Students, parents and police in Abbotsford say they can't make sense of a vicious, random attack at a local high school that has left a 13-year-old girl dead, her best friend recovering from stab wounds and a 21-year-old with no fixed address in jail facing murder and aggravated assault charges.
Homicide investigators say they have very few details about the background of the young suspect, who is alleged to have entered Abbotsford Senior Secondary School barefoot Tuesday afternoon and stabbed two female students.
Police said he had no apparent connection to the community, the school or the girls, two teens described by classmates as best friends.
"Evidence suggests that this attack was random," Staff Sergeant Jennifer Pound, a spokeswoman with the region's RCMP-led homicide unit, told a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Police were called to the school, located in British Columbia's Fraser Valley about an hour's drive east of Vancouver, shortly after 2 p.m. on Tuesday after reports of an ongoing assault. The incident set off an hours-long lockdown that frightened close to a thousand students and staff.
Police arrived to find the suspect subdued by school staff, who were widely praised for quickly jumping into action.
The two girls were taken to hospital, but one died of her injuries. Friends identified her Letisha Reimer; police, who did not release her name, said she was 13. The survivor, whose name is covered by a court-ordered publication ban, is 14, police said.
Staff Sgt. Pound said very little is known about suspect Gabriel Brandon Klein, who does not appear to have a past criminal record in British Columbia. She said he is believed to have grown up in Alberta and investigators are asking the public to contact their local police department if they remember any past interactions with the young man – either face to face or on social media.
She added that he does not have a fixed address and was believed to have been living in and around Vancouver since February or March of this year.
Mr. Klein's court-appointed lawyer, Rob Dhanu, said his client either was incapable or unwilling to meet before an initial appearance at the provincial courthouse in Abbotsford on Wednesday afternoon.
As the hearing was taking place, dozens of classmates continued streaming to the cordoned-off school and a church across the street, describing the victims as best friends who were inseparable.
"It's hard to believe that – some random guy from the streets coming into the school and stabbing two of the people," said Amsuman Nair, a fellow Grade 9 student who was friends with both victims. "Was it just a coincidence that they were the only people there at that time? I think it's kind of hard to believe that."
Under a heavy rain, Amsuman and his dad visited the makeshift memorial outside the school to the slain girl they have known for several years.
"I can still see their faces, they used to be happy, always dancing around and having fun," he said. "One of them is gone and it's hard to believe that."
Amsuman was writing a math test when he heard screaming in the hallway.
"Suddenly, the announcement came on saying it's a code-red lockdown. The teacher closed the doors, we went into a corner and we were there for, like, four hours without making any noise," he said.
"We never knew at that point what was happening."
Across the street from Amsuman, other students were seeking counselling at St. Ann's Catholic Church, with several munching on snacks and chatting in hushed tones on couches in the foyer of the one-storey building.
On Wednesday morning, Perina Angelo dropped off her granddaughter, who was a grade above the girls but grew up with one of them, so that she could talk with someone about what happened.
Ms. Angelo, who immigrated to British Columbia in 2002 from a region now part of the country of South Sudan, said the attack has jolted her sense of security in the otherwise peaceful community.
"Since I came to Canada, this is the first time I've seen this happening," Ms. Angelo said. "I'm scared."
The stabbing has prompted officials to close Abbotsford Senior Secondary School indefinitely, school-board superintendent Kevin Godden said.
Shortly after Tuesday's attack, a short video clip of the incident was circulated online, including by some local TV news outlets. Mr. Godden asked those sharing it to stop.
"This video is a trigger to trauma, not only for our students and our community but for any person that has been involved in a traumatic incident," he said.
Filmed from what appears to be the second floor looking into the school's atrium, it shows a man in a grey T-shirt standing over a girl and frantically stabbing her as she screams on the floor. A person in an apron then approaches the man, who suddenly drops his weapon and backs away.
The stabbing has prompted officials to close the school and continue offering its students counselling services until the end of the week.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark held an emotional news conference on Wednesday in which she praised the quick-thinking school staff who stepped in, while offering her condolences.
"I think it's fair to say that, for any parent, the loss of a child is the most frightening prospect and absolutely the most painful thing that can happen in a parent's life," Ms. Clark said, with tears in her eyes.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted his condolences.
"As a parent, it is heartbreaking to hear of the tragedy at Abbotsford Senior Secondary," he said in a tweet. "My thoughts are with the entire school community."
Other school killings in Canada:
La Loche, Sask. On Jan. 22, 2016, teacher Adam Wood, 35, of Uxbridge, Ont., and teacher's aide Marie Janvier are fatally shot at a school in the northern community when a 17-year-old boy opens fire, also wounding seven others. He earlier had killed two teenage brothers at a nearby house and recently pleaded guilty to several counts of murder and attempted murder. It is not yet known if he will be sentenced as a youth or an adult.
Winnipeg: On June 2, 2015, 17-year-old Brett Bourne is fatally stabbed after a confrontation at Kelvin High School. Another 17-year-old is charged with second-degree murder.
Toronto: On Sept. 23, 2014, 19-year-old Hamid Aminzada is fatally stabbed while trying to break up a fight at North Albion Collegiate. A 17-year-old youth is later charged with second-degree murder.
Les Racines de vie Montessori, Gatineau, Que.: On April 5, 2013, two men die during a shooting at the school's daycare. The shooter is identified as Robert Charron. Thirty-eight-year-old Neil Galliou is killed before Charron takes his own life. Charron told staff to take the 53 children to safety before he opened fire.
W.C. Jeffreys Collegiate Institute, Toronto: On May, 23, 2007, 15-year-old Jordan Manners is found in a hallway with single gunshot wound to the chest. He later dies in hospital. Two teens were charged with first-degree-murder and were later acquitted.
Dawson College, Laval, Que: On Sept. 13, 2006, 18-year-old Anastasia De Sousa is killed and 20 others hurt when gunman Kimveer Gill, 25, opens fire with a semi-automatic weapon. Gill is killed in a police gunfight.
W.R. Myers High: Taber, Alta.: On April 28, 1999, a 14-year-old Grade 9 students shoots three students, killing 17-year-old Jason Lang before he is arrested. The shooting takes place only eight days after 13 died at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
Ecole Polytechnique, Montreal: On Dec. 6, 1989, 25-year-old Marc Lepine shoots more than two dozen people, killing 14 women before killing himself.
Edmonton: On March 16, 1959, 19-year-old Stan Williamson opens fire with a rifle inside Ross Sheppard High School, killing 16-year-old Howard Gates and wounding five teenage girls.
With reports from The Canadian Press