A day after his grandmother died and a day before he got in his pickup truck and killed four members of a London, Ont., Muslim family in what prosecutors say was a terrorist attack, Nathaniel Veltman took three grams of psychedelic mushrooms to escape from what he called the delusional paranoia that had taken over his life.
During an experience with the drug in April 2020, the accused said he heard demonic voices
Kate Dubinski · CBC News
Warning: This story contains distressing details.
A day after his grandmother died and a day before he got in his pickup truck and killed four members of a London, Ont., Muslim family in what prosecutors say was a terrorist attack, Nathaniel Veltman took three grams of psychedelic mushrooms to escape from what he described as a delusional paranoia that had taken over his life.
“I needed to escape from it and this was my way. I was just desperate to escape this hell that I was living in in my mind,” the accused told the jury on Friday as he testified in his own defence in a Windsor, Ont., courtroom.
“I was at the end of my rope and the last threads that I was hanging onto to function were slipping.”
On June 6, 2021, the Afzaal family was out for a walk in suburban London, Ont., when they were struck by a black pickup truck driven by the accused. 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 survived.
Veltman, 22, was arrested in the hours following the attack. He has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, as well as associated terrorism charges. Defence and prosecution lawyers agree that he was driving the truck at full speed four seconds before impact and that he never touched the brake pedal.
It was the accused’s second day testifying in his own defence in the trial that began Sept. 11 and is expected to last eight weeks. Defence lawyer Christopher Hicks has told the jury they will also hear from a forensic psychiatrist who will testify about obsessive compulsive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, complex trauma and the use of psychedelics.
The accused told the jury that he would become obsessive about things and then go to extreme lengths to stop the obsessive thoughts and actions, including smashing his electronics or putting blocking apps on his devices so he wouldn’t seek out certain websites.
‘Whatever was fringe, I was drawn to’
The obsessions, which in the past had been focused on religion and sometimes pornography, shifted to conspiracy websites and satirical shock-humour sites. “Whatever was fringe, I was drawn to,” Veltman said.
By September to December 2020, he was watching far-right sites “constantly” — during 10-minute breaks at work, at lunch, as soon as he got up and before going to bed, he said. “While I was eating, I was looking at it.”
From January to March 2021, he didn’t work, thinking that he could focus on school. Instead, he said his internet use spiraled even further out of control. At one point, he ripped his television off the wall to try to avoid streaming videos on it, he said.
Veltman told the jury that after two suicide attempts in March, he decided he had “nothing left to lose” and started purposely seeking out extreme content that he’d in the past avoided because he thought they would trigger too much rage, he said.
“All of my suicidal longing suddenly morphed into something else, a desire to engage in violence. I felt this unspeakable rage rising inside myself and I felt like I had nothing to lose. I had a desire to avenge these things I was seeing,” the accused said.
He said he watched a mass shooting video and was at first repulsed by it “like any normal person” but then got desensitized to it after watching it over and over. He sought out content that was more and more extreme, featuring beatings and rapes. “I started purposely for the first time consuming this content without avoiding the stuff I knew would trigger me,” he said.
Magic mushroom use detailed
The accused testified he had dabbled with magic mushrooms in high school but took a large dose with a friend in April 2020. “At first I was couldn’t tell what was going on, I was resisting the high as it was kicking in. Then I stopped fighting it, then I relaxed, then I was fighting it again and became agitated.”
He described collapsing, writhing on the floor, yelling and being in agony. “I was hearing these demonic voices. I triggered a psychotic event. I couldn’t fight it or control it and eventually I forgot everything, who I was, what planet I lived on, who my family was, even my own name, I forgot everything. It was like I was going to be permanently insane.”
Soon after, his memories returned and he felt reborn. “For a couple of days, I felt detached from my body. I knew that this was a terrifying experience but there was also a beautiful experience at the end.”
After the April incident, he didn’t use psychedlics again until June 5, 2021, he said. He got three grams from a friend and drank them in a tea, distraught over the death of his grandmother on June 4, 2021.
If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help:
- Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text between 4 p.m. and midnight ET).
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat counselling on the website.
- Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.
This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you’re worried about.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.