Police are hunting the killer of a 17-year-old girl, slain in suburban Surrey in what a senior Mountie describes as a "random crime of opportunity" along a routine path she used to get home.
The family of Serena Vermeersch called police because it was out of character for the teenager to be out of touch on her trip home, which involved a bus and a walk along train tracks.
On Monday night, she failed to show up at home. She was last seen getting on a bus at 8 p.m. On Tuesday night, a Search and Rescue team found her remains eight blocks from an RCMP police station.
On Thursday, the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team – the regional homicide squad – declared it was looking for a killer in a case certain to rouse concerns in the booming city, where crime has emerged as a major issue in this fall's municipal elections.
Last December, a hockey mom was murdered while awaiting her son at an arena, and earlier this month a nine-year-old girl was lured from her bedroom and sexually assaulted in a nearby park.
Suspects have been arrested in both cases, but pointed questions are being raised about the management of policing in Surrey, southeast of Vancouver. The death of Ms. Vermeersch comes as candidates for mayor and council declare crime the key issue, suggesting there's a need for more police officers and new strategies.
"I'm angry, saddened and #surreybc is determined. Let's find the person responsible," tweeted Doug McCallum, the former Surrey mayor now running to regain the job. He called the latest crime "chilling, sickening."
RCMP Chief Superintendent Bill Fordy said was outraged about the death of Ms. Vermeersch.
"Nothing angers me more than seeing innocent people become victims of crime," the superintendent told a news conference on Thursday.
"This investigation is my number one priority."
To that end, he said he had redeployed RCMP resources to work with members of IHIT while maintaining core policing needs in Surrey. And he urged the public to be vigilant, walk with friends and stay in visible, well-lit areas.
"Trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, please remove yourself from the situation," he said. He also warned that people are being distracted by technology – an apparent reference to smartphones and other devices.
Police said they are looking for a man seen leaving the area where Ms. Vermeersch's remains were found – an individual in dark clothing seen walking in the area before departing in a grey or silver Dodge pickup truck.
Ms. Vermeersch's Facebook page was dotted with a mix of questions – such as whether anyone had seen her on the bus – and tributes. "RIP. I met you once an you are an angel we'll see you once again," ran one comment.
Staff Sergeant Jennifer Pound, speaking for IHIT, declined to say where Ms. Vermeersch was coming from when she was attacked. The IHIT spokesperson would only say, referring to an aerial photo of the area that police released, that the teenager came off a bus and walked down some tracks in a dark, brushy area.
"She was on her way home and she was in constant communication with her family," Sgt. Pound said.
"That was why her family called. It was not in her character to not touch base with her family."