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Impromptu memorial a place for Toronto residents to mourn van tragedy

Last Updated Apr 25, 2018 at 12:00 am EDT

People leave flowers at a memorial on Yonge Street the day after a driver drove a rented van down sidewalks Monday afternoon, striking pedestrians in his path in Toronto, Tuesday, April 24, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Galit Rodan

TORONTO – The creator of an impromptu memorial to victims of a deadly van rampage said he hopes it can help residents express their immeasurable grief.

Konstantin Goulich said he taped four large sheets of poster board to a half-wall near the scene so people could leave messages of condolences and hope.

By Tuesday night, dozens of sheets stretching 15 metres were filled with heartfelt notes in various languages. Floral bouquets covered the wall’s top ledge and had covered the ground below.

Goulich said he’s haunted by the images of the victims he saw near his northern Toronto home. But he’s gratified to see the tribute grow into a place where people can talk, grieve and console each other.

About half a block away, flower shop owner Katherine Liu said she is giving away fresh flowers to anyone walking by because she also felt the need to act.

Ten people were killed and 14 were injured in Monday’s deadly attack in which a van struck pedestrians in northern Toronto.

Goulich said hundreds have visited the memorial Tuesday to cry and support each other.

“People have been traumatized by this. This is a time when we need to come together and I think people sense it,” said Goulich, who also organized a vigil that took place Tuesday night.

A moment of silence was held and local religious leaders lead prayers in various languages during the vigil. Despite the rain, people gathered around the memorial at Olive Square on Yonge Street to pay their respects. Dozens remained even after it ended at about 8:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, Goulich, a 37-year-old dental hygienist, said if he didn’t start the memorial, “it would have popped up somewhere else.”

He said he was stunned to see bodies on the street when he stepped outside his apartment building Monday.

“The more bodies I saw, I realized that I have to give an outlet for people to mourn — and express my own sorrow as well. So I just grabbed some supplies and basically set out this memorial.”

It didn’t take much to encourage others to write their own messages. When the posters were filled, Goulich said friends brought more, and then people started bringing their own supplies — paper, markers, flowers and stuffed toys.

He said some people have also left food and water for anyone that needs it.

“And now this grew into something very beautiful and very different,” he said.

Meanwhile, about half a block away at her shop called the Secret Garden, Liu spent the day offering free flowers to members of her stunned community.

She estimates she has given out hundreds of single stems of roses, lilies, carnations and gerberas since the morning. The 34-year-old suspects many ended up at the impromptu memorial.

“We’d just like to help a little. We cannot do anything for now but we have flowers for the people working on Yonge Street. There are lots of people,” said Liu. She has owned the store for a year, but the shop has been part of the community for about 30 years, she added.

“It lets them feel warm and everyone can come together — that helps. I feel good after doing something like this. I think the whole community is really, really strong.”

Alek Minassian, 25, has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. Police said a 14th attempted murder charge was expected before the end of the day.