'They will always be with us,' Afzaal family honoured in Western University's virtual memorial

The university provided a space for family members, faculty, student leaders and community members to share their grief and commemorate the lives of two cherished Western members killed in what police believe was a targeted attack in London, Ont., in June.

Family, friends, faculty express grief and hope remembering Salman Afzaal, Madiha Salman

Western University held a virtual memorial Thursday to honour the Afzaal family, including a couple who were alumni. Four family members were killed, and the youngest was seriously hurt, in a targeted attack on June 6 in London, Ont. (Western University)

"They will always be with us."

Those were the words echoed by the Western University community in a virtual memorial Thursday to honour the Afzaal family, who police believe were targeted and killed for their faith in London, Ont. 

The university provided a space for family members, faculty, student leaders and community members to share their grief and commemorate the lives of two members of the family with Western connections.

Salman Afzaal earned a master's degree in health sciences from Western in 2010. His wife Madiha Salman completed her master's in engineering and was working toward her PhD in environmental engineering, which she was awarded posthumously in June. 

Western faculty, student leaders and Muslim community members wore purple and green ribbons on their chests that have become symbols of support and hope to honour the family. 

"She had such a brilliant career ahead of her and so much to look forward to," said Western president Alan Shepard. "The Western community mourns, and mourns deeply, the deaths of Madiha and Salman and their loved ones."

Western president Alan Shepard hopes the two scholarships created to honour Madiha Salman and Salman Afzaal will serve as lasting tributes for their legacies. (Western University)

On June 6, Salman Afzaal, 46, Madiha Salman, 44, his mother, Talat Afzaal, 74, and the couple's daughter, Yumna Afzaal, 15, were killed. The youngest member of the family, a nine-year-old boy, survived.

The man harged in the attack made a brief court appearance via video link on Thursday and remains in custody.

Christy Bressette, vice-provost and associate vice-president of Indigenous Initiatives at Western, opened up the memorial with a land acknowledgment and expressed solidarity with the Muslim community.

"As we reflect on the need for this memorial today, we've got a long way to go before arriving at a place of harmony with one another," Bressette said.

"However, I remain optimistic as healing through education is always the first step toward reconciliation."

Salman Afzaal's sister, Dr. Ayesha Shaukat, spoke at the virtual memorial to honour her brother and his family. (Western University)

Members of their family in London and Pakistan took part in the memorial, sharing a few words to remember Afzaal and Salman, and expressing gratitude to Western for its efforts to honour them.

Dr. Ayesha Shaukat, Afzaal's sister, spoke at the memorial, expressing gratitude for the support her family has received and encouraging the community to "continue to work hard and give back."

"Presenting this tribute is the hardest thing I've ever done," Shaukat said. "Our lives changed forever on June 6 and these past few weeks have been the hardest I've lived."

She remembers her brother as a "humble" man who always looked at the brighter side and had a "heart of gold."

"He was always there, in all the ways possible, to support his mother, his brothers and me. His love for cooking, passion for cricket and gardening, care for young and old, willingness to help and his ability to always look at the light at the end of the tunnel are some of the things I continue to miss about him," Shaukat said. "[Madiha] was a beautiful soul, a dedicated wife, a wonderful mother.

"Salman and Madiha left behind their legacy as a benchmark for all immigrants who come to Canada for a better future."

Madiha Salman posthumously earned her PhD in June from Western University. A scholarship was established in honour of her memory and to continue her legacy and passion in education. (Western University)

Western University created two scholarships in the name of the two alumni.

"[They] cannot be returned to us, but their lives can be honoured and celebrated as we will do today," Shepard said.

"We hope that these scholarships will help future graduate students to pursue their own education in academic fields that mattered deeply to Salman and Madiha. And in the years to come, that these scholarships will serve as lasting tributes to these cherished members of Western's family."

The Madiha Salman Memorial Scholarship in civil and environmental engineering will be distributed each year to a full-time female graduate student enrolled in a doctoral or master's program within that department. 

The Salman Afzaal Memorial Scholarship in physical therapy will also be awarded each year to a full-time graduate student enrolled in a doctoral or master's program in health and rehabilitation sciences.

"It is our hope that by creating these scholarships, we can continue to honour Madiha and Salman's incredible legacies here at Western," said Jayne Garland, dean of the faculty of health sciences.

Yumna Afzaal, 15, left, Madiha, 44, centre left, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman, 46, right, were out for an evening walk when they were run over by a man who police say was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. (Submitted by Afzaal family)