'We're all brothers and sisters in humanity': C-K remembers Afzaal family

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Some came in silence. Others waved flags and blared their car horns in support.

A few quickly stopped by, laid down a bouquet and left, while parents embraced and consoled their small children.

However they chose to do so, the community was unified in its remembrance of the Afzaal family, who lost their lives in an alleged vehicular attack in London that  police are investigating as a hate crime.

A drive-by vigil took place Wednesday evening at the Chatham-Kent Civic Centre, sponsored by the Chatham-Kent Muslim Association.

It’s only been a few short years since a memorial was held at the exact same spot for the victims of the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting, said Hassan Elkhodr, Muslim association president.

He doesn’t believe it needs to be this way.

“We’re all brothers and sisters in humanity,” he said. “We should be able to live in peace.”

Salman Afzaal, a 46-year-old physiotherapist at several nursing homes, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, who was completing a doctorate in engineering, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were struck and killed at an intersection while out for a walk Sunday evening in Hyde Park.

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The family’s nine-year-old son Fayez, the lone survivor, remains in hospital with serious injuries.

Police allege the killings were a premeditated act and that the family was targeted because of their Islamic faith.

A 20-year-old Londoner, Nathaniel Veltman, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

Elkhodr said the tragedy “shook everybody just so much,” with many questions still lingering.​

“We can’t run away from things. We have to face it,” he said.

Maqsood Ahmad, who’s originally from Pakistan and has lived in Chatham for 16 years, said he felt deeply saddened for the family and that he’s also praying for the accused.

Despite the work that still needs to be done, he believes this country is more welcoming than most.

“This is one of the few countries in the world where people can come from all over the place and they still feel at home,” he said.

Mohammad Alowdh, 18, a Chatham-Kent secondary school student, said his goal is to eliminate racism in Canada and everywhere.

“We’re all equal,” he said. “There’s no difference between Muslim or Christian, or Black or white.”

Mahin Naveed, 14, also a Chatham-Kent secondary school student, believes there needs to be more mutual respect in the world.

She called the turnout “heartwarming” and noted most of the country is accepting of different beliefs.

However, Naveed said more education and awareness about Islamophobia would go a long way.

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“People judge Islam without even knowing what it is,” she said.

Mayor Darrin Canniff said people aren’t born with racism and hate but learn it.

By trying to understand everyone’s cultural differences, they become easier to accept and embrace, he said.

“We believe in love. We believe in togetherness. We believe in a welcoming community,” Canniff said.

Wednesday’s vigil was originally planned for Tecumseh Park, but the change in venue was announced earlier in the day.

When asked about the change, Canniff said, “the premier gave it the blessing (in London). There was no blessing here.”

Given that a large crowd was expected, he said officials also “didn’t want a shroud of negativity” to hang over the memorial due to the gathering.

Most people wore masks at the event and respected public-health guidelines. However, Elkhodr said organizers understood the need to change the venue and didn’t believe it took away from the message.

“I hope this will never happen again. We are hopeful we will never have to gather like this for these types of reasons,” he said. “We want goodness to bring us together.”

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