Toronto

'Nauseous just thinking about it': A van attack victim's loved one on watching the Minassian police interview

In a police interview room nine hours after Toronto's van attack, Alek Minassian said he didn't know if he would apologize to the victims' families. Those families had a chance to watch the interview ahead of its release this week.

Brother of Anne Marie D'Amico says an apology from accused van attacker wouldn't have meant much

Nick D'Amico, the brother of Anne Marie D'Amico, who was killed in last year's van attack in Toronto, was among those who viewed video of the police interview with Alek Minassian.  (CBC )

In a non-descript, grey interview room about nine hours after a rented cargo van plowed into a group of unsuspecting pedestrians, Alek Minassian was asked by a Toronto police detective what he would do if the families of those killed and injured were in front of him.

"What would you say to them?" Det. Robert Thomas asked.

Minassian, seated in a chair in the corner of the room, wearing a white jumpsuit, paused for a few seconds before replying, "I honestly don't know what I would say."

"Would you apologize?" Thomas pressed.

"I honestly don't know," replied Minassian. 

That was one of the final moments of a four-hour police interview, video of which loved ones of the dead and injured in the April 23, 2018 massacre were invited to view before its release to the public.

You don't know what to feel. You don't know how to make sense of it.- Nick D'Amico

A publication ban on the video and a nearly 200-page transcript was lifted just after midnight Friday — the judge allowing it to be made public because Minassian's trial, set for February 2020, won't involve a jury. CBC News has chosen to limit use of the video to help prevent undue recognition for Minassian or his alleged motivations.

Renuka Amarasingha, 45, Andrea Bradden, 33, Geraldine Brady, 83, Sohe Chung, 22, Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Forsyth, 94, Chul Min (Eddie) Kang, 45, Ji Hun Kim, 22, Munir Najjar, 85, Dorothy Sewell, 80, and Anne Marie D'Amico, 30, were killed in the attack on a warm spring day on Toronto's bustling Yonge Street.

Minassian is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. 

Nick D'Amico, Anne Marie's brother, was among those who viewed the interview. 

"You don't know what to feel. You don't know how to make sense of it," he told CBC News on Thursday.

"I think all the emotions, whether it was anger or whatever, sorrow, all came together at once and you start getting nauseous just thinking about it," he said. "You're just in disbelief that something like this could happen, that someone could do something like that."

For much of the last 17 months, D'Amico said he's felt "detached" from the circumstances of his sister's death, choosing instead to focus on honouring her memory. 

The family launched the Anne Marie D'Amico Foundation on what would have been her 31st birthday. The goal: to end violence and abuse against women, raising money to rebuild the North York Women's Shelter.

It's a project that aims to combat the larger problem of violence against women.

"It's really bringing some positivity to my life," D'Amico said of the foundation. "Hearing my parents' voices in the morning when I call them, we have conversations about it … it's nice to have that."

These are the 10 people killed in the van attack. Top row, from left to right: Anne Marie D'Amico, 30, Dorothy Sewell, 80, Renuka Amarasingha, 45, Munir Najjar, 85, Chul Min (Eddie) Kang, 45, Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Forsyth, 94, Sohe Chung, 22, Andrea Bradden, 33, Geraldine Brady, 83, Ji Hun Kim, 22. (CBC)

'Harder than I thought'

It's a new normal that D'Amico has been struggling to accept since the day his sister was killed — some days less easily than others. But although he says he's mostly found a way to be OK, there are moments that break him, bringing him right back to the moment he learned she was gone.

Flipping through photos of her, he's brought to tears. Each image is a doorway into a memory of a time she was still here; her bubbly, "zany" presence.

"I thought I'd be OK," he said, looking through a photo album. "It's actually a lot harder than I thought."

D'Amico holds up a photo album of his sister. (CBC)

Dorothy Sewell's grandson Elwood Delaney also struggled with what he saw in the police interview. Delaney, based in Kamloops, B.C., told CBC News he didn't have the opportunity to view it ahead of its public release, but seeing it had him seething.

"It infuriates me," Delany said. "It just means he didn't care about anything … I can't even wrap my head around it that he called it 'a mission.'"

When asked in the interview how he felt about the deaths and injuries, Minassian replied matter-of-factly: "I feel like I accomplished my mission."

Delaney also didn't know what to make of Minassian's claims about his motivations. "It's hard to tell if he's saying this because he wants to be in the spotlight or is this truly what he thinks."

Most frustrating of all, said Delaney, is the fact that the attack has been characterized as a "van attack."

"Somebody had to drive that van," he said, adding he'd like to see the incident classified as an act of terrorism. Calling it a "van attack" feels like it takes responsibility off of the perpetrator and puts it instead on a machine, Delaney said. 

For D'Amico, with the video of Minassian's interview now unsealed, there's something else that nags him.

In the interview, Minassian revealed he had communicated with incel-linked online forums since 2014, and said he was inspired by two mass murderers who were motivated by that same ideology. He began to "feel radicalized" four years ago after an attack by Elliot Rodger that left six people dead and 14 injured at a university campus in California, he said. 

Minassian praised Rodger as the founder of the so-called "incel [involuntary celibate] rebellion."

Worries about influence

That sort of material being in the public domain raises some alarm bells for D'Amico, who worries it could influence others. 

"I wouldn't want to have anyone hear it or see it and feel like that's OK to do in any way, under any circumstances — taking someone's life is just not OK," he said.

"It just makes me feel a little queasy that all of a sudden now there's more of it out there." 

Alek Minassian is asked by police if he would apologize to victims' families. 0:13

As for whether he hoped for an apology, D'Amico says he didn't. 

"I had zero expectations," he said. "I'm not sure an apology is going to mean anything, you know. Saying the words and feeling the words are two different things, so I didn't have any expectation of anything."

For now, D'Amico says he's focusing on continuing the work of the foundation — something he says keeps his sister's spirit alive — and holding on to the memories of the moments they shared together, like how she surprised him on his 30th birthday together with all of their cousins. 

As for closure, he says, he's not looking for any.

"We're bringing her along with us."

About the Author

Shanifa Nasser

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shanifa Nasser is an investigative journalist interested in national security and stories with a heartbeat. Before coming to CBC News, she was a Munk Fellow in Global Journalism at the University of Toronto. She also holds a Master's degree in Islamic Studies. shanifa.nasser@cbc.ca

With files from Chris Glover