Two separate birthday parties at a Mississauga restaurant ended in chaos Thursday evening as a bomb explosion described as “a mini earthquake” rocked a popular Indian establishment.
“Glass was broken in the street,” said Rafael Conceicao, who was near Bombay Bhel restaurant, on Hurontario St. near Eglinton Ave., when the bomb went off.
The two men can be seen on surveillance footage entering the restaurant wearing dark hoodies pulled over their heads. Witnesses described one of the men as carrying what appeared to be a paint can or pail. The pair later fled eastbound, police said. The Peel police canine unit tried to track them down Thursday night, but without any luck.
Peel Region Paramedic Jason Tremblay was one of about 40 paramedics who responded to the chaotic and fluid scene.
“First we heard there was one person injured, and then that number quickly grew to four, then eight, to a dozen and more,” he said. “When I arrived with my partner there were 15 to 20 people sitting out on the sidewalk. I’ve never seen so much blood.”
Tremblay said he was especially proud of the way his members managed the chaos of the event, which meant patients got to the hospital quickly and efficiently.
“It was what we call organized chaos. The initial scene time was less than 10 minutes, which is exactly what we aim for,” he said.
The Preston Meadow Avenue neighbourhood behind the strip mall is “a brand new community,” according to one resident. The manicured front lawns of the large semi-detached housing are situated opposite empty pieces of land with signs of burgeoning construction.
On Thursday night, Francisco Matute, a resident of the community for two years, was awoken by an explosion at around 10:30 p.m.. He thought it was a transformer.
“I didn’t pay much attention,” Matute said.
Fifteen minutes later, he heard a slew of sirens near his house. When he opened his front door, he saw seven police officers running across the empty plot opposite his house.
Several police cars, ambulances and fire trucks parked at the Indian restaurant, which Matute can see from his house.
They were running eastbound from Bombay Bhel, Matute said. The officers were accompanied by two dogs and carried “large weapons.”
“I couldn’t see what they were going after,” Matute said.
Around 11 p.m., the officers headed back towards Bombay Bhel.
“They came back and told everyone to go back inside their houses,” Matute said. “They said its not safe. They were saying this in very loud voices.”
Neighbours told the Star the officers were running in the direction of a small housing complex just down the road. The access to the complex was cordoned off throughout the day. One resident said that part of the pavement was shut off by yellow police tape too.
The neighborhood is “pretty safe,” Matute said. “We don’t even have any fences in the backyard.
“This was scary.”
Vikram Mann, who said he has been to Bombay Bhel many times with his children, was in a parking lot across the intersection when the blast went off.
“It felt like a mini earthquake,” Mann said. “I thought there was an accident … It was huge thud of noise.”
He was horrified to later learn it was a bomb blast. “It brings a shiver down my spine,” he said.
By Friday morning, the usually lively plaza was cordoned off with yellow police tape, and six police cruisers remained on the scene. The doorway and window of the restaurant were shattered, a white piece of paper stuck at the entryway.
The restaurant’s owner, Manmohan Singh Nagpal, and his nephew were at the restaurant at the time of the explosion, and remain shocked by the event. Nagpal’s son-in-law, Ilija Vasic, said they are praying for the speedy recovery of the victims.
“Their motto has always been treat every visitor like family,” Vasic said. “Every time a visitor walks into the restaurant, they are walking into our house.”
Speaking to the Star on the phone, Nagpal said he didn’t want to talk about the explosion.
“I feel bad for the victims and their families,” he said. “But we all have to wait for the police investigation now.”
The restaurant also thanked the community for its support in a Friday morning Facebook post.
“It was an extremely horrific and sad incident that happened at our Hwy. 10 location yesterday evening,” the post reads. “We want to thank you for all of your support and well wishes, especially to the families that were affected. At this time, the police are undergoing a full investigation to ensure the individuals are apprehended.”
As to a possible motive, police said there is no indication that this was a hate crime or an act of terror, but nothing has been ruled out at this stage of the investigation.
“I want the community to know that every available police resource is being used to locate the people responsible for this horrendous act,” Peel police Chief Jennifer Evans said at a Friday morning news conference.
Three people — a 35-year-old Brampton man, and two Mississauga women, 62 and 48 — were taken to Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto with critical injuries, but have since been released. A further 12 victims, ranging in age from 23 to 69, suffered what paramedics described as minor or superficial wounds and have all been released from various hospitals.
Dinesh Bhatia, the consulate general of India in Toronto, was woken up at around midnight with the news that there was “a bomb blast in an Indian restaurant in Mississauga.”
An hour later, Bhatia had informed the government of India and opened a helpline at 647-668-4108, encouraging family and friends to reach out for information. He said all of the 15 injured were either Indian or Indo-Canadian.
Bhatia went to Sunnybrook hospital and met with the victims’ families in the patients waiting area. He was told that “all of the people (have been) living here for a long time.”
“The families were shattered. They were shocked,” Bhatia said. “No one expects this to happen here.”
Two of the injured were from the same family, Bhatia said. Fortunately, by 4 a.m. the three victims who were critically injured were “stable.”
By morning, Bhatia said the consulate had received more than 30 calls from concerned family members in India who could not reach loved ones in the GTA in the middle of the night.
The presence of children under the age of 10 in the restaurant at the time — none of them were injured — was particularly shocking to Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who said the brazenness of the attack resonated with her as a mother.
“It is a heinous, reprehensible act, committed by cowards who would come into a restaurant where people are vulnerable, celebrating with their families, where children are present,” Crombie said, visibly shaking as she spoke.
Omar Alghabra, the local MP, told reporters outside the House of Commons that he was alarmed to hear about the explosion. He lives in a condo unit across the street from the restaurant, has met the owner and frequently goes there for takeout.
“I extend my thoughts to the victims and their families and all those who are affected, and I hope that the police are able to apprehend those who are responsible and hold them accountable,” said Alghabra, one of many politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to offer their support.
A GoFundMe page, with a $15,000 goal, has also been set up for the victims.
Rhyan Ahmed, a founding partner of KPA Lawyers Professional Corporation in Mississauga, set up the page. Ahmed said none of his friends or family were hurt in the bombing, as far as he knows, but said he “can only imagine how the owners and employees must feel after something like this happens.
“I live just down the street from that restaurant,” Ahmed said in an email to the Star. “It felt very close to home.”
He said the funds raised will go directly to the victims to assist with medical expenses that OHIP doesn’t cover, counselling and therapy, child care, lost wages from time off work and general help and support, Ahmed said.
The investigation is now in its early stages, with police spokesman Sgt. Matt Bertram saying all avenues will be explored. He said police had sealed off a few areas east of the restaurant where footprints, a glove and other evidence was located. He said police believe the suspects fled the area in a car.
Police had not yet entered the restaurant by Friday afternoon, as they were waiting for a search warrant from the courts. Bertram said a warrant was not necessarily required in this case, as police are dealing with an active crime scene.
“We’re going to play it safe, do everything we can, to make sure we’re not going to lose this case based on the technicality of a warrant, and to give us proper judicial authorization to enter there and collect evidence,” he said.
Police are describing the first suspect as a man, mid-20s, five-foot-10 to six feet tall, light skin with a stocky build, wearing dark blue jeans, a dark zip-up hoodie and a baseball cap with a light grey peak.
The second suspect is described as a man, five-foot-nine to five-foot-10, with fair skin and a thin build, wearing faded blue jeans, a dark zip-up hoodie, grey T-shirt and dark-coloured skate shoes.
The public can contact police at 905-453-2121 x1233 with information. Police are looking for anyone who has dash cam or other video that may help the investigation.
Information may also be left anonymously by calling Peel Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), or by visiting peelpolice.ca.
By Friday evening, police said they had finished their forensic investigation of the outside area, although they said the scene around the restaurant would remain closed. All other businesses in the neighbouring buildings were released to the owners.
By 8 p.m., patrons of the restaurant who had left cars there in the chaos were coming to collect their vehicles.