Canadian police have arrested a Syrian refugee and charged him with the killing of Marrisa Shen, 13, whose death horrified Vancouver when her body was found in a local park 14 months ago.
Ibrahim Ali, 28, is accused of first-degree murder, the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team announced on Monday. Superintendent Donna Richardson, the officer in charge of IHIT, called for the public to remain calm and not make generalisations about the revelation that Ali was a refugee.
“By and large, our refugees that come to the country are hardworking citizens who are very happy to be in Canada. I hope that we look at this incident for what it is: a one-off situation,” she said at a press conference on Monday.
Ali arrived in Canada just three months before Shen was found dead in Burnaby’s Central Park, around 1am on July 19, 2017. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she had been reported missing just hours earlier, after failing to return to her nearby Burnaby home.
In a statement read by a police spokesman at the press conference, Shen’s family said: “We hope that justice will now be served and that Marrisa can finally be at peace in Heaven.”
The family said it was grateful to the police and media, as well as people who came forward with information.
Richardson said that Ali only came to the attention of police about two weeks ago, after a vast investigation. Three hundred officers were involved in the hunt for Shen’s killer at the investigation’s peak, and some 2,000 persons of interest were investigated and ruled out.
Richardson said little about Ali, a Syrian national and permanent resident of Canada, although she agreed with a questioner that the case was “not related to religious ideology”.
Richardson said the Shen case had deeply affected officers. “It’s an investigation that as a police officer you don’t ever want to be involved in … it’s a huge sense of relief for us to bring some justice.”
She did not say exactly how Ali came to the attention of officers.
“We still believe that this crime was a random act, meaning Marrisa did not know the suspect and vice versa,” said Richardson.
“Beyond that, as far as a motive is concerned and some of the details concerning our operational techniques in identifying persons of interests or confirming suspects, I will not be able to discuss these matters to protect the future judicial proceedings.”
The killing provoked widespread concern about public safety in the area, and the park in particular. Police patrols were stepped up, with volunteers helping officers.
Chief Superintendent Deanne Burleigh, the officer in charge of Burnaby Royal Canadian Mounted Police, acknowledged the “profound impact” of Shen’s killing on the community.
“We know that this murder shook our community and questioned safety in our parks,” Burleigh said. “We have been continuing high visibility patrols on foot, on bikes and in our vehicles to ensure that everyone can continue to feel safe when using our parks. We are dedicated to the safety of our community.”
Ali is being held in custody until his next court appearance on Friday.
The scale of the investigation was one of the largest ever undertaken by IHIT, the regional murder-investigation unit that includes officers from various jurisdictions and police wings.
More than 1,300 residents were canvassed, and more than 600 interviews conducted. More than 1,000 hours of video footage from 60 locations was reviewed.
Police set up a website, marrisashen.org, to encourage the public to contact investigators with tips, as they tried to reconstruct Shen’s final hours.
She is seen in a video on the site leaving her Burnaby apartment block for the last time at 6pm on July 18, 2017, wearing denim shorts and a black Nike T-shirt and sneakers.
Another surveillance video then shows her entering a nearby Tim Horton’s coffee shop at 6.09pm. She plucks out one of the earbuds of her phone as she holds open the door for another customer.
At 7.37pm, she sorts her trash and recyclables, and exits the café, just a few blocks from where her body would be found in Central Park less than six hours later.
In a letter on the police site, Shen’s family said she died just before she planned to travel to China to visit friends, “but those plans never came to pass”.
“It is difficult to express in words the pain of losing her in this terrible way,” they wrote.
“We were supposed to see her grow up but instead, we have been deprived of the joy of having her in our lives and we are left with thoughts of what could have been of Marrisa’s life… We think of Marrisa and her beautiful smile every day and miss her beyond words.”
More from South China Morning Post: