Questions swirl after missing Vancouver woman found dead at L.A. hotel
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2013 6:21AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 20, 2013 3:32PM EST
Police in Los Angeles are investigating whether a missing Vancouver woman found dead inside a water tank on the roof of a downtown hotel on Tuesday was the victim of foul play or murder.
LAPD spokesperson Officer Sara Faden said the circumstances surrounding 21-year-old Elisa Lam’s death are unusual and police are now trying to determine whether the University of British Columbia student was murdered or if a “very, very strange accident” had occurred.A coroner’s inquiry in the coming days will determine her official cause of death.
In a two-minute security tape released by police, Lam is seen acting strangely in the elevator of the Cecil Hotel, located near the notorious neighbourhood dubbed Skid Row.
Lam, who was visiting Southern California on her own, is seen in the videotape entering the elevator slowly, appearing to steady herself, then presses several of the elevator’s buttons. She stops at several floors and looks around in both directions before darting out and looking side-to-side.
Lam travelled to California alone on Jan. 27 and was last seen by workers at the Cecil Hotel on Jan. 31. She had been in touch with her family every day until she disappeared.
A maintenance worker at the Cecil Hotel found her body wedged in a one of four water tanks Tuesday at about 10 a.m. He had gone to check the tanks located on the hotel’s roof after guests complained of low water pressure.
Officials took most of Tuesday to remove the body and later investigators, with the help of body markings, confirmed it belong to Lam.
“It’s not clear how she would have gained access to the roof by herself. Had she done so, the tanks themselves are not locked,” reporter Tom Walters told CTV’s Canada AM Wednesday.
Capt. Jamie Moore of the Los Angeles Fire Department said the location of the tanks is very small and it took many hours to extricate the body.
“Firefighters used their specialized tools to be able to cut the sides of the tank, remove the metal so they could carefully remove the body so the coroner’s office can continue its investigation,” Moore told reporters.
Lam’s family first contacted the RCMP about their missing daughter, and the Canadian force contacted the L.A. Police Department. While there are about 3,200 missing person cases in L.A. every year, police there handled Lam's case differently because it’s an international case.
The reason Lam went to California is not known, but authorities say Lam intended to travel to Santa Cruz as her final destination, which is about 563 kilometres north of Los Angeles.
With files from CTV British Columbia’s Darcy Wintonyk