Toronto van attack suspect Alek Minassian’s interest in ‘incel’ movement the latest sign of troubled life

The story of Minassian’s ‘sad and confusing’ life comes fragmented from a cluster of people who knew him, but none who appear to have known him well

TORONTO — The distressing scope of criminal allegations against Alek Minassian were revealed in a packed Toronto courtroom — 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder — as glimpses of the man and a possible motive emerged after a rental van mowed through pedestrians along Toronto’s Yonge Street.

Just “minutes before” the van started its awful rampage along the sidewalks of one of Canada’s best known streets, deliberately striking pedestrians, Minassian posted a “cryptic message” on Facebook, said Toronto police Det.-Sgt. Graham Gibson.

The message says: “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

Decoding the post suggests a spark for the deadly trek may have been frustration over an inability to attract female companionship. The majority of the victims struck by the van were women, adding to the potential importance of the post.

Toronto police are investigating whether Minassian’s mental health or an interest in the incel movement are related to the van attack.

At 25, Minassian, who lived with his parents and his brother in a detached two-storey home in suburban Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto, is variously described as a failed solider who dropped out of basic training, a socially awkward student in a special needs class in high school where he was known for acting like a cat, a long-standing college student, a computer whiz and app developer, video game enthusiast and a self-declared “incel.”

It is his apparent embrace of the incel movement that helps decipher his odd Facebook post, which Facebook has confirmed as a legitimate post from Minassian’s account that has since been taken down by the company.

An “incel” is a portmanteau of “involuntary celibate” and came into wide recognition in 2014 after Elliot Rodger, 22, killed six and injured 14 in Isla Vista, California, before killing himself. In a manifesto, he said he needed to punish women for rejecting him and sexually active men for their success where he failed.

Within the incel subculture, which typically veers towards deep misogyny, “Chads” refer to the sexually successful men and “Stacys” to unattainable women.

Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old Richmond Hill, Ont., man is shown in this image from his LinkedIn page. A man accused of driving a van into pedestrians along a stretch of a busy Toronto street has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder. Alek Minassian, of Richmond Hill, Ont., is also facing 13 counts of attempted murder. Handout via CP

As news of Minassian’s connection spread, some self-professed incels embraced it as a call to arms.

Some members of an incel-dedicated forum branded him “Saint Alek” and “St. Minassian.” Some suggested other ways to continue the attacks so the world of the sexually active would fear them.

“It is a good time to be an incel. Our brothers are launching their counter-attack, getting their revenge. Thank you,” one post reads. “They should be scared, this is what happens when you deny so many men love and affection for their entire lives,” said another.

“Well, he certainly got us noticed,” one member wrote. “It will be interesting to read about Alek’s story as more details about his life unfold. I’d love to know what exactly made him think he was an incel.”

A police officer walks past a van used in a deadly attack on pedestrians in Toronto on April 23, 2018. Craig Robertson/Postmedia Network

That story may one day become known, but for now, Minassian’s story comes fragmented from a cluster of people who knew him, but none who appear to have known him well.

Despite the violent language of some incels online, those who knew Minassian personally did not pin him as a violent character. Oddball, challenged, awkward, weird, infantilized, but not violent.

When Minassian was a student at Thornlea Secondary School​ in nearby Thornhill, Ont., he stood out for his unorthodox behaviour.

“I had classes with him. He was mentally unstable back then. He was known to meow like a cat and try to bite people; this is one sad and confusing story,” Alexander Alexandrovitch said of his former classmate in a Facebook post.

A photo of Alek Minassian from his Grade 9 yearbook.

Minassian was “never intentionally violent” in school, he added.

Reza Fakhteh said he overlapped with Minassian for two years at Thornlea. He described Minassian as a special education student who rarely socialized and had no obvious friends.

“I never heard him speak beyond meowing at people,” Fakhteh wrote in a Facebook message. “His movements were erratic and just strange overall. He acted like a cat in every way.”

Fakhteh said he was shocked to hear that Minassian was named as a suspect in this kind of attack.

“The guy I remember from high school definitely wouldn’t be driving,” he said.

A man believed to be the father of Alek Minassian is escorted by Toronto Police from the 1000 Finch Avenue West Court Tuesday April 23, after the first court appearance of Minassian, who has been charged with murder and attempted murder in the Yonge and Finch van attack yesterday. Peter J Thompson/National Post

Ari Blaff, another former classmate said he was “an odd guy.”

“He had several tics and would sometimes grab the top of his shirt and spit on it, meow in the hallways and say, ‘I am afraid of girls.’ It was like a mantra.” While Minassian did not express strong ideological views or harass women, he was isolated and others privately made fun of him, Blaff said.

While in high school, he was an avid videogamer. A defunct Steam account, a video game software platform, that appears to be Minassian’s says he is better at shooting games than strategy games. It says he loves the Halo series — a franchise of science fiction-based first-person shooter games — and adds the gamer names of three players who he says are his “real life friends.”

Provincial records show the house, now guarded by police, belongs to Vahe and Sona Minassian. They bought the property in 1998 for $330,000.

The home (centre) of alleged van attack suspect Alek Minassian in Richmond Hill on Tuesday April 24. Peter J Thompson/National Post

In a story published in the Richmond Hill Liberal in 2009, a woman named Sona Minassian praised a local program for special needs children. The story said her son, who isn’t named, lived “with a form of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome.” He used the program, called Helpmate, to earn experience in an office setting.

In 2011, after high school graduation, Minassian enrolled at Seneca College in Toronto. His computer skills were put to use.

He worked as a paid research assistant, roughly four years ago, on a joint project with the college and an external business partner to develop an application to deal with data produced by health and wellness devices similar to Fitbits.

A man believed to be the father of Alek Minassian is escorted by Toronto Police from the 1000 Finch Avenue West Court Tuesday April 23, after the first court appearance of Minassian, who has been charged with murder and attempted murder in the Yonge and Finch van attack yesterday. Peter J Thompson for the National Post

A staff member at Seneca who had a few encounters with Minassian several years ago said he seemed to struggle with social interaction.

“He could have sort of normal conversation, but you could tell it wasn’t his strength,” said the staff member, who did not wish to be named. “It’s completely surreal to realize you know someone who (allegedly) killed 10 people.”

Seneca President David Agnew acknowledged his school’s connection Minassian in an email to students and staff Tuesday afternoon, obtained by the National Post.

“The reports associating the driver with Seneca are extremely troubling,” Agnew wrote. “Yet it is vital that we do not let this terrible act undermine our determination to be the peaceful, tolerant and inclusive society that is admired around the globe. We must grieve, and we must heal, but we must also resolve to carry on.”

Police arrest Alek Minassian after a van fatally struck pedestrians in Toronto on Monday.FTV_Huazhang/Twitter

One of the victims was a student at Seneca. “Our thoughts are with all those affected, including the family and friends of one of our students who died as a result of the tragic incident. Along with the rest of the city, and world, we are extremely troubled by yesterday’s events,” a statement for the college says.

Minassian’s LinkedIn page lists him as enrolled at Seneca from 2011 to 2018. Asked whether seven years was a peculiar length of study, Seneca spokeswoman Kayla Lewis said she couldn’t confirm any student’s enrolment due to privacy concerns, but did offer that “there’s no one-size-fits-all with students and their educational journeys.”

Minassian also appears to have been an aspiring software developer. Someone with that name registered an online Toronto parking app on Google Play.

A police officer adjusts a tarp covering a body on the sidewalk along Yonge Street near Finch Avenue after a man drove a rental truck down the sidewalk and hit and killed multiple pedestrians in Toronto, Ontario, April 23, 2018. Tyler Anderson/NATIONAL POST

Recently, Minassian joined the Canadian Armed Forces. A Department of National Defence spokesperson said he joined the army on Aug. 23, 2017, started his basic training at the military facility at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., that September and left the military on Oct. 25.

He had not progressed to weapons training by the time he was released.

“He did not complete his recruit training and requested to be voluntarily released from the CAF after 16 days of recruit training,” a DND spokesperson said.

His brief stint in the military also may shed light on his cryptic Facebook post. He identified himself as “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010” — that would have been his rank as a newly recruited soldier and 00010 is the military’s designation for an infantryman.

Frederick Fosu@FredFosuTO

We are quick to condemn but slow to recognize them as when they risk their lives to save others.

The military’s job description for a 00010 Infantryman states: “Must close with and destroy the enemy. They come into direct contact with the enemy and hand-to-hand combat is likely.”

Neighbours said they did not know the family well but often saw them while out and about.

Elaha Jamal, who lives nearby, said it was as if the parents had to supervise Minassian and his brother constantly, and would not let them roam free, sometimes even holding his brother by the shirt at the scruff of the neck.

“They were not OK,” she said. “They were an older couple but they took care of these boys like they were babies.”

— With files from Richard Warnica, Joseph Brean and David Pugliese

Police officers stand by a covered body in Toronto after a van was driven into a crowd of pedestrians, killing at least 10, on April 23, 2018. Aaron Vincent Elkaim / AP
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