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Toronto van suspect a withdrawn figure, with special needs

By Allison Martell and Nichola Saminather

By Allison Martell and Nichola Saminather

TORONTO (Reuters) - The suspect in a Toronto van attack that killed 10 people and injured 15 others on Monday attended a high school program for students with special needs where he would often walk the halls with his head down and hands tightly clasped, according to former classmates.

Police say Alek Minassian, 25, was arrested 26 minutes after he allegedly drove a white rental van into a crowd in the north end of Toronto, sending bodies flying.

A bystander video of the incident, shown on CBC TV, shows a man repeatedly pointing an object at a police officer who shouts at him to 'get down' as the suspect demands: "Kill me".

Shereen Chami said her former classmate was not violent. She said Minassian was part of a program at Thornlea Secondary School, in Toronto's northern suburbs, for high school students with special needs, attending a mix of mainstream and separate classes.

Chami remembers him walking the halls with his hands together and his head down, and making meowing noises.

"He wasn't a social person, but from what I remember he was absolutely harmless," she said.

Two other classmates said they attended classes for students with special needs alongside Minassian. Special needs is a blanket term used in the Canadian education system that covers learning and behavioral difficulties as well as physical disabilities.

Police said Minassian was not previously known to them and his motives were still unknown. Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said the driver's actions "definitely looked deliberate".

Minassian's Facebook page could not be accessed through the social networking site. A bare-bones version available through the Internet Archive said he attended Seneca College from 2011 to April 2018, graduated from Thornlea secondary school in 2011 and listed software development under professional skills.

A September 2013 blog post said he had started to work at Seneca College's Centre for Development of Open Technology. He posted about his progress developing software there until March 2014.

Google's Android store offers a parking app developed by someone named Alek Minassian.

(Additional reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Michael Perry)