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Wilfred Wong, brother of homicide victim Alfred Wong, addresses the media at VPD headquarters in Vancouver on Jan. 22, 2018.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver Police are grappling with the worst wave of gang conflict in a decade, a cycle of violence that took the life of bystander Alfred Wong, a teenager fatally wounded during a recent targeted shooting in central Vancouver that has stunned the province, the police chief says.

Adam Palmer, an officer for 31 years whose time on the force has included work against gangs, said there has been an "uptick" in gang violence in the city, although it is rare for bystanders to be caught up in the conflict.

"This cycle that we're going through right now is significant," Chief Palmer said, noting that police believe they know who shot 15-year-old Alfred during an exchange of gunfire. He would not elaborate.

Chief Palmer said Vancouver remains a relatively safe city despite the gang conflict, but he added, "we're not immune from violence and we do have several groups that are hunting one another down and killing each other. It all revolves around drugs."

He cautioned that people need to be careful about being in proximity to known gangsters in restaurants, gyms or other places.

At a news conference in Vancouver Monday, a member of Mr. Wong's family spoke for the first time about the night of Jan. 13. Alfred was travelling in a car with his parents, returning home to Coquitlam, a city east of Vancouver, after a family dinner with Alfred's older brother, Wilfred, when gunfire broke out, killing the young teen.

"We're all still in shock that something like this could have happened to us," Wilfred said, reading from a statement. "Everything is still very raw right now, and it is difficult to look back."

Mr. Wong, who did not take questions from the media, said the family's 15 years with Alfred were far too short.

"But we know that Alfred is in heaven right now with God," he said. "His death will leave a void in our hearts, but the years he had with us will impact our family forever."

The tragedy has sparked a massive police investigation, and drawn comment from leaders including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Chief Palmer painted a grim picture of the situation in a blunt statement.

"We've got several groups that are at odds with one another and they're going out killing each other," the chief said, declining to name specific groups.

Also killed in the Jan. 13 shooting on the busy Broadway roadway not far from Vancouver City Hall was 23-year-old Kevin Whiteside, who was armed and known to police and the believed target.

Although gang-related shootings have been a regular occurrence of late in the region, the death of Mr. Wong, a straight-A student who loved swimming and wanted to study electronic engineering, has raised new fears.

Chief Palmer said various police efforts are under way to combat the violence, with recent arrests resulting.

"There will be more arrests to come," he told reporters, but did not provide any other details. "There are specific gangs that we're heavily invested in right now."

Chief Palmer said about 100 officers have "touched this case," but 50 are working on it continuously. "This is a case that is complex, two people were murdered and it requires a lot of investigative techniques, and a lot of investigators." Still, he said, the investigation is in its earliest stages.

This past Saturday night, police parked a mobile command van, staffed with investigators, at the intersection where the shooting took place to solicit information from members of the public.

Chief Palmer said the nine-hour effort worked, with information provided by people who had not previously spoken to police. He said officers have also collected video from various sources in the area where the shootings occurred.

"Although we have made a lot of progress, we still have a long road ahead of us," he said.

He said he could not comment on suspects.

Alfred Wong is survived by his brother and parents. A funeral service is planned for Saturday in Coquitlam.

Wilfred Wong said a pair of scholarships have been set up in the name of his brother.

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The brother of a teenager killed by a stray bullet in Vancouver on Jan. 13 says his family is still in shock and his death has left a void. Vancouver police say gang violence is the worst it’s been in a decade.

The Canadian Press

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