On Saturday, London, Ontario’s Muslim community will lay to rest four members of a family killed in what police say was a racially motivated attack. Here’s what we know about the family.
In May 2009, Madiha Salman was preparing to begin her master’s degree in environmental engineering at Western University in London, Ontario. Madiha wrote to her soon-to-be faculty advisor, Professor Jason Gerhard, thanking him for his warm welcome into the programme, which she thought was going to be “a great experience of my life”.
With her husband, Salman Afzaal, and their toddler, Yumna, Madiha moved to London to begin her studies. After she graduated, the couple stayed in the city, eventually having a second child, and becoming well-loved members of its tight-knit Muslim community.
On Sunday, Madiha, Salman and Yumna, and Salman’s 74-year-old mother (who has not been named due to Pakistani tradition), were struck and killed by a London man in a truck during an evening walk. The sole survivor was their nine-year-old son.
Police say the family were victims of a premeditated attack – singled out for their Muslim faith. The violence has left London reeling, and triggered a nationwide outpouring of grief.
“They were the best amongst us,” said Saboor Khan, a London lawyer and long-time friend of the family. “Everybody knew them to be the most selfless, the most giving of people, the most generous, the most pleasant of people.”
The loss has sent a shock of anxiety through members of Canada’s Muslim community, now confronted with the question of their own safety when they step outside.
Over her 12 years in London, Madiha Salman pursued a career in engineering. She earned that master’s degree and was on the cusp of completing a doctorate.
“She was a spectacular student, teammate, and engineer,” Gerhard said. “She was unbelievably brave and determined, she wasn’t going to let anything get in her way.”
The professor recalled asking Madiha when he first interviewed her for the programme how she would handle the transition to Canadian education. He learned she had overcome obstacles before. In her undergraduate class in Pakistan, she told him, she was the only woman among 174 students.
Madiha and Salman had come to Canada for a better future, her cousin Qaim-ul-Haq told the BBC from Pakistan. They were a positive couple, he said, “committed to the good of society”.
Madiha became a member of Gerhard’s core research group. Dedicated to environmental preservation, she worked on the removal of toxic industrial chemicals from soil and groundwater. Her innovations are used in the field today, Gerhard said.
Sana Yasir, a neighbour and friend of the family, recalled “Auntie Madiha” helping with carpool and cooking meals for her family when Yasir’s mother was sick with breast cancer.
“She wouldn’t even ask,” Yasir said. “She would just ring the doorbell and say, ‘here, I made this for you.'”
Madiha’s husband, Salman, a physiotherapist, worked at local elder care homes.
He was a sweet and gentle man, friends and colleagues said, dedicated to his Muslim faith. He loved cricket and table tennis, and treasured his garden.
“Whatever he did, he was very passionate about it,” said Saboor Khan, the family friend.
Jeff Renaud, the administrator at the Ritz Lutheran Villa care home where Salman worked, said Salman continued to work throughout the pandemic, “caring for our moms, dads and grandparents”.
“He was kind,” Renaud said. “And deeply committed to our residents.”
This week, Renaud received an email from a resident’s family member, who said his elderly uncle had loved Wednesdays – the day Salman would come to see him.
“He said, ‘My uncle didn’t trust anyone but Salman,'” Renaud said. “We were spoiled working with him.”
Yumna Afzaal was just finishing ninth grade at Oakridge Secondary School.
Studious and bright, she had been an “integral gem” of the London Islamic School, which offers kindergarten through grade eight, said principal Asad Choudhary.
He could not recall Yumna ever being involved in a conflict during his five years as principal – rare, he said, for middle school students.
Approaching her final year at the Islamic School, Yumna proposed painting a mural on one of the building’s empty walls, turning a blank wall into something she and her peers could be proud of.
She persisted despite the pandemic, returning to school last summer to complete the project, often with her parents in tow.
Yumna said she wanted the space-themed mural to be her “legacy” at a place she loved so much, Choudhary said.
Yumna was protective of her younger brother, often bringing him along with her and her friends.
“They had a very close relationship,” neighbour Yasir said, describing the young boy as sweet and shy.
A grade three student at the London Islamic School, “you wouldn’t see him without a smile”, Choudary said.
An online fundraiser for the nine-year-old started by Yasir has raised more than C$800,000 ($657,700; £466,000) as of Friday afternoon. A parallel campaign by the family’s relatives in the US has raised more than C$1.1m.
The friends and relatives the BBC spoke to described the Afzaal matriarch, Salman’s 74-year-old mother, as a support to the family in all their pursuits.
The busy family treasured their regular evening walks together, said Yasir. Neighbours in the city’s northwest end grew fond of seeing the three generations out together at night, all five of them quick with a wave or smile.
Now, discussion of this nightly routine has been coloured by fear, as others in London’s Muslim community say they worry for their own safety.
Yasir, who wears a hijab, said that she and her mother used to walk the same routes as the Afzaal family.
“Us Muslims, we like to say that we’re not scared of people like that”, she said, referring to the man now accused of killing her friends.
But she and her mother have not yet returned to their walks.
On Tuesday, thousands joined Yasir on London’s Oxford street for a vigil.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in attendance, along with all of Canada’s federal opposition leaders – a sign of the remarkable political solidarity that has followed the attack.
Trudeau has repeatedly condemned the violence as “an act of terror” and promised better for the country’s minority communities.
But the attack against the London family has undercut Canada’s promise of tolerance and multiculturalism, and shaken those who rely on that promise for their safety.
“The real question here is – which child is safe?” Chaudhary said. “In Canada, which sings the song of diversity, if we struggle with that answer we have a lot of work to do.”