Toronto van attack families await 'important step' in healing as 2nd anniversary approaches
Alek Minassian's trial was scheduled to start April 6 but was postponed due to pandemic
Life under the pall of COVID-19 has given Nick D'Amico time to think. Sometimes he thinks too much — mostly about his sister — and his thoughts fall down a black hole.
Then he catches himself, tries to embody Anne Marie D'Amico's spirit, and climbs out of that dark spot.
"You get a wave of sadness or a wave of sorrow that comes from nowhere," he said. "But the trick is to turn your mind to things that represented her as a person."
Two years ago, on April 23, 2018, Alek Minassian rented a van and drove it down a busy Toronto sidewalk on a sunny afternoon, striking dozens along the two-kilometre route. He told police just hours after the attack that he sought retribution against society for years of sexual rejection by women.
Anne Marie D'Amico was one of his victims.
Minassian faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. The judge has said the case will turn on Minassian's state of mind at the time of the attack, not whether he did it.
The D'Amicos had mentally girded themselves for the spectacle of Minassian's trial, which was scheduled to get underway on April 6 but was postponed due to the pandemic.
'Not an easy time'
Court has not decided when the judge-alone trial will be heard.
"The trial itself is obviously an important step in our healing and for justice," Nick D'Amico said. "But the delay was almost inevitable with the pandemic. Now we wait."
D'Amico now spends much of his days with his two young children, as his work as a real estate agent has slowed significantly.
His parents struggle with the second anniversary of their daughter's death, he said.
"First, the trial was delayed, now the two-year mark is wearing on them, so it's not an easy time for us," D'Amico said.
"Now with the pandemic, this is a unique set of circumstances that is causing emotions to bubble up again."
Tragedy will be marked online
He said his parents would normally be cheered up by a visit from their grandchildren, but that's not happening during the pandemic, he said.
"My daughters help them stay positive, but we don't really have that opportunity right now," D'Amico said. "We've always been there for each other [and] whether it's in person or online, we'll continue to be."
The COVID-19 pandemic has also changed how the city will commemorate the anniversary. Last year, hundreds flocked to a rainy, emotional event at Mel Lastman Square, where several of the victims were killed.
This year, the tragedy will be marked online. Mayor John Tory will make a statement on YouTube at 9 a.m. ET, followed by a virtual vigil at 6 p.m. on the Facebook page of We Love Willowdale, a community group that organized previous vigils.
WATCH | Toronto van attack victims remembered at vigil one year later:
Flags at city hall and at Mel Lastman Square will be lowered to half mast at 1:30 p.m. to mark the time of the attack.
The city has asked well-wishers to refrain from gathering or laying flowers near the site of the attack due to the pandemic.
Coun. John Filion, who represents the area, said the community has been strong in the face of tragedy.
"It's important to always remember those who died and those who were terribly wounded, some of whom will never fully recover," he said.
"There's resilience that you need to show as a community — you remember, but keep going, and in some ways that's really the best way to honour those who died."
'Great emotional cost'
Filion's office overlooks the square where several people were killed. Two years later, several memories remain burned in his mind.
"The shock and horror stays with you, but also the people who ran out to help on that day, right after the most awful expression of evil and hate and violence," he said. "They did so at great emotional cost to themselves."
Filion said he misses the hugs he got and gave out to strangers at that time, something that is off-limits during the pandemic.
"But we can still give out virtual hugs," he said.
As for the D'Amicos, they remain committed to the Anne Marie D'Amico Foundation, which raised $275,000 for the North York Women's Shelter last year.
"We can't forget about those who are suffering from pre-existing situations at home who might be worse off now," Nick D'Amico said.