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'He is not alone,' victim of Toronto's van attack struggles to understand Minassian

TORONTO — Dina Risin is terrified there are other men like Alek Minassian.

TORONTO — Dina Risin is terrified there are other men like Alek Minassian.

The fears that began when she became one of his victims intensified this week as she watched the first day of the virtual murder trial for the man who has admitted to killing 10 people by driving a van down a busy Toronto sidewalk. 

He is arguing he is not criminally responsible for his actions on April 23, 2018, due to a mental disorder. Those actions, which Minassian has said were motivated by a desire for vengeance against women, also injured 16 people including Risin.

"I felt very, very scared to hear that this was his mission," Risin said after watching a video of the then 25-year-old Minassian telling a detective about the so-called "incel" philosophy. 

Minassian described his attack as retribution against society because he was a lonely virgin who believed women wouldn't have sex with him. He said he was inspired by two other men, both Americans, who hated women because they wouldn't have sex with them and who would later go on separate killing rampages.

Incels, Minassian explained to the detective, are men who are involuntarily celibate. 

Risin just calls them "those people." 

"I am scared even for my granddaughter, for my daughter," she told The Canadian Press from her north Toronto home. "He is not alone. I don't know how our society could be prepared for those people's actions."

Two years ago, Risin was walking home from the grocery store when she saw a white cargo van moving toward her on the sidewalk. It left her confused. 

Maybe the driver was lost, she thought, or a wayward delivery van. 

But the van moved fast. 

The 82-year-old said she locked eyes with Minassian as his rental van barreled down on her.

"I saw his face. I saw some fear in his eyes," she said. "I got a good look at him because I thought 'okay maybe now he will stop when he sees me,' but he did not stop."

She jumped.

The driver's side mirror hit her on the left side of her head as the van flew by. 

"I had space to jump to the road from the sidewalk, that’s what helped me, and of course with God’s help," Risin said. 

Dazed and terrified, she made her way home to the seniors building where she lives. Then her friend called, telling her about the attack. 

Risin took her friend's advice to seek treatment for her injuries, but said a trip to the hospital wasn't necessary. 

"It was just a bump," she said. "Thank God I'm alive."

Risin said Minassian's trial, set to resume on Monday, has stirred up painful memories and reflections on how her life has changed since the attack.

She still goes for walks, but life is different and more isolated today due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also uses a walker now, noting things could have ended very differently for her if the attack took place today. 

"Nowadays, I would not be able to jump away from this car," she said.

She thinks about the van attack and the man behind the wheel a lot. And about "those people" like Minassian.  

"He is not alone because there is some philosophy and those people follow it," she said.

Elwood Delaney, whose grandmother died during Minassian's rampage, wants Risin and other victims to know that they aren't alone. 

"It's not just the 10 people who died, or even the 16 injured, there's thousands out there, the whole nation is there for the victims," he said from Kamloops, B.C.

Delaney's grandmother, 80-year-old Dorothy Sewell, was on her way to the bank that day when Minassian hit her from behind.

She never saw him coming. 

Court heard she flew onto the van's windshield before falling down in front of the car and being run over. 

Delaney said two strangers rushed to her side to try to help, adding they were still with her when she died.

"Knowing she wasn't alone at the very end was very helpful to me," Delaney said, choking up.

Sewell was "Toronto's biggest sports fan," he said. She loved the Blue Jays, Raptors, and, her favourite, the Maple Leafs. The pair spent time on the phone when her team played his Calgary Flames. 

"She was hoping for another Leafs win before she died," Delaney said. 

Delaney has spoken to the strangers who were with his "Nan" that day.

Now he wants to pay it forward. 

"I know the victims feel lonely and that it's really hard, but there's always somebody you can talk to for help and if they want to talk to me, I'll be there for them," Delaney said. 

"It's the least I can do for Nan." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2020.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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