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Father of man accused in anti-Muslim attack in London, Ont., calls it 'senseless act'

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The deadly attack against a Muslim family in southwestern Ontario was "a senseless act," the father of the man accused in what police believe was a deliberate hate crime said Thursday.

The family was out for an evening stroll when a man driving a pickup truck mounted the sidewalk and ran them over, killing four people and sending a child to hospital with serious injuries.

Nathaniel Veltman, 20, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

"It was with utmost shock and horror that I came to hear of the unspeakable crime committed last weekend," Veltman's father, Mark Veltman, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

"There are no words adequate to properly express my deep sorrow for the victims of this senseless act."

Relatives have identified the dead as 46-year-old Salman Afzaal, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal. 

The couple's nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously wounded but is expected to recover.

Police allege the attack was a planned and premeditated act that targeted Muslims.

Court documents filed when Veltman's parents filed for divorce in 2016 suggest he took his parents' separation hard.

The oldest of six children who were homeschooled - along with his twin sister - Veltman blamed his mother, Alysia Bisset, for the divorce, the documents show. 

"Nathan is combative and argumentative with me to the extent that he will follow me around the house and I have to lock myself in my bedroom," Bisset wrote in court documents.

Bisset said Nathaniel stopped following the family's rules around that time.

"Nathan has gone to the extreme of stating that he would like to move out of our home into his own apartment and has discussed his plans with (Mark Veltman)," she wrote.

Nathaniel Veltman was 15 at the time.

Mark Veltman said he wasn't to blame for his eldest son's anger, court documents say.

"Nathaniel's anger with (Bisset) is primarily due to (Bisset's) attempt to prevent Nathaniel from having any contact with me," Mark Veltman wrote.

"Nathaniel is 16 years old and very much wants to maintain contact with me."

He also wrote his son became more hostile with him, which he blamed Bisset for.

Nathaniel Veltman was 16 when he moved out to live with friends, his father wrote.

Nathaniel Veltman took the rare step of "withdrawing from parental control" when he was 17 years old, court documents show. 

Earlier Thursday Veltman made a brief virtual appearance in court  to face four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

Veltman, wearing an orange T-shirt , orange pants and a blue face  mask, spoke calmly and clearly from the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre. 

"Mr. Veltman have you retained counsel?" asked Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen.

"I've only spoken to them," Veltman said, adding that he was in discussions with a local law firm.

Court heard that the Crown continues to work on disclosure, which will be provided to Veltman once he has retained a lawyer.

Veltman is set to return to court on June 14.

Meanwhile, calls continue to grow for a national summit on anti-Muslim hate.

The National Council for Canadian Muslims has a petition signed by more than 35,000 people calling for all levels of government to tackle Islamophobia. 

"This loss of a family, the loss of a child in our community because of Islamophobia — this is a sorrow that will run deep for a long time," the council wrote in the petition. "Let that sorrow be the ground where we stand for justice and stand for change."

The group's petition echoes a call by the London Muslim Mosque, to which the family belonged.

The funeral for the family will be held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario that is open to the public. The family will hold a private visitation in the morning at the O'Neil Funeral Home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2021.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press