The Syrian refugee accused of murdering B.C. teen Marrisa Shen seemed like a “normal guy” in the time between her death and his arrest, according to a family friend.
Shen was found dead in a park in Burnaby, B.C., in July 2017, 90 minutes after her mother reported her missing.
Ibrahim Ali, 28, was publicly identified Monday as the man accused of killing her. He has been charged with first-degree murder.
Who is Ibrahim Ali?
Ali arrived in Canada with relatives in early 2017 as a Syrian refugee. He was sponsored by a community group and the St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church in Vancouver.
“Our hearts go out to the Shen family who have no doubt been devastated by Marrisa’s death,” a church spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”
Police have said that Ali is a permanent resident of Canada, has a job, has no criminal record and was not on their radar in connection with Shen’s death until the last two weeks.
A family friend who CTV Vancouver agreed not to identify described Ali as “calm,” “respectful” and a “normal guy” and said he hadn’t seen Ali acting as though he had something to hide.
"We know what radicals in Syria do to women and children," the friend said. "I never expected someone in this family would [allegedly] do something like this."
Relatives of Ali live near the restaurant where Shen was last seen alive and the park where her remains were found.
‘A one-off situation’
Police spoke to Ali’s residency status at the Monday press conference where they announced his arrest.
“I think by and large the refugees that come to this country are hard-working citizens that are very happy to be in Canada,” RCMP Supt. Donna Richardson told reporters. “”I would just hope that we look at this incident for what it is. It is a one-off situation.”
Public Safety Canada declined to comment on Ali’s case specifically. In a statement, the agency said “Canada has a robust, multilayered approach to refugees, designed by Immigration and Refugees Canada, DND, the Canada Border Services Agency, CSIS and the RCMP.”
Why first-degree murder?
In announcing Ali’s arrest, police said they were working on the belief that Shen’s death was a random act.
First-degree murder, which Ali is charged with, is typically used for cases in which a person was killed intentionally and in a manner that was planned out in advance.
While those criteria may seem to be at odds with the belief Shen’s death was random, first-degree murder charges can also be laid in other situations, including cases where a killer was committing sexual assault or harassment at the time of the murder.
Police declined to answer questions about why Ali was charged with first-degree murder rather than a lesser offence such as second-degree murder or manslaughter.
Investigators considered and eliminated more than 2,000 persons of interest before arresting Ali, whose next court appearance is scheduled for Friday. None of the allegations against Ali have been proven in court.
With a report from CTV Vancouver’s David Molko