A Lower Mainland community is reeling after the death of a 15-year-old girl who was beaten in broad daylight in a North Delta park Saturday afternoon. Police are on the hunt for her killer - but they don't yet know who they're looking for.
Laura Szendrei was just blocks from her high school, walking through Mackie Park when police say she was attacked. Delta police responded to a report of an assault at 1:30 p.m. and arrived at the park to find the stellar student and teenage athlete severely injured.
She died in hospital Sunday, surrounded by her family.
Police have no suspect after the brazen attack in the suburban community southeast of Vancouver. They say they don't know if the attack was random or targeted; they don't know if the teenager's attacker used a weapon.
And in some ways, that uncertainty - and the shock of an attack in broad daylight in an otherwise safe community - is the scariest part.
"It has hit so close to home for everyone, and everyone in the community is devastated," said Wendy Colville. Ms. Colville's son Matthew was in Laura's close circle of friends. "People are outraged and saddened all at the same time. We want justice for Laura and her family and we won't stop till we get it. It is time we stand up and come forward and help our kids feel safe on our streets."
As investigators scoured trails, wooded areas and turf sports fields in the taped-off park Sunday evening, they put a call out for a man between the age of 16 and 25 they think may have information about the incident. He would have been carrying a backpack and talking on a cell or texting, about 15 minutes before police arrived in Mackie Park. Police said he may have information that could further the investigation.
"We obviously have more questions at this point than we do answers," police force spokeswoman Sergeant Sharlene Brooks said at the second of two briefings on the case.
"We are trying to put the pieces of this together to determine what happened and work towards identifying a suspect. At this point, police are not in a position to confirm whether it was a random or targeted attack," she said.
"We're not discounting either possibility at this time."
Garnet Ayres, deputy superintendent of education for Delta, said Ms. Szendrei's school, Burnsview Secondary, has been opened as a place for students and staff to gather, with grief counsellors on duty.
He described Ms. Szendrei as "a strong student" in the French immersion program.
"[She]had many friends," he said. "We have met with many parents and students and there has been a lot of sadness and we are coming together during this tragic time."
Sgt Brooks urged members of the public to follow common-sense security measures such as walking in pairs and staying in well travelled, well lit areas at night.
"We understand there is concern in the community."
But students gathering Sunday outside Burnsview said they're at a loss as to what precautionary measures they ought to be taking in broad daylight, even as they attempt to piece together Ms. Szendrei's fate.
Seventeen-year-old Tanya Bagai, sitting on her bike nearby, said she couldn't think of any exceptional steps.
"Something like this was not expected in Delta," added 15-year-old Prakhar Chatrath.
Ms. Szendrei's family and friends were gathered at her North Delta home Sunday evening. A family friend who answered the phone said they're in no shape to talk just yet.
"The family will release a statement when the family is ready," he said. "[They're responding]the same way your family would respond if something like this happened."