Homicide investigators are still trying to piece together the past of a young man who they believe drifted between Alberta and British Columbia before allegedly stabbing an Abbotsford high-school student to death in a random attack that has shocked the conservative suburb.
On Thursday morning, the Lower Mainland’s RCMP-led homicide unit released a photo of the 21-year-old suspect, which was captured by the security camera of a local Abbotsford business and shows the suspect just hours before he is alleged to have entered Abbotsford Senior Secondary School barefoot on Tuesday afternoon and stabbed two female students. In the photo, the slim young man wears running shoes, blue jeans, a camouflage hoodie and a backpack.
Police are hoping the photo prompts more information from the public about the suspect, about whom they say they know very little. Spokeswoman Staff-Sergeant Jennifer Pound said the young man, who is in jail facing second-degree murder and aggravated assault charges, had no apparent connection to the community, the school or the two girls he is accused of stabbing.
The two girls, described by classmates as best friends, were taken to hospital, but one died of her injuries. Friends identified her as Letisha Reimer; police did not release her name, but said she was 13. The survivor, whose name is covered by a court-ordered publication ban, is 14, police said.
The suspect, Gabriel Brandon Klein, does not appear to have a criminal record in British Columbia or Alberta, where Staff-Sgt. Pound said investigators believe he passed through Edmonton and nearby Barrhead some time before coming to Metro Vancouver as early as February of this year.
Records show he was ticketed three times in one day for tampering with a vehicle in Calgary in the summer of 2014. He never showed up to court or paid the several hundred dollars in fines.
A year later, records show, he was ticketed for riding Calgary’s rapid transit system without a valid pass.
Staff-Sgt. Pound said police believe the suspect was living in Abbotsford without a home.
Ward Draper, who helps run The 5 and 2 Ministries, an Abbotsford street church, talks daily with many homeless residents, but does not remember the suspect.
“Nobody really knows who he is,” he said. “I have a feeling he’ll just be another horrible example of a system failing somebody with mental-health issues.”
Mr. Draper said many people struggling to survive have arrived in the community and that the homeless count will likely have tripled to about 300 when an official survey is conducted later this month for the first time in over a year.
“In these past few months, almost this entire year, there has been this incredible influx of people from everywhere,” Mr. Draper said.
Shayne Williams, executive director of the Lookout Society network of shelters, could not confirm or deny whether the suspect stayed at the non-profit’s 40-bed Abbotsford facility due to privacy reasons. But he said, typically, about 70 per cent of the people who stay at Lookout’s shelters are from the area.
Abbotsford, he added, is often a stopping point for “folks entering or leaving Vancouver.”
Mr. Williams and Mr. Draper expressed concern that media attention – which included TV stations airing gruesome video of a man stabbing a girl – will further strengthen stereotypes that homeless people are violent, angry and mentally ill.
“That’s simply not the case,” Mr. Draper said of homeless people. “We need to grieve together in healthy ways and not turn into an angry lynch-mob mentality, which I think is a possibility [in Abbotsford].”
Meanwhile, classmates of the slain student added condolences to a makeshift memorial at the school, which is closed until Monday.
The victims’ family members set up two online crowdfunding pages asking for $10,000 each to help Ms. Reimer’s family heal and the other girl recover from the traumatic attack.
By Thursday evening, more than $35,000 had been pledged to the slain teen’s family and almost $11,000 to her friend who survived.
“Abbotsford is here for you. Keep trying. It’s not easy, I know, but keep faith alive and hope alive. We are all praying for you right now,” said one person who pledged money to the injured girl.
With a report from Wendy StueckReport Typo/Error
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