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Accused’s obsessions, compulsions heightened in years before Muslim family killings, psychiatrist testifies

Nathaniel Veltman suffers from a complex web of personality and developmental disorders as well as depression and anxiety, a psychiatrist testified at the 22-year-old's murder-terror trial in Windsor on Thursday. He's charged in the 2021 truck attack on a Muslim family in London, also in southwestern Ontario.

Dr. Julian Gojer met with Nathaniel Veltman several times after 2021 attack on Afzaal family in London, Ont.

A man walks into a courthouse clutching a stack of papers.

Warning: This story contains distressing details.

Nathaniel Veltman, accused in the 2021 killings of a Muslim family in London, suffers from a complex web of personality and developmental disorders as well as depression and anxiety, a psychiatrist testified at the 22-year-old's murder-terror trial in an Ontario court.

"How did this person get to the point where he killed four people and severely injured a fifth? What might have been going on in his mind? What I'm trying to give you is my opinion as a psychiatrist," Dr. Julian Gojer told jurors in the Windsor trial that began Sept. 11.

Gojer, a forensic psychiatrist with extensive experience, met with the accused several times, including in jail and in a psychiatric hospital where he was a patient. All the meetings happened after June 6, 2021, the day the accused drove his pickup truck into the Afzaal family on a suburban street in London.

Yumnah Afzaal, 15, her parents Madiha Salman, 44, and Salman Afzaal, 46, and family matriarch Talat Afzaal, 74, were killed. A nine-year-old boy was seriously injured by survived.

"It seems that as far back as the age of 12 and 13, his obsessions and compulsions evolved and come more prominent, especially in the time period leading up to the alleged offences," Gojer said.

Accused's mental health history

Veltman was arrested in the hours following the attack. He has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder and associated terrorism charges.

The accused told a police detective he planned the attack for months after watching hours of far-right material online every day. He also testified he took magic mushrooms the day before the attack.

Gojer has diagnosed the accused with:

  • Anxiety and depression, which began when he was 12 or 13. "There was a persistent depressive disorder and in the months leading up to the event, it was a more severe depressive disorder superimposed." The anxiety disorder was "related to his relationship with his mother, so it started at a very young age. He felt like he was being singled out and treated unfairly as compared to his other siblings… His anxiety would have ranged from moderate to severe at different points in his life."
  • Autism spectrum disorder [ASD], a neurodevelopmental disorder that showed up as problems relating to his siblings, showing emotions, fixations on esoteric topics and obsessive preoccupations, Gojer said. "He comes across as restrictive in his affect. He keeps his range of emotions fairly narrow. He talked about having episodes where he would screech out at his siblings." His ASD is "higher functioning" and relevant because it explains why he fixated on issues such as abortion, pornography and later, the Christchurch mass shootings and offences by Muslim people.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder, which also goes back to childhood and the severity of which "waxed and waned" over the years. and is interwoven with the autism spectrum disorder. The accused has testified that he watched far-right content online for up to 12 hours a day. "On one hand, he has the ASD desire to look at it, then once he latches on, it starts becoming compulsive. He is sleeping less. It's a severe obsessive compulsive disorder that is interfering with his life."
  • A personality disorder that stemmed from his homeschooling and the world view of his mother, who shielded him from non-Christian people and world views. "All kids believe that they own the world until they learn otherwise, but when you don't have other kids to bounce off of, you have this idea that my view is the right view. He perceives himself as being more enlightened," Gojer said. "He has unusual thoughts about abortion, about the government, a mistrust of the system, paranoid thoughts." The personality disorder has "schizotypal [intense discomfort with relationships and social interactions], paranoid and borderline traits."
  • Complex trauma, a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of his childhood. "I believe the experiences at the hands of his mother were traumatic experiences," Gojer said. Two days before the attack on the Afzaal family, the accused's great-grandmother died, so he was also suffering from grief. "He had a caring relationship with her. He spent time with her and he was closer to her than to his mother. She was a substitute maternal figure and if he had any emotional bond, it was with his great grandmother," Gojer said. "There was no relationship with the mother other than negative."

All of those diagnoses are relevant to the accused's state of mind leading up to the attack and at the time he struck the family, the doctor told the jury.

"They were all interacting with each other. You have to look at the whole picture," Gojer said.

'Kids need to feel loved,' psychiatrist says

The accused was also homeschooled and unable to develop a sense of self or a way to cope with the world before he started public school at age 15, when he said his mother finally relented and allowed him to attend, Gojer said.

"Here's a young man who hasn't had a chance to develop an identity for himself. Children need to feel loved, to feel like they belong, to be connected. He didn't have that and he finds himself in the big world, looking for validation."

Gojer also testified Thursday about the effects of magic mushrooms, which the accused took a day after his great-grandmother died and a day before the attack on the Afzaals.

The effects of consuming psilocybin and psilocin, which occur in certain kinds of mushrooms, can cause pleasurable distortions of reality or hallucinations, as well as a feeling of letting go, Gojer said. They can also have an unpleasant effect, he added.

The chemicals have been derived from the mushrooms to treat depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, but can also worsen the effects of those illnesses, particularly after the effects of the mushrooms have worn off.

"The effect of psilocybin is determined by the mental state of the person.That's why some people have bad trips," the doctor testified. "The withdrawal can worsen distress, cause agitation or anxiety. They can cause a worsening of pre-existing symptoms."

Generally, the effects last four to six hours, he added.

Proceedings resume Friday.


Kate Dubinski


Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at kate.dubinski@cbc.ca.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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