How the Toronto Van Attack made me feel

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With the first anniversary of the horrific Toronto Van Attack approaching, I thought I would write about it. It hit close to home on quite a few levels (I live in Oakville).

I remember the day well. It was originally just a regular Monday for me. I was working a four or five-hour shift at my previous job. It was one of the first nice days of the spring. The spring started cruelly rotten with endless cold, overcast weather. We had mid-teens under full sunshine.

Things go smoothly throughout the day for me until suddenly, at around 2 p.m., a customer gives me her shopping cart and informs me that there was a major attack in Toronto.

Toronto Van Attack: What I initially learned

I was shocked. When I finished my shift, I looked up the details on my phone. I was stunned to learn what happened. Whenever I see a Ryder vehicle on the road, it is always a reminder of the tragedy.

The van attack especially hit close to home when I learned that one of my cousins and his girlfriend work near where the crime scene occurred. His girlfriend was home at the time. My cousin, however, was walking up Yonge Street at the time of the attack for lunch. The van went right past him and missed hitting him. This scared me, but it relieved me to know he was safe.

Like many of us, especially since I was a journalism student, I looked up the details on the alleged killer: 25-year-old (Now 26) Alek Minassian.

At this point, I picked up details such as him being a special ed. student. He had habits his peers considered strange (Meowing, hissing, biting,  running away from girls, etc.). He was also an ex-military recruit who did not complete his training in 2017. Lastly, he was a long-time on-and-off Seneca College student who studied Computer Science.  

Eventually, I was shocked and heartbroken to learn that Minassian is on the autism spectrum as I am.

The Richmond Hill Liberal quoted his mother in a 2009 article. She talked about a son who has Asperger’s Syndrome losing funding for a program named Helpmate.

The report did not name the mother’s son. Therefore, you couldn’t have ruled out the possibility that she could have referred to his brother (He has one). When you see what his classmates described in articles, however, Alek Minassian is definitely on the spectrum.

Coping

First off,  this detail broke my heart because ignorant people may have concluded that autism was a reason for the attack. They may have felt that people should be cautious and afraid of people on the spectrum.

To me, this is complete baloney. An extremely small percentage of people on the spectrum would even think about premeditating horrific attacks.

I was scared to death that people would start treating me differently, or that people who don’t like me would probably dislike me even more. People with autism might be associated with Minassian and the Incel subculture from then on. I have faced enough difficulties throughout my life because of autism. This weight over my shoulders certainly did not help.

Fortunately, there were no changes in how people treated me. Almost all of us on the spectrum are not like Minassian. He had more issues than autism.

Secondly, it broke my heart to learn what could have possibly motivated Minassian to do such an unfathomable thing. Everything the media says is obviously them speculating at best, but still.

Raising autism awareness

I definitely was not the only one concerned about autism being linked to the horrific attack. People have associated autism with Sandy Hook and Parkland in the past.

Shortly after the attack, the Asperger’s Society of Ontario released a statement cautioning the lin. Also, an autistic man who briefly went to high school with Minassian had an article on the Toronto Star. He was concerned about the negative societal image the attack may have caused for people on the spectrum.

More recently, another autistic man who went to high school with Minassian throughout his time there released an opinion piece on the Star about his experiences with him, how he felt about the link, and how the incident and link gave flashbacks to his own difficult experiences.

Both articles are very informative. They really get the message out.

Toronto Van Attack: Motive

His fear of women and having difficulty experiencing romantic/sexual relationships compared to his normally-developing peers appeared to be at least part of the motive. This was evidenced by his cryptic Facebook post minutes before he started the rampage.

He praised another Incel mass-murderer, Elliot Rodger in California. He killed several people and injured many others in what was a multi-weapon attack in May 2014. Rodger’s reason for this attack was he wanted to revenge against those who had more active sex lives than he had.

The attack was also definitely premeditated. Minassian not only made an effort to rent the van, but just days before the attack, he messaged his college classmates on a chat app telling them off.

Minassian was obviously going through a long-term mental health issue. He didn’t just wake up one morning then decide that he was going to run over people.

Toronto Van Attack: Mental Health

I and many others on the spectrum have experienced extreme anxiety, depression, ridicule, hatred, loneliness, and peer jealousy. This does result in a lot of difficulty forming friendships, let alone romantic/sexual relationships. We would never ever do anything over-the-top like this, though.

Unfortunately; I think in some rare, extreme cases, as one psychologist noted, some people may develop resentful attitudes to society. On rare occasions, it may be to the point that they may snap like this. This can happen to any vulnerable person who has a mental health issue of any sort. Again, in rare cases, though. Most seek help and try to improve to be a functional society member. 

My point is, autism itself does not cause extreme violent incidents, as autism does not wire people to want to hurt others. Despite this, years of anger and resentfulness could in any person experiencing extreme, unbearable difficulties. It could be family issues, personal issues, health issues, and you name it.

You often see on the news about people not on the spectrum attacking their partners, family members, or other society members. Even then though, it is scarce that vulnerable people would engage in extreme violent acts similar to how most non-vulnerable people wouldn’t.

Most people from all backgrounds consider right from wrong to the point that they will lead manageable lives and have society at least somewhat respect them.

Toronto Van Attack: Other thoughts

Another thing that breaks my heart is, of course, the victims, both the deceased and the injured. I wonder what their families have been going through.

I have read about the injuries some of the wounded victims have experienced, and they are hard to process. Their lives will never be the same again.

It is beyond unfair that people just wanted to enjoy one of the first genuinely nice days of the spring in a busy, popular area of the world. Suddenly, a van driver jumps a curb and mows down 26 people.

Also, before the attack, these victims would have likely wanted to help Minassian with whatever difficulties he was facing even if they were strangers before it was too late.

I am thankful that Constable Ken Lam did not shoot Minassian because, quite frankly, he deserves to suffer the consequences alive for what he did. He asked Lam to shoot him after all. Firing him dead would be getting him off easy in this case.

Final words

I will be spreading this once again: Do not stigmatize those with disabilities or mental health issues. One person doing something incredibly stupid does not reflect an entire population.

If we all be kind to one another regardless of backgrounds, the world would be a much better place. #TorontoStrong

You may also enjoy: Autism: Do people accept it more now?

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