The murder of 13-year-old Marrisa Shen shook an entire community.
And for some, the news that a Syrian refugee who had arrived in Canada just months before the death had been arrested was almost equally shocking.
Now, CTV News has uncovered more about Ibrahim Ali, the 28-year-old Burnaby resident charged with first-degree murder in the July 2017 killing, and has obtained photos of the accused.
A friend of the Ali family, whom CTV News has agreed not to identify, says he is shocked and shaken by the arrest. That friend described Ali as a “calm” and “respectful” man, adding that the suspect is a “normal guy. He doesn’t act weird. He doesn’t act like somebody who’s done something.”
CTV News has also learned Ibrahim Ali has a connection to the neighbourhood where the murder unfolded. According to the family friend, Ali’s family lives not far from both Central Park where Shen's body was found and from the Tim Hortons where she was last seen on video the day she was killed.
"We know what radicals in Syria do to women and children,” the family friend told CTV News. “I never expected someone in this family would (allegedly) do something like this.”
The Integrated Homicide Investigation Unit announced on Monday that Ali had been charged in the death of the 13-year-old girl. The arrest came nearly 14 months after her body was found in a wooded area of the park.
Police said to their knowledge, Ali had no criminal record. They zeroed in on the suspect they said, within the last two weeks, because of new evidence. Supt. Donna Richardson, who commands IHIT, declined to elaborate on what that evidence was, citing the “culmination of a number things.”
Richardson maintained that police believe Shen’s death was random, and that they do not believe Ali and the victim knew each other.
Ali arrived in Canada in March 2017, four months before Shen’s murder. He was one of several members of the same family, one of three or four brothers, sponsored by a Bowen Island community group, and a Vancouver church. The fourth brother had lived in B.C. for a number of years.
In a statement, the St. Andrews-Wesley United Church said in part, "Our hearts go out to the Shen family who have no doubt been devastated by Marrisa’s death. Our prayers also to the Ali family. We know that like many refugee families, they have endured their own suffering and loss and that this tragedy is made all the more complex by the trials they have faced.”
When pressed on Monday, IHIT would not explain why Ali was charged with first-degree murder. The charge typically indicates police and Crown believe the crime was planned in advance, committed at the same time as another crime, or both.
On Monday, Public Safety Canada declined to comment on the refugee sponsorship process or the charges against Ali, but sent a statement that read, “Canada has a robust, multilayered approach to refugees , designed by Immigration and Refugees Canada, DND, the Canada Border Services Agency, CSIS and the RCMP.”
And IHIT’s Richardson offered the following: “I think by and large the refugees that come to this country are hard-working citizens that are very happy to be in Canada. I would just hope that we look at this incident for what it is. It is a one-off situation.”
Ali is due to appear in court Friday. The charge against him has not been proven in court.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's David Molko