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B.C. woman assaulted outside hockey arena dies after family takes her off life support

Heather Vince, a family friend of Julie Paskall, places flowers at a growing memorial at the Newton Arena and Community Centre in Surrey on Dec. 31, 2013. Ms. Paskall, 53, died Tuesday after being found beaten and unconscious on Sunday night.

RAFAL GERSZAK/The Globe and Mail

A mother of three who was savagely beaten as she waited for her son outside a Surrey hockey arena has died.

The family of Julie Paskall, 53, made the decision Tuesday to take her off life support. She had been in hospital since Sunday night, when she was found unconscious in a parking lot. Police believe she was the victim of a robbery.

"What happened was a tragedy, and we want to do everything we can to solve this," Sergeant Adam MacIntosh, spokesman for the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, said in an interview.

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Randy Paskall, a family relative, posted an emotional message on Facebook, saying goodbye.

"Off to say a last goodbye to a friend and family member of 35 years. One who taught me much in the rules of life, made me a better person, picked me up when I was down, showed me a better road, and was what a person/friend/parent/mother/daughter/wife/role model should strive to be in this thing called life," he wrote.

"Nothing can bring her back, it will never be the same without her, no matter what happens after this, let us weep but not lose strength or most of all WHO we are.

"My message to you my friends, is to keep your heads up, this is no longer the world we grew up in. Stay vigilant. Stay safe. Stay healthy."

Darwyn Shawara, who coaches Ms. Paskall's 16-year-old son and has been in frequent contact with the family since the attack, said the woman was waiting to pick up her son. He was refereeing a game for a team in a younger division.

Ms. Paskall was attacked near the back of the arena, a darkened place Mr. Shawara said he and others active in the area's hockey community have long been wary of.

But Mr. Shawara said the arena is also in a busy area and there were many people around the facility, as well as at a nearby bus loop, at the time.

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At not even five feet tall, Mr. Shawara said the mother of three was grievously injured.

"She wasn't breathing," he said, noting police have a pretty good idea of what happened, but are refusing to release many details.

"Basically, someone wanted her purse."

Mr. Shawara said Ms. Paskall was a mainstay of the team, someone who helped keep the website up to date and acted as timekeeper.

"You have no idea how absolutely wonderful this woman is," he said.

Sgt. MacIntosh didn't know exactly how many investigators are on the case, but said it might be around 20 or 25. He said police have received "quite a few" tips and are working through them.

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Police have not released a description of the attacker. Sgt. MacIntosh said once officers have sufficient information, a description will be released. He said any information released right now would be too broad.

Sunday's attack had similarities to another assault in the same area two weeks ago, prompting Surrey RCMP to issue a public warning. The force urged people to be aware of their surroundings and take off headphones, to carry only necessary identification and money, to carry a cellphone and to stay in well-lit areas. Anyone who is approached or threatened is urged to hand over whatever an attacker wants.

There have been two dozen homicides so far this year in Surrey, which has been battling a reputation for crime for years. This year's toll has prompted the mayor to launch a police task force into the problem.

Earlier in 2013, four bodies were found within six weeks along a remote stretch of Colebrook Road. Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts called the neighbourhood a "problem area" and a "magnet for people who want to conduct criminal activity." Ms. Watts ensured that $80,000 worth of lights and closed-circuit cameras were installed.

But a retailer made headlines and profits off of the city's hard-to-shake reputation by pairing the city logo with slogans such as "Better safe than Surrey" and "The future dies here" on T-shirts and hoodies.

Ms. Watts, in an interview, called the attack on Ms. Paskall a "horrendous act of violence."

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the family. It's something that is just unconscionable," she said.

Robert Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said most of the murders in Surrey and the Metro Vancouver region are linked to the drug trade, making incidents such as this rare.

Mr. Shawara, who has been coaching for over 30 years and spends several days a week at the arena, said there used to be security patrolling the facility, though he said he wasn't sure whether they were volunteers. But he said he hasn't seen the people in the distinctive yellow vests for some time.

He said the attack has got members of Surrey's minor hockey association discussing what can be done.

"That arena is brutal," he said. "Normally if we're going to go outside for a run, I normally go outside first and check for needles and anything else. The backside of that rink and down that back alley, it's a pretty bad area."

He said this attack in particular and the crime situation in Surrey in general is scary.

"We've had a lots of gang stuff in the last little while. This with her, it absolutely scares me because I know some single mothers walk down the back to get coffee."

He said after his many decades in hockey, Newton arena had become something of a home. But now, he and the team are looking at whether they should be cancelling ice time and looking for a different place to play.

"As a resident, I'm scared," he said.

Harry Bains, the member of the provincial legislature for Surrey-Newton, said he and two other local MLAs met with RCMP Supt. Bill Fordy on Tuesday to discuss Ms. Paskall's death and the increasing violence in the city.

"People need to feel safe using these public facilities. They need to feel safe in their own homes," Mr. Bains said.

He said he's received many calls from constituents for whom this crime – targeting a mother picking up her son – has "caused alarm beyond belief."

"They (RCMP) told us they are as concerned as anyone else is and they're telling us they're doing everything they can with the resources they have."

With a report from The Canadian Press

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