TORONTO – It was a series of unfortunate events that led to the mixup, and Alex Minassian has spent the last 24 hours trying to set the record straight — he’s not the driver of a van that mowed down pedestrians on a busy Toronto street.
Minassian, 24, shares a last name with 25-year-old Alek Minassian, who is now charged with 10 counts of murder in connection with the incident, which took place Monday afternoon on a busy street in north Toronto. Alek Minassian is also facing 13 counts of attempted murder.
Both men are from Richmond Hill, Ont.
Shortly after the van attack, Alex Minassian said he was contacted by several American news outlets that assumed he was the van driver police had taken in to custody.
His Facebook profile was posted on several social media sites including Reddit, 4Chan and Twitter, naming him as the suspect in the tragedy. But that one different letter was important to Alex Minassian — who said he is not related to the alleged killer and that Minassian is a common name in Armenia and Iran.
NBC first contacted him and his family, he said. Then other news agencies followed. His family was worried, he said.
“They knew I was innocent, but feared the negative backlash,” he said.
It didn’t help that later in the afternoon Facebook shut down Alek Minassian’s profile, leaving just Alex Minassian from Richmond Hill, Ont., on the social media site.
By 5 p.m., Alex Minassian had had enough.
“Not me. No connection. NBC, ABC, CBC, stop harassing my friends and family,” he wrote in a public Facebook post that received thousands of likes and dozens of messages of support.
But he also received about 150 messages from members of the public who thought he was the man behind the attack.
“For the most part, the mistaken identities and negative reactions have been asking me ‘why,'” he said. “People are just looking for answers.”
At 8 p.m., police Chief Mark Saunders held a news conference announcing the name of the man arrested as Alex Minassian. Reporters, noticing the different first name, asked Saunders on live TV spell the suspect’s first name. A-L-E-X, Saunders responded.
“I was shocked,” said Alex Minassian, who was watching the news conference live with his family.
Just minutes later, Toronto police corrected the chief, saying in a tweet that the name of the man in custody was in fact Alek Minassian.
“I hold no ill-will towards Saunders, but I do wish they’d take more care before announcing the names of suspects,” Alex Minassian said.