Like many during the pandemic, the Afzaal family had an evening tradition of walking their northwest London, Ont., neighbourhood most nights of the week.
Nine-year-old Fayez would often hang off of his older sister Yumna’s side, with their 74-year-old grandmother close by. Madiha Salman, their 44-year-old mother, was in the thick of pursuing an engineering PhD and her husband Salman Afzaal, 46, had to exercise lots of patience each workday helping guide older folks through physiotherapy at local nursing homes. They enjoyed capping their day with a family stroll.
“Every time I passed by that family, the kids were smiling,” said Sana Yasir, a 20-year-old University of Western Ontario student who lives around the corner from the family and has known them for a decade.
Ms. Yasir, who wears a hijab, said she would take comfort whenever she drove past and spotted them enjoying their slice of the Canadian dream whilst clad in the traditional dress from their homeland in Pakistan.
Investigators wouldn’t say whether the family’s attire made them targets of a local man now facing four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder for a gruesome attack. But London police allege the man planned the attack and chose the family at random because of their Muslim faith. Fayez remains in hospital recuperating from broken bones, surrounded by an uncle and other extended family that have rushed to London from other parts of Ontario.
Ms. Yasir’s younger sister last heard from her friend Yumna, 15, on Sunday afternoon, when the pals texted about hanging out once their exams were finished in a couple weeks. On Sunday night, Ms. Yasir remembers hearing sirens wailing nonstop as she lay in bed.
On Monday morning, Ms. Yasir’s mother called to break the news: Everyone in the family but Fayez was dead.
Ms. Yasir started an online crowdfunding page that day to raise money for the funeral, but the young boy’s extended family soon contacted her to let her know they didn’t need the help. Instead, they said, they would like any money to be eventually given to charity – reflecting the Islamic concept of Sadaqa Jariya, or continuing to help the community after one’s death.
Saboor Khan, a London lawyer and long-time family friend who is acting as their spokesperson, said this giving is in the spirit of a family beloved by their community for their selflessness.
“They don’t want anything for themselves,” Mr. Khan said. “They were a very giving kind of people, they were gems in our community and the last people to deserve something like this.”
Jason Gerhard, who supervised Ms. Salman’s master’s thesis, characterized her as a “sparkling, generous, loving person that treasured education, female advancement, equality, and research.”
Dr. Gerhard said Ms. Salman’s answer immediately impressed when he asked her how she would handle the transition to a master’s degree in environmental engineering at a Canadian university after having only studied in Pakistan.
“She said she was not worried because in her undergraduate education in civil engineering in Pakistan she was the only female student in the class of 174 civil engineering students,” Dr. Gerhard, associate chair of graduate studies at UWO’s department of civil and environmental engineering, wrote in an e-mailed statement. “But she persevered and succeeded beautifully and obtained an outstanding masters.”
Yumna Salman also shared this zest for learning and was such a devoted student of the London Islamic School, which offers kindergarten-to-Grade 8, that she returned after graduating to help paint a mural in the basement urging others to “Learn, Lead, Inspire.”
Salman Afzaal worked for seven years as a physiotherapist in personal care homes in the London region.
“He was an awesome man. We are devastated,” said Jeff Renaud, administrator at Ritz Lutheran Villa. “This guy has helped so many moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas throughout Oxford, Wellington, Middlesex, Huron and Perth counties. He was very kind, very caring, very considerate and patient.”
Mr. Renaud said Mr. Afzaal was a devout Muslim and family man who was proud of his religion and culture.
He would occasionally encounter prejudiced patients who would utter racist comments and reject his care, saying they preferred “a white person to a brown person,” Mr. Renaud said.
“He handled these situations with grace and dignity, without fail,” Mr. Renaud said. “He was a consummate professional who always put the needs of residents first.”
Mr. Renaud noted it is difficult to find people committed to working in long-term and palliative care. Mr. Afzaal was always positive with residents and looked for solutions any time obstacles appeared.
Bilal Farooq befriended Ms. Salman when she was an engineering undergrad and one of the few female students among 200 in their class.
“We lost a great human, teacher and Canadian,” Dr. Farooq, an associate professor of transportation engineering at Ryerson University, recalled. “I wish she would be remembered for all these great qualities and not just as a victim of a hate crime.”
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.