'We are in this together': Community rallies to support victims of Toronto van attack

In the wake of last week's van attack, a stretch of Yonge Street is scattered with small and large shrines to honour the victims. Emotions are raw and communities are coming together to help with the healing.
Thousands gathered in North Toronto's Mel Lastsman Square to honour victims of the deadly van attack that rattled the country. (Samira Mohyeddin/CBC)
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A community is struggling to heal in the wake of last week's van attack in Toronto's east end. For many who live in the neighbourhood of Willowdale, the shock and grief are still raw.

Lily Cheng lives just a short walk from the scene of the attack. She is the founder of We Love Willowdale, a group that has been organizing vigils and events to bring the community together in the aftermath.

On Sunday, thousands gathered in Mel Lastman Square to honour those killed and injured in the attack. As a way to offer empowerment and support, Cheng organized a walk from Yonge Street and Finch Avenue to enter the vigil in solidarity. 

"I think that our sense of security has been stolen from us," Cheng told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"It's about reclaiming our sense of safety, our sense of community and bringing people back together to say we are in this together."

'We gather this evening to discover that our sorrow is reflected in the eyes of the strangers standing next to us. And so to is our hope,' said Reverend Alexa Gilmour of Windermere United Church at the vigil on Sunday. (Samira Mohyeddin/CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory were in attendance on Sunday. The vigil included choir singing and faith leaders addressing the crowd, but no politicians took to the stage — a move that Cheng said was intentional.

"[The organizers] didn't want to create a platform for someone to further their own agenda, and instead they really wanted to just address the needs of the people who are grieving. It was really about supporting the community towards healing," Cheng explained.

The 10 people killed in the Toronto 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.

Daniel Lee, president of Korean Canadian Cultural Association, says there is still a need for plenty of support for families grieving or in hospital with loved ones.

Lee told Tremonti that in the Korean community particularly, some have travelled far distances to mourn and lay their loved ones to rest.

"Visually it's very uncomfortable. Heartbreaking. You have a mother who hardly can walk to the car from the airport because she's drained," Lee said.

To offer support to family members who are visiting in hospital, Lee said the Korean Canadian Nurses Association has been helping with translation. As well, supporters from his association have been providing meals and driving family members to their hotel from the hospital, any time of the day.

"We are mourning the dead, but we also have to think about those people who are injured and the families. Their families are very, very worried," Lee said.

A woman at Sunday's vigil holds a sign that reads 'Willowdale will rise with kindness.' (Samira Mohyeddin/CBC)

Bobbie McMurrich, an associate executive director of Victim Services Toronto, told Tremonti that the staff provide support however it is needed — whether it's supporting witnesses on the scene or being with families who are holding vigils for loved ones.

McMurrich said that neighbourhoods and individuals in Toronto, in Canada, and even internationally are deeply impacted by this attack.

"That feeling of trauma does definitely extend to members of the community that live in that neighborhood," she said.

"But in terms of the broader community we are always concerned about individuals that have been traumatized in the past that are being triggered."

Getting back to a routine and sense of normalcy is going to take time, McMurrich said.

"Right now, it's very practical. The focus is on helping families and individuals really get through each 24-hour period," she explained.

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      Lee lives in Willowdale too. He told Tremonti that he was scared to walk along Yonge Street again, but joined the march in an effort to reclaim it. He said that walking the scene of the crime felt different when he did it together with the community.

      "It's good that everybody comes together to do the healing and stuff, but we still need time for us to recuperate," he said.​

      Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page.


      This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin, Alison Masemann, Julie Crysler and Danielle Carr.

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