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‘I’m still here!!’ Toronto marks one-year anniversary of Yonge St. van attack with vigil, messages of hope

‘I’m still here!!’ Toronto marks one-year anniversary of Yonge St. van attack with vigil, messages of hope
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Beverly Smith , who lost both her legs in the van attack, wrote that defiant message in bold blue chalk Tuesday morning at Olive Square park as people stopped to leave words of hope on the one-year anniversary of the .

“It’s just to remember, because I live right nearby and I just wanted to be here with my family,” said Smith, who was there with her son Michael and granddaughters Juliette and Maybelle.

Smith, a retired librarian walking to the library that day to pick up a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, said its been comforting to have support from the city.

“Toronto’s become a community for us,” she said.

Her son Michael, pushing her wheelchair while one of his daughters wrote “we love Bevy” in chalk nearby, said their lives have “changed dramatically.”

“We’re a very close-knit family and as we just huddled together and got though it,” he said, adding they’re still dealing with their “new normal.”

A series of events Tuesday will mark the one-year anniversary of the van attack , along the two-kilometre stretch of Yonge St. where it happened.

At 1:30 p.m. a ceremony at the Mel Lastman Square amphitheatre will commemorate when the incident took place.

Organizers have left boxes of chalk on Yonge and hope people will add to the messages throughout the day to reclaim the street.

“This is my home,” one message read.

“Hurt but not broken,” read another.

Larry Wiggins said Tuesday that he witnessed an elderly woman get “mowed down,” during the attack.

He paused to read some of the messages.

“You think, everywhere in the world it’s happening and we think in Toronto it’s not happening to us, and it did,” said Wiggins, who lives nearby. “It hits home.”

Colleen Stevens was passing by Olive Park Square on her way to nearby Willowdale Baptist Church, to put out coffee and open the doors for people who might need a quiet moment.

The church also opened in the days after the attack.

“A lot has happened since then in terms of the community banding together that wasn’t there before,” she said, adding they bonded “in the grief and shock of it.”

A small temporary plaque has also been placed at Olive Square park.

“The pain this attack caused will be slow to heal, but the response of love in the midst of tragedy will always be remembered,” it says.

The city will be consulting on a permanent one, and another temporary plaque has been installed at Mel Lastman Square.

Survivors of the Yonge St. van attack tell of the pain and anguish of recovery

The community group We Love Willowdale is organizing neighbourhood dinners, musicians on the street, and an evening vigil at 6 p.m. at the square. They’re also inviting people to leave messages of love in chalk on the west sidewalk of Yonge to help reclaim the street.

Trauma care councillors and therapy dogs will be available at both Mel Lastman Square and Olive Square to help people traumatized by the memory of the tragedy.

Sixteen were injured and 10 people were killed in Toronto’s worst mass killing: Anne Marie D’Amico, 30; Dorothy Sewell, 80; Renuka Amarasingha, 45; Geraldine Brady, 83; Munir Najjar, 85; Chul Min (Eddie) Kang, 45; Ji Hun Kim, 22; Andrea Bradden, 33; Betty Forsyth, 94 and So He Chung, 22.

Speaking at City Hall on Tuesday morning, Mayor John Tory spoke of the toll felt by first responders and witnesses who jumped into action following the attack.

“We owe it to you to make sure we’re there for you, the way you were there for us,” he said.

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders also released a statement Tuesday praising the first responders.

“The response of everyday citizens who rushed to the aid of victims that day, comforted strangers at a makeshift memorial site and brought food to police and other first responders is an extraordinary example of who we are as Torontonians,” Saunders said.

“Every day, I am incredibly proud of the commitment of Toronto Police Service members in the work they do to protect this city by acting with bravery, professionalism and compassion. Each of the first responders who rushed to the scene on April 23, 2018 earned our gratitude for saving lives.

“The investigation into what happened that day is an extremely complex case involving 26 victims, more than 150 witnesses and a 2.5 km crime scene.”

Yonge St. and other roads around the North York Civic Centre will be closed at various times during the day to facilitate the flow of people attending the events, Toronto police said.
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