Shortly before she was brutally attacked, slain teen Taylor Van Diest sent a text to her boyfriend saying she was “being creeped,” according to her best friend, Zoë Unruh.
Ms. Unruh said the text suggested that the 18-year-old woman from Armstrong, who was left unconscious with severe injuries near a set of railway tracks Monday evening, may have been followed.
“That was the last thing we got from her,” said Ms. Unruh, who noted that the text was misspelled. She said it was uncharacteristic for Ms. Van Diest, an “immaculate speller.”
Ms. Unruh said she and Ms. Van Diest’s boyfriend tried replying to the text message, but received nothing in reply. The misspelling and the absence of any response led them to start a search party.
Around 8:45 p.m., family and friends found Ms. Van Diest unconscious in a bush near a railway crossing in the 3100 block of Rosedale Avenue, less than one kilometre from her home.
Ms. Unruh said she laid her coat over her friend after she was found. Ms. Unruh later drove with friends to Vernon Hospital, where Ms. Van Diest was sent before being rushed to Kelowna Hospital. It was there that Ms. Van Diest died.
North Okanagan Mounties are searching for a suspect as well as the identity of anyone Ms. Van Diest may have met or contacted earlier that day.
Vernon/North Okanagan RCMP spokesman Gordon Molendyk said the last known whereabouts of Ms. Van Diest was her home, where she may have been getting dressed up for Halloween around midday.
“We are appealing to everyone in the close-knit Community of Armstrong who may have had contact with Taylor during the day of October 31st from noon until 8:45 PM that evening to call the Armstrong or Vernon RCMP Detachment,” wrote Mr. Molendyk in a press release.
“At this point we don’t have any idea on a suspect,” he said by telephone, adding it is “very much an ongoing investigation.”
Ms. Unruh said she became close friends with Ms. Van Diest in Grade 8. The two friends graduated earlier this year. Ms. Unruh said they took all the same classes. When asked if that was planned, she replied with a laugh: “Just a little bit.”
The two were planning to spend Halloween evening together. She said Ms. Van Diest was wearing face paint that night.
“She was a zombie, I was a dead person,” Ms. Unruh said.
Armstrong resident Judy Klassen spent early Halloween evening at home handing out candy to children and teenagers.
She left her home shortly after 7 p.m. and walked west to meet her daughter Rachel, who lives just two blocks from the scene of the homicide. They, like many other Armstrong residents, were on their way to the annual Halloween bonfire and fireworks show staged at the local fairgrounds.
Ms. Klassen said she crossed the railway tracks around 7:15 p.m., just a few dozen metres from where Ms. Van Diest was eventually found. She said that particular section of railway is not commonly used by pedestrians as a shortcut. She described the tracks as unlit at night, but located close to a new subdivision.
“Any other night it would be impossible,” Ms. Klassen said. “You’d hear a scream, you’d see something. The timing creeps me out.”
She said the streets were filled with people in masks and costumes – children and adults alike.
“This wasn’t a quiet night in a small town,” Ms. Klassen said. “This is the busiest night in Armstrong.”
Ms. Klassen and her daughter arrived at the bonfire by 7:30 p.m., and the fireworks started just before 8 p.m. She recalling noticing there were no police on hand at the event.
“By then they would have been looking for her,” Ms. Klassen said.
RCMP have assigned more than 30 officers to the case, and they have been assisted by a police helicopter, dog teams, forensic identification teams and search and rescue personnel.
Police believe a forensic autopsy, scheduled for Thursday in Kamloops, will provide investigators with answers for some of the many outstanding questions.
“What exactly rendered the teen unconscious and caused her ultimate death has not yet been determined,” Mr. Molendyk said.
Police have advised locals to travel in groups and stick to areas of the community with good visibility.