” Pomerance said.

The people he murdered will be named.

The Afzaal Family

The story of the Afzaal family, immigrants from Islamabad who chose Canada in 2007 because it was safe and held endless possibilities, was another textbook case — this one of how to embrace and thrive in a new country.

That was, until the Terrorist abruptly entered their lives. They were innocent victims of a violent, intentional act. Or, as Pomerance wrote in her sentencing decision, they were targeted by “a random cruelness and a random cruelty.”

They are remembered in their city as “Our London Family.” Little was said about them at the trial, except they had chosen to go for a walk on a beautiful June evening.

Much was learned over two days this past January in 70 victim-impact statements, written and presented by their large extended family, their friends and community groups. They were a family of love and joy.

Talat Afzaal, 74, the family’s matriarch, nicknamed Tillo by her family: “Always smiling and helping other people even though she was getting old but showed no signs of slowing down,” one of her sons wrote.

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Her daughter wrote that her mother “was the epitome of love and kindness. Her kindness was boundless, a soothing balm in times of difficulty, a guiding light that enveloped all of us together.”

She held a master of Fine Arts and painted mostly mountains and landscapes. She had started painting cartoons because they made her grandchildren happy. She left behind an unfinished painting that remains at one of her sons’ homes.

A vigil for the Afzaal family in London, Ont., on June 8, 2021.
A vigil for the Afzaal family in London, Ont., on June 8, 2021, just two days after the fatal attack. Photo by NICOLE OSBORNE/AFP via Getty Images

Her son, Salman Afzaal, 46, completed his master’s, then became certified as a physiotherapist in his chosen country. A devout Muslim, avid cricket player and ever-smiling, he worked with some of the most vulnerable population at two long-term care homes north of London. He was known for stepping in and helping others, buying groceries, offering rides or helping people move.

“(This) act of terror has taken someone who was the best human, best husband, best father, best son, the best friend, the best neighbour, the best physiotherapist, with a very strong faith, a deep sense of care for others and strong belief in giving back to the community regardless of their beliefs or background,” one of his friends wrote.

His former workplaces have memorial stones at their entrances to remember him and his family. “He was intelligent, kind, and gentle. He taught us the value of kindness, being intentional with our words, actions, and support … He was special. He was one-of-a-kind. Simply put, Salman was family,” read the victim-impact statement from his employer.

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His wife, Madiha Salman, 44, was a devoted mother from a large and loving family and a doctoral candidate in environmental sciences at Western University. “Bia Khala (her family nickname) had the most contagious smile I’ve ever seen and a warm, sweet laugh that still echoes in my ears,” one of her cousins wrote. “She had the kindest heart, ready to help anyone with anything.”

Her mother, Tabinda Bukhari, described her daughter as “a keen student who loved to take up challenging tasks. Being the only girl in her engineering classes did not dissuade her. She was a problem-solver, full of wonderful ideas and solutions.”

I never imagined that the most formative years of my life, my teens, would be spent fighting hate and Islamophobia so that others would not experience the pain that my friends and I had to experience.

A friend of Yumnah Afzaal

One of her cousins wrote: “She was the best from amongst all us cousins. The smartest and, more importantly, the most loving out of all of us.”

Their daughter, Yumnah Afzaal, 15, was a gifted artist, a high school student with a large network of teen friends. Her death stole their innocence and prompted them to begin a campaign to end hatred and teach kindness.

“Yumnah was more than a friend to me. She was a confidante, a support system, a classmate, a study partner, a secret keeper, a giver of hope and, most importantly, she was a constant reminder that good friends do exist,” one of her friends wrote.

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“I never imagined that the most formative years of my life, my teens, would be spent fighting hate and Islamophobia so that others would not experience the pain that my friends and I had to experience. This burden has taken a toll on us. I am not the same. None of us are.

“But how could we be? Most 14-year-olds don’t have to worry about burying their friend and then having to figure out how to make sure they don’t have to bury any others.”

The lone survivor, the son of Salman and Madiha, now an orphan, wrote his own victim-impact statement about the pain of losing the most important people in his life. “(O)nce they leave you,” he wrote, “you start to really notice how much they cared about you.”

‘Our London family’

The community cared, too. The murders sent shock waves across London and cascaded across the entire country. Vigils attracted thousands of people, including Canada’s prime minister and Ontario’s premier, all in utter disbelief that an act of such hatred would happen.

The shock turned into action. There are annual vigils and events to remember the family and calls to end Islamophobia. A memorial, featuring a mural painted by Yumnah Afzaal, marks the corner where they died.

“Londoners cannot forget,” wrote former London mayor Ed Holder, who was at the helm of the city when the Afzaals were murdered, in a community victim-impact statement. “Never has anything left such an indelible mark on London as this. We hurt and we cry for this family. We show our love and resilience, with promises to do and be better. The dramatic response from Londoners made me proud.

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“But on that Sunday in June 2021, our innocence was lost and London has forever changed.”

None of this mattered to the Terrorist when he mowed down the family with his pickup truck. He didn’t know the Afzaals. They were killed to send a message. He called the children “collateral damage.” He wanted to intimidate, to spark terror in the community. To make Muslims fearful and scared. To inspire other young, white, racist men to do what he did.

If he succeeded in anything that terrible day, it was in making an entire segment of the population fear for their personal safety, a fear that has gripped them since the Afzaals died.

A man wipes away a tear during the funeral service for the Afzaal family on June 12, 2021..
A man wipes away a tear during the funeral service for the Afzaal family on June 12, 2021. Their little boy was the only survivor of the June 6 attack. Photo by Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press

Some told of their anxieties just hearing the sound of a revving engine and seeing a pickup truck. Others said they fear walking in their communities in their chosen religious clothing, fearful they could be the next targets. Some wondered if they could celebrate their faith in peace.

“The events of June 6, 2021, have caused individuals from various communities to fear for their safety on public streets and sidewalks. It has caused people to question their beliefs about what it means to live in Canada,” Pomerance wrote.

But as much as the Terrorist wanted to intimidate, “his actions have had a galvanizing effect, causing Canadians from all walks of life to unite in a stance against Islamophobia and other forms of hatred,” she wrote.

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That wasn’t part of the plan. Not even close.

The Terrorist

He wasn’t always the Terrorist. He is the second of six children, born minutes after his twin sister. His parents were devout Christians. His father worked, his mother stayed home and home-schooled the children.

The Terrorist told the team of psychiatric staff that assessed him after his arrest that he grew up in a household where there was no television or video games. His life revolved around home-schooling and reading the Bible. He said he hated his mother, who he described as “a religious fanatic,” didn’t allow them to socialize and spanked him often or forced him to to do extra chores.

Yet his mother told police that her son often called looking for a place to crash and to tell her not to get the COVID-19 vaccine for the rest of the children.

He said he was a bed-wetter until he was 11. He said he felt like an outcast in his own family. He was raised to fear hell and to be a faithful Christian. His thoughts and ideas consumed him. He would testify that he would make strange sounds and talk to imaginary friends.

In hindsight, he knows that he had obsessive-compulsive disorder since he was probably about age 10. He was eventually diagnosed when his mother gave in and took him to a psychologist.

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His mind would race with thoughts of violence and religious obsessions. His point of view evolved into an internal struggle to understand good and evil. The isolation and rigid thinking developed within him an elevated sense of his own intelligence — he believed he was more enlightened and smarter than other people.

He read a lot and became obsessed with the Second World War and the atrocities committed by the Nazis. After his arrest, he explained to Det. Bourdeau, that he would fantasize about travelling back in time to when “I would just kill those Nazis and just break into concentration camps and I would free the Jews and kill those Nazis.”

That made sense to him. But then, at age 13, he attended a home-schooling, anti-abortion convention at a post-secondary school near Hamilton, Ont. He had been raised to believe abortion was murder but was shocked to find out that it was legal and no Christian had stopped it. He struggled to understand why it was OK to kill Nazis, but the only way to stop abortions was to hold up protest signs.

“They’re taking away options so that people have no choice but violence,” he told Bourdeau.

So he made a promise to himself. “One day, I’m going to an abortion clinic and I’m going to shoot the place up … I thought, someday I’m going to get my hands on an abortion doctor and I’m going to kill him.”

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By age 15, he decided he was too young, but he kept the idea on the back burner. “I suppose I kept that thought in the back of my mind like, you know, maybe someday when I’m an old man, once I’ve lived my life and my life’s nearly over, then I’ll just attack an abortion clinic.”

Then his strict, sheltered life took a major turn. His parents separated in 2015, an event that made him angry. After the separation, his mother finally allowed him to attend a public high school and, at age 16, he moved out of the family home and into an apartment. He worked at a local egg-processing facility in Strathroy to cover his expenses while attending school.

Londoners attend a vigil on June 8, 2021.
Londoners attend a vigil on June 8, 2021. Photo by NICOLE OSBORNE/AFP via Getty Images

But he was an outcast. He didn’t know anyone and wasn’t sure how to navigate the testy waters of high school life. He ended up getting introduced to drugs, alcohol and a relationship that didn’t last. He had a constant internal struggle and self-loathing for betraying the lessons of his strict upbringing and giving in to the temptation of everything that had been forbidden in his life.

A year later, he sought emancipation from his parents. Family court granted it.

By the time he was 18, he said he knew that life was more complicated than just protesting abortions. He “started doing my own research” online.

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He moved away from his hometown to London, where he was enrolled at Fanshawe College in architectural design.

He made a few friends, some of whom shared his beliefs in conspiracies such as the flat Earth theory, that global elites were stealing from the masses, and how the devil was manipulating people. His world view switched from religiously motivated to worldwide politics. His research into the 2016 U.S. presidential election, he told the police, made him come to believe that the media “is very dishonest.”

Others told the police the Terrorist acted much younger than his age and was “easily manipulated” by co-workers at the egg-processing plant who convinced him to work longer shifts. When he complained to a friend, he was assured he would be rewarded by God for his hard work.

He started attending gospel churches and watching right-wing media. He “watched things over the internet about government mistrust and did not trust the government,” one of his friends, a former roommate, told the police. The Terrorist once asked the roommate to go with him to an anti-mask rally.

Friends told the police that the Terrorist changed his cellphone number regularly because he habitually destroyed his devices “to punish himself,” often because he couldn’t stop himself from looking at online pornography. He tried to block the websites using a Christian-based app. Ultimately, he destroyed eight cellphones, three laptops, two TVs and a gaming system. He sent one friend a photograph of a woman wearing a Nazi armband. “I mean … I’d bang her,” was the Terrorist’s caption.

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His sister told the police that her brother often told offensive, racist jokes. His siblings told their mother that the Terrorist was “a racist.”

A month before the attack, the Terrorist got drunk and was aggressive to others at a friendly campfire, threatening to kill them.

Another friend recalled that about a month before the pandemic lockdown, he was at a bar with the Terrorist who, after drinking heavily, proclaimed “(expletive) God and (expletive) Jesus. I want to kill myself.” The next day, the Terrorist told the friend that he had slept by a river “and saw demons there.”

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The pandemic further isolated the Terrorist from the rest of the world. He was “a bit of a recluse,” he said. He lived alone in a tiny studio apartment. He didn’t trust the government’s call for vaccinations and wearing masks and dropped out of school once they were mandatory there.

“I know COVID is a hoax,” he told Bourdeau. He had time to find that out through his “research” online, sometimes spending 12 hours a day at his computer.

“I just kept uncovering thing after thing after thing,” mostly about what he believed was the removal of power from white people. Unreported Black-on-white crime, unreported Muslim-on-white crime, he said, was trying to deceive the public into believing that white people were violent.

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It wasn’t just the media — it was education institutions, corporations, governments and elites promoting “this same far-left, liberal agenda.”

The Terrorist told Bourdeau that while he was more interested in politics, he purposely avoided any writings about “minority” crime against white people because it made him so angry.

Along with his online research, he had books on his shelf such as Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Jewish Supremacism by David Duke (the one-time leader of the Ku Klux Klan), a book by an English conspiracy theorist, along with a Holy Bible, a Book of Mormon and Creationist magazines.

On his computer was a cache of violent crime videos, including the video of a mass shooting in New Zealand. There was clear evidence he surfed the deep recesses of the dark web for his information using a specialized browser.

Once mask and vaccine mandates spread to workplaces, the Terrorist said he became suicidal and deeply depressed, convinced he would be left in poverty and ostracized from society because of his views. From then on, he explained to Bourdeau, he would “face that demon I’m afraid of looking at.”

He researched unreported violence against white people. His breaking point, he said, was reading about “Muslim grooming gangs” in the United Kingdom, a long-debunked right-wing child exploitation talking point that said there were widespread reports Muslim men were abusing and raping white girls. (An investigation by the U.K. government found no credible evidence.)

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The Terrorist was outraged. “That was it. I snapped. I said, ‘I’m done’,” he told Bourdeau. “So, I decided this is it. I’m going to commit a terrorist attack.”

The Terrorist needed a plan. The first stages of it began to form in his mind in March 2021, three months before he murdered the Afzaals.

A participant in a June 6, 2022, march for the Afzaal family.
A participant in a June 6, 2022, march for the Afzaal family in London, Ont. Photo by Postmedia News

His initial goal was to send a message to perceived Muslim grooming gangs and all Muslims to “back off, stop, more Muslims are going to die,” he said. “I’m actually giving Muslims a taste of their own medicine.”

He wanted to inspire “more young men,” like the other murderous, racist “heroes” that had inspired him. “And now that I did that, whether people like it or not, future people that do the same thing, they will have been inspired by me,” he told Bourdeau. “It will accelerate. People down the road who decide to do something similar to what I did, it will be me. I’m one of the people who gave them inspiration.”

He decided he would execute his plan in the summer, so he could enjoy what he knew would be his last days of freedom. He would have to keep his intentions secret and avoid any interest from the authorities or end up on a government watchlist.

That spring, he painted black crusader crosses on his white shirt and hung it in his apartment, designing it “for the meme” — a video that he hoped would be filmed at his arrest. He began to write his own manifesto he called A White Awakening that called for violent revolution against non-white people and the establishment of a new society for “European people.”

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He ordered a bulletproof vest and the army helmet online. He bought the used truck for $27,000 with a negotiated car loan (at a 12.49 per cent interest rate) three weeks before the murders and picked it up a week later. He had a 90-kilogram bull bar installed on the grill and drove to Clinton, Ont., to have the windows tinted.

He researched the percentage of deaths and injuries caused in vehicular crashes at increasing speeds. He finished the manifesto just days before he carried out the plan. He showed the vehicle to his friends and drove it to show it off to his mother. She told the police that the Terrorist seemed normal and very happy.

This trial pulls us to that intersection again, the dreadful crossroads where the very best and worst of humanity converged.

Tabinda Bukhari

Then, unexpectedly, the Terrorist decided he had to put the plan in motion earlier than he wanted to. The week before he murdered the Afzaal family, the Terrorist lost part of his own.

His great-grandmother, at age 101 and in palliative care, passed away. The Terrorist was close to her. On June 4, 2021, he said he was consumed with grief, suicidal thoughts and rage about what he was seeing online.

He decided to go on a bender. He purchased some magic mushrooms from a friend and ingested three grams. The next day, when he came down from the drug trip, he decided the time was right to carry out what he set out to do. In his testimony at his trial, he said he drove to Toronto, where he saw a group of young Muslims, but resisted the “urge,” as he described it, to hit them with the truck.

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The next day, he went to work. He told Bourdeau that when he was driving home, “I decided then I was ready to throw my life away … for what I consider to be a greater good.”

But when he saw a group of Muslims walking along a sidewalk on Oxford Street, “I thought, for (expletive)’s sakes, I can’t do this. I just can’t do this. I felt like I was being a pussy putting it off. It was tiring to keep putting it off,” the Terrorist said.

He went home and decided he had to act now. “I forced myself to do it, pretty much,” he said.

To prepare, the Terrorist set up his sparsely furnished, somewhat messy apartment for the police to easily find his manifesto and his far-right propaganda on hard drives and his laptop. He opened all the cupboards, and filled his trash can with books, including his Bible.

He hesitated. He read the manifesto of another killer and looked up the video of the U.K. van killer. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do that, too,’ and I went and did it.”

Around the same time, the Afzaals started their evening stroll.

Emergency personnel descended on the intersection as soon as the 911 calls flooded in to dispatchers.

Talat Afzaal was dead at the crime scene. Salman Afzaal and his wife, Madiha Salman, were rushed to London University Hospital, where they were pronounced dead within minutes of each other. Yumnah Afzaal was pronounced dead 40 minutes later at Victoria Hospital.

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Her brother, the only survivor, cried out for his family and was comforted by gentle strangers. He was taken to hospital for treatment of serious injuries.

(O)nce they leave you … you start to really notice how much they cared about you.

the lone survivior, son of Salman and Madiha

The Terrorist sped away, heavy damage to the front of his truck, pieces of Talat Afzaal and Madiha Salman’s colourful kameezes embedded in the hood. DNA from the family members would be found on the hood and grill.

He headed to the parking lot of Cherryhill Mall, just west of the London Muslim Mosque. He flagged down a cab driver waiting to start his shift. The Terrorist demanded he call 911. While the cabbie talked to the dispatcher, the terrorist screamed in the background, “It was me that did it, so come and arrest me.”

As officers descended on the parking lot, the Terrorist yelled at the cab driver to, “Make a video.” He dropped to his knees and put his hands on his head. He complied with orders to lay down on the pavement to be handcuffed. As he was being escorted to the cruiser, he turned to the cab driver. “I told you to make a video,” he said.

At the cruiser, the Terrorist said, “I did it on purpose. (Expletive) the Muslims.”

He said, “A white man finally had enough and did something about it … I hope the news is here.”

He was smiling, giddy. He pulled his cuffed hands around his side and flashed the “OK” sign, a symbol of white nationalism. He kept looking around on the way to police headquarters to see if anyone driving by was watching him.

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“It was weird, all of a sudden I didn’t want to die. I could have kept going,” he told the officers while they waited to book him into cells.

When the three-month trial started last September in Windsor, the Terrorist stayed silent while his defence lawyer entered his not-guilty pleas on his behalf.

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He maintained his silence while the Crown presented an avalanche of evidence: statements, videos, photographs, the manifesto and 19 witnesses.

When it was the defence’s turn, the Terrorist testified. He blamed his mother, his mental health, his obsessive-compulsive disorder, the magic mushrooms, the online sources. He said he didn’t intend to kill the family, he just had “an urge” to drive into them. He wasn’t a terrorist. He was a victim.

The jury rejected that testimony and convicted him.

“This trial,” Madiha Salman’s mother, Tabinda Bukhari, said after the verdicts, “pulls us to that intersection again, the dreadful crossroads where the very best and worst of humanity converged.”

At his sentencing hearing, the Terrorist said in a prepared statement that he stood by his testimony, but “I am sorry for the pain and suffering that I caused. I cannot turn back time.”

The judge said what the Terrorist really wanted when he killed the Afzaals was “a place in the spotlight.” What he accomplished was “the vilest of crimes. He acted with moral depravity and callous brutality.”

The Terrorist was led away. The spotlight went out.

Jane Sims is a reporter for the London Free Press. She covered the murder trial and landmark terrorist sentencing.

jsims@postmedia.com

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