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Multiple Pedestrians Struck By Van In Toronto

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're following a breaking story out of Toronto this hour. Police there say nine people are dead after a van drove onto a busy sidewalk and plowed into pedestrians. At least 16 others are injured. Here's what an eyewitness named Phil Zullo told NPR.

PHIL ZULLO: As I was driving, I saw bodies all over the sidewalk, some covered, some not, people giving compressions, police running everywhere, helping people. It became more apparent that somebody ran a long ways down the sidewalk and mowed people down. It was an awful scene.

SHAPIRO: For more now, we're joined by Caryn Lieberman, a reporter for Global News Toronto, who has been covering this story. Thanks for joining us, Caryn.

CARYN LIEBERMAN: Of course, my pleasure.

SHAPIRO: What have police said about what happened?

LIEBERMAN: Where to begin? This all started around 1:30 this afternoon right after the lunch hour - white van involved. This is a bustling part of the city called North York just north of the downtown core, if you will. And we know that the driver of this van that seemingly plowed into a number of people - nine confirmed dead, 16 injured at this time, although according to eyewitnesses, there has to have been more injuries because of the way they described what happened.

What happened? I mean, this person, according to witnesses, drove quite a ways along Yonge Street here in Toronto - busy, busy part of the city - drove along a sidewalk and, you know, one witness telling me the bodies were just flying in the air - again, confirmation that nine are dead, 16 injured, some of them critically. So that death toll could change. And the driver...

SHAPIRO: And I think one big question that people are asking is, is there reason to believe that this was a deliberate act? Are police treating it as an act of terrorism?

LIEBERMAN: The word is not being used yet by officials, but it's certainly a different story on the streets, which is where I've been, you know, since this all started. That's the first thing that comes to everybody's mind. And, you know, one driver who I spoke with who was behind the van, driving literally behind him the entire time, said, you know, his first thought was, OK, this has to have been a medical incident. This had to be, you know, a heart attack. This person must be experiencing something, a seizure. And then he said, it just couldn't be. It had to have been deliberate, according to this driver, because the man was just driving in a straight line. And the bodies were flying.

SHAPIRO: I know there's also video of the moment that the driver stepped out of the car and police detained him. Can you tell us about how that happened?

LIEBERMAN: It certainly looks dramatic. I've seen the video myself - obviously wasn't there to witness it, you know, firsthand. But, you know, this one individual - this one male driver who was in this white rental van gets out, appears to be holding a firearm that is pointed in the direction of an officer. And there are screams and a takedown. And the person is, you know, obviously quickly taken into custody. And I know nothing about this person. We don't know who this person is. And again, it goes back to that question of motive. And I think it's just early to tell, and everybody is being very, very cautious here.

SHAPIRO: I want to listen to how Toronto's mayor, John Tory, described the city earlier today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN TORY: We are admired around the world for being inclusive and free and for being accepting and understanding and considerate. And we are united in standing in solidarity, especially with those who have fallen victim to this terrible tragedy.

SHAPIRO: I know we're only in the earliest hours of this unfolding story, but what are you hearing from people who were on the scene or people who have been in the area?

LIEBERMAN: People are just shocked. This area is filled with people now. It was very busy earlier. Strange to tell you, but, I mean, it was a beautiful day in Toronto. And, you know, people were just out and about. So if this happened around 1:30, you would expect that - it was just after the lunch hour, rather, and a lot of business in the area, many high rises. It's right outside of a subway station, so people just didn't expect this.

I mean, this is just - people are shocked really, is really what it comes down to and just the way they describe it. I mean, I hate the cliche, but this is what I keep hearing. It looked like a scene from a movie. People found it hard to fathom what they were seeing before their eyes.

SHAPIRO: Well, Caryn Lieberman, thank you so much for bringing us up to speed on this unfolding story. We appreciate your time.

LIEBERMAN: Of course.

SHAPIRO: She's a reporter for Global News Toronto. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.