Nathaniel Veltman, the accused killer of a Muslim family in London, Ont., in 2021, took the stand in his own defense at the Ontario Superior Court in Windsor on Thursday. He revealed the details of a troubled childhood, highlighting his upbringing in a fundamentalist Christian household with frequent punishments.
Veltman, now 22, was the first to testify for the defense in a trial that commenced on September 11th. Speaking softly to the extent that Justice Renee Pomerance had to instruct him multiple times to raise his voice, Veltman shared his experiences growing up on the outskirts of rural Strathroy.
Raised by a strict fundamentalist Christian mother, he and his twin sister, along with their four younger siblings, were homeschooled. He recalled, “We were told that school was a terrible place and there were increasing conflicts as I was growing up.” Veltman added, “There was an extreme fear of corruption by the secular world, interactions with other people from the church…. I had to learn to be an expert at hiding my emotions and keeping everything inside.”
Veltman has denied the charges against him which include four counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and related terrorism charges from the incident on June 6, 2021, involving the Afzaal family. Both the defense and prosecution concur that he drove his Dodge Ram pickup truck into the Muslim family as they walked in a suburban area in London.
The tragic incident resulted in the deaths of Yumnah Afzaal, 15, her parents, Madiha Salman, 44, and Salman Afzaal, 46, as well as family matriarch Talat Afzaal, 74. A nine-year-old boy survived the attack.
Childhood Punishments and Mental Health
During his testimony, Veltman mentioned limited contact with those outside his family and frequent punishments which ranged from bare-bottom spankings to writing out Bible verses. He recognized certain behaviors he developed during his traumatic childhood as potential signs of autism, such as making peculiar noises and severely biting the inside of his cheeks.
Speaking of his mother’s understanding, he testified, “She didn’t know that I had mental issues or that I had autism. She misinterpreted my behavior as me being disrespectful.”
Veltman further shared that he was exposed to disturbing images at a young age, which had lasting impacts. “Shown pictures of people burning alive in hell at the age of seven and told not to think evil or violent thoughts, he said he became obsessed with not thinking those thoughts, which led to thinking more about them.”
Expert Testimony Awaiting
The defense is set to present Dr. Julian Gojer, a forensic psychiatrist. He is expected to discuss various topics ranging from personality disorders to the impact of hallucinogenic substances. Regarding Dr. Gojer, Christopher Hicks, Veltman’s lawyer, stated, “You can believe all, part or none of what he says, but I suggest you will find it compelling evidence.”
The Crown’s Stance
The Crown alleges that Veltman’s actions were influenced by his far-right ideologies, formed after extended online exposure to extremist content. This includes videos of mass killings and white supremacist manifestos. The Crown also revealed parts of Veltman’s manifesto titled “A White Awakening,” expressing strong sentiments against multiculturalism and mass immigration.
Moreover, it’s been reported that Veltman consumed psilocybin, commonly known as magic mushrooms, roughly 40 hours before the tragic event
The trial, which began on September 11, is expected to span eight weeks.