SURREY (NEWS 1130) – There’s been a major breakthrough for investigators and the family of a 13-year-old girl whose body was found in Burnaby’s Central Park last summer.
Ibrahim Ali, 28, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Marrisa Shen. He was arrested in Burnaby on Friday and remains in custody.
“We still believe that this crime was a random act, meaning Marrisa did not know the suspect and vice versa,” says Superintendent Donna Richardson, Officer-in-Charge of IHIT.
Ali is a Syrian national who came to Canada 17 months ago as a refugee. He is a permanent resident in Canada and has been living and working in Burnaby. He does not have a criminal record.
Richardson hopes people don’t jump to any false conclusions about refugees, following this arrest. “I would hope that we look at this incident for what it is. It’s a one-off situation.”
Investigators say Ali came to their attention two weeks ago, but won’t say why.
Crown Counsel says Ali’s next court appearance will be in Vancouver Provincial Court on Sept. 14.
Statement from Marrisa Shen’s family
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the public for all of their ongoing support and concern for us in this past year. We are aware that so many people reached out to the police to provide information and we were so grateful for that.
We would also like to thank the media for all of their attention to Marrisa’s case. Lastly, we would like to thank the police for all their hard work and specifically IHIT for their perseverance.
We hope that justice will now be served and that Marrisa can finally be at peace in heaven.
“This file has become IHIT’s largest active investigation and one of the largest that we have handled to date, with over 2,300 investigative tasks being completed,” says Richardson.
Police have spoken to more than 1,300 people in the area surrounding the park and conducted over 600 interviews. Over 2,000 persons of interest were identified over the course of the investigation. More than 1,000 hours of video footage from over 60 nearby locations was reviewed.
Richardson adds police have spoken with Marrisa’s family. “Our commitment to them have not wavered. We know that their loss remains extremely difficult to understand.”
“It’s a huge sense of relief for us in law enforcement and for the family, to bring some justice to them, if you will.”
Some residents in the Central Park area tend to avoid the park night
It appears this development in the Shen case hasn’t done much to change the safety concerns of those who frequent Central Park in Burnaby.
Francesca Centola says it’s good police made an arrest, but it does not alleviate her worries about the safety in the park after other recent attacks.
“This park has always been kind of creepy,” Centola says. “I just wouldn’t walk alone here.”
Armida Hrelia says he uses the park every day and says he generally feels safe walking through the park.
“That day and night, it was busy and [they were] shooting a movie here, too,” Hrelia says about the night Shen was discovered by the police and thinks the park is getting a bad reputation because of the murder.
“I don’t walk at night. If it’s after dark, no” he adds, but otherwise he is comfortable walk all the trails.
Michael Ho, who walks the park five days a week during his lunch breaks, took a month-long break after the murder before visiting again, but avoids it at night, too.
“It makes us feel a little bit more comfortable in terms of the park, but still there is potential for anything,” Ho says about the park’s safety after today news of the arrest. “So just be cautious being out here.”
There have been several other violent stories coming out of that area, including a 73-year-old man who was nearly beaten to death in the park this past July.
Timeline of events
Shen’s body was found in a wooded area of the park on July 19, 2017.
Surveillance footage shows Shen outside the apartment building where she lived near the park on July 18, 2017. At 5 p.m., Shen sent a text from her phone, although it’s unclear to whom the message was sent or what it was about.
About an hour later (6:02 p.m.), Shen was seen again on surveillance footage, leaving home. Investigators said it did not appear she was in distress.
Shen was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, the same clothes she’s believed to have been discovered in.
At 11:30 p.m., Shen’s mother called police to report her missing. Shortly after 1 a.m. on July 19, 2017, her body was found in the brush on the southeast side of Central Park. Officers were able to track the girl’s phone, leading them to her body.
Police have said they were confident Shen was killed in the park, however a cause of death has not been released. Shortly after her death, police said the killing was “random.”
Investigators previously released a criminal profile of the type of person who might have killed Shen, describing them as someone who likely lived near the park and who might have unexpectedly moved away after her death.
Anyone with information is asked to call the IHIT tipline at 1-877-551-IHIT (4448) or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
Meanwhile, Chief Executive officer with the Multilingual Orientation Services Association for Immigrant Communities (MOSAIC) says they are worried about the focus on immigration status will “negatively impact support for refugees and erode the goodwill and generosity that the majority of Canadians have for this vulnerable population,” read a statement.
She writes MOSAIC has worked with refugees for more than 40 years and that their experience has most often been positive.
“It is incomprehensible that anyone could commit an atrocious act like murder, regardless of immigration status.”
She adds their thoughts are with Shen’s family during this difficult time.
– With files from Hana Mae Nassar