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Police no closer to answers in Surrey hockey mom’s death

Joan Ross, Julie Paskall's sister-in-law, places a photograph of her during a candle light vigil at Holland Park in Surrey, British Columbia, Saturday, January 18, 2014.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The mayor of Surrey, B.C., says the police have done a considerable amount of work investigating the murder of a mother who was attacked outside a hockey rink nearly four months ago, but it's not clear whether they are any closer to a breakthrough in the case.

Julie Paskall, 53, was attacked in the parking lot of a community arena last December. She died in hospital on Dec. 31.

Ms. Paskall's murder, which has been described as a random attack, rattled the community's sense of security and prompted some residents of Surrey, southeast of Vancouver, to demand the city and the police do more to keep them safe.

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Mayor Dianne Watts said investigators have been busy identifying and eliminating potential suspects.

"The amount of work that has to go into a case like this, in terms of sifting through all the tips from the general public who have identified persons of interest, eliminating them, reviewing all of the numerous surveillance tapes – the investigation is moving forward and significant work has been done," Ms. Watts said in an interview Wednesday.

When asked whether the police are any closer to an arrest, Ms. Watts said she's been given no indication there's been any change in the status of the investigation, though she said those questions should be answered by the region's RCMP-led homicide unit.

A spokesperson for the homicide team did not respond to a request for comment.

Ms. Paskall, a mother of three, was attacked on Dec. 29 in the parking lot of a hockey rink in Surrey's Newton area after arriving to pick up her son, a referee was who was officiating a minor hockey game.

Investigators said at the time that they believed the attack was random, possibly a robbery attempt. In the months since, police have provided little information about the progress of their investigation.

Ms. Watts said she believes Ms. Paskall's killer will be caught.

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"Given the amount of resources that have been put into this case and the work that they're doing, I have every confidence that this case will be solved," she said.

Surrey has struggled with issues related to crime and public safety, both in its crime statistics and its reputation among people living in the city and elsewhere.

Even before Ms. Paskall's death, Ms. Watts had formed a task force to figure out how to curb the city's murder rate.

Surrey set a grim record of 25 homicides in 2013, including Ms. Paskall's death, compared with 11 the previous year.

The task force released a report in February that included a plan to address crime.

The plan called for additional police officers and increased street patrols, which would be deployed to "high-risk" locations known for drug trafficking and other criminal activity.

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The document also called for increased use of closed-circuit cameras, a special Crown counsel office dedicated to prolific offenders, and a number of administrative changes to ensure information is properly shared and more money is spent on front-line officers rather than police management.

Ms. Watts said there has already been progress, including increased police patrols, and she believes the community of Newton, where the murder took place, is safer than it was when Ms. Paskall was attacked.

"I would say so," she said, when asked whether Newton is safer today.

"When you look at an act that is random, certainly it is a great cause for concern, so we want to make sure that we're working with the community doing everything that we can to ensure the safety measures are in place."

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