Canada mourns a 'model family' cut down on an evening stroll

Published June 9, 2021
Kira Stephani speaks with her daughters Aisha Sayyed (front) and Aliyah Sayyed at a makeshift memorial at the fatal crime scene where a man driving a pickup truck jumped the curb and ran over a Muslim family in London, Ontario. — Reuters
Kira Stephani speaks with her daughters Aisha Sayyed (front) and Aliyah Sayyed at a makeshift memorial at the fatal crime scene where a man driving a pickup truck jumped the curb and ran over a Muslim family in London, Ontario. — Reuters
Londoner's attend a vigil for the victims of the deadly vehicle attack on five members of the Canadian Muslim community on June 8. — AFP
Londoner's attend a vigil for the victims of the deadly vehicle attack on five members of the Canadian Muslim community on June 8. — AFP

A mother who was a “brilliant scholar”, a cricket-loving father with “a welcoming smile”, a teenage daughter who was “a friend to many “, a doting grandmother; the victims of Sunday's truck-ramming attack in Canada, all Muslims with roots in Pakistan, were a “model family”, friends say.

The attack, dubbed a “terrorist” act by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, came out of the blue as the Afzaal family, taking one of the evening strolls they so loved, prepared to cross a street in the Ontario city of London.

Read: Pakistan calls murder of Muslim family in Canada ‘terrorism’

The lives of three generations were snuffed out in a moment: Madiha Salman, age 44, who was doing postgraduate work in civil and environmental engineering; her 46-year-old husband, Salman Afzaal, who loved to greet people at the mosque; their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna Salman; and Afzaal's 74-year-old mother, who has not been named.

The couple's son, nine-year-old Fayez, was instantly orphaned. He remains in hospital with serious injuries but is recovering, relatives said.

What had been an ordinary evening for the Afzaals was brutally cut short when a black pickup truck, driven by a 20-year-old suspect, took deliberate aim at them, jumping a curb and mowing them down.

The attack, in this city of 500,000 some 200 kilometres southwest of Toronto, sparked anger and disbelief over another senseless attack on ordinary Canadian Muslims.

“Everyone who knew Salman and the rest of the Afzaal family knew the model family they were, as Muslims, Canadians and Pakistanis,” said a statement from their relatives.

“They were always there giving and participating in spreading goodness.” All were hard workers, and the children were “top students”, it said.

'A brilliant scholar'

Madiha Salman was finishing her doctorate at Western University in London. She had arrived in Canada in 2007 after completing studies in civil engineering and the environment in Pakistan.

She was “a brilliant scholar and a caring mother and friend”, her friends wrote on a GoFundMe page that has so far raised Can$470,000 to support Fayez and the broader Pakistani community in London.

The London mosque and the National Council of Canadian Muslims have separately raised more than Can$785,000 on the LaunchGood platform, while a fund-raising effort by a Muslim association at Western University has taken in Can$700,000.

Madiha Salman's Facebook page features pictures of her smiling children and of gifts they had made her for Mother's Day.

Husband Salman Afzaal was a “beloved member of the London community”. “Whether at his local cricket matches or at the Masjid (mosque) the first thing to greet you would be his gentle and welcoming smile,” the GoFundMe post said.

Daughter Yumna, a ninth grader, was “a loving friend to many”.

And Salman's mother, whose name has not been released, was “a pillar of their family” — someone who “cherished their daily walks”.

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