An RCMP officer who worked in the Burnaby detachment’s mental health and homelessness outreach team was stabbed to death Tuesday while responding to a call about a tent in a local park.
Dwayne McDonald, the deputy commissioner of the B.C. force, told reporters at a hastily-called news conference Const. Shaelyn Yang, 31, had been a member of the RCMP for just three years.
“She was a loving wife, a sister, and a daughter,” he said. “Those she worked with before joining the RCMP and her police colleagues described Const. Yang as a kind and compassionate person, which makes her death even more difficult to accept … Her loss is immeasurable.”
Police say Yang was accompanying a member of the city’s parks department to the call about the tent located in Broadview Park when the altercation occurred.
The head of the Burnaby RCMP detachment also remembered Yang, his voice breaking as he spoke.
“Standing here today, speaking about the impact, the line of duty deaths of one of our members is probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in my entire career,” Chief Supt. Graham De La Gorgendiere said.
“She was compassionate and caring and she brought those skills every day to her job working with the community’s most vulnerable, including those with mental health issues.
“The hours, weeks, and months ahead will be difficult.”
WATCH | Burnaby RCMP chief superintendent remembers Shaelyn Yang:
In a statement to CBC, B.C. Emergency Health Services said it received a call at 11:17 Tuesday morning about a police incident at Canada Way and Curle Avenue in Burnaby. BCEHS said a total of eight ground ambulances responded and paramedics cared for and transported two patients to hospital in critical condition.
The B.C. RCMP’s deputy commissioner and the head of the Burnaby RCMP detachment spoke about Yang’s death shortly after 4:30 p.m. PT.
Police said Yang was transported to hospital and declared dead there and the suspect in her stabbing was shot, injured and brought to hospital .
Provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth was among the first to publicly confirm the officer’s death Tuesday with a brief, solemn statement.
“This is absolutely a tragic and horrific situation,” the minister said, speaking to reporters at the B.C. Legislature.
“Right now, my heart goes out to the family and the friends and the officers and the police departments in Burnaby and across this province [who], every day, put their life on the line to keep all of us in our communities safe.”
Farnworth’s announcement came in the hours following the incident at Broadview Park on Canada Way late Tuesday morning.
Dozens of officers from multiple police agencies arrived on the scene, and RCMP asked the public to avoid Canada Way between Boundary Road and Willingdon Avenue — both major thoroughfares — as they investigated.
Reports began circling through social media that the incident had occurred as police and bylaw officers were responding to a call about a homeless encampment.
But Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley told CBC’s On The Coast that he believed there was only one tent involved, and that the municipal employee was part of a parks department team that works to move people from tents to shelters.
“Everyone is just devastated and it’s a very, very grave day for our city,” Hurley said.
Warren Mercier, who lives nearby, said he was waiting to cross the road when he saw an officer running and heard a noise that “sounded like a Taser.”
“I saw an officer and a man on the ground. She wasn’t moving,” Mercier said.
“There was another man who was helping her. And after the police showed up, he was very distraught.”
Mercier said he has seen one tent in a park near the area and another in the nearby woods. But he said there have never been any problems.
“I’ve seen it for a month,” he said. “No people going in and out, nothing. Just a tent.”
Carol-Ann Flanagan, outreach director with End Homelessness in Burnaby, said she had learned of the incident through the media and was not aware of a homeless encampment in the area.
She said the RCMP has a dedicated team of officers who specialize in homelessness and mental health issues.
“The homeless people that we work with that live in camps are, for the most part, not violent people, and so this is not the norm,” Flanagan said.
“I just feel so sorry for the officer, her workmates and her family. I’m heartbroken for everybody right now.”
Trudeau offers his condolences
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a tweet he was “incredibly saddened” to hear about the officer’s killing.
“My thoughts are with the family, friends, and colleagues of the fallen officer. I am keeping you in my thoughts during this terrible time,” he said.
Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said he was devastated by the news of the loss of the officer in the line of duty.
“At this difficult time, my heart goes out to the family and friends of the deceased officer and to the entire Burnaby RCMP Detachment,” he said in a tweet.
Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer also sent out a tweet expressing his department’s condolences for the “tragic murder” of the Burnaby RCMP officer.
The incident comes at a critical time in the public debate over the growing number of homeless people in B.C. communities and concern from mayors like Hurley over violence associated with mental illness and addiction.
The provincial government recently commissioned a report on prolific offenders following a plea for action signed by the mayors of communities across B.C.
“There’s always been homeless people living in our wooded areas and our parks, but I think it’s become much more prevalent now, and I’d say it’s even become a lot more violent than it used to be,” Hurley said.
“We need to come up with real solutions rather than Band-Aid solutions.”
B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office, which reviews all police actions resulting in death or serious harm, confirmed that its investigators were also on the scene of the incident.