The Surrey Thunder AAA midget hockey team is scheduled to play its next game at the Newton Recreation Centre on Sunday, but head coach Darwyn Shawara can't say yet if his team will play. He's not sure he can march his young players past the makeshift memorial to a well-loved team volunteer after a deadly, unprovoked assault in the arena's parking lot just days ago.
When she was pulled off life support on New Year's Eve, Julie Paskall, a mother of three, became Surrey's 25th homicide victim of 2013.
The attack in a darkened parking lot has sparked demands for better security for the players and families in the Surrey minor hockey league to which she had volunteered countless hours.
Mr. Shawara, who coaches her 16-year-old son, said he is torn about whether to cancel the team's next game at the arena. "Right now, the parents don't want to go there. Mrs. Paskall was very close to these boys."
Ms. Paskall, 53, was attacked around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday night when she was picking up her son, who was refereeing a game in a younger division. She was found unconscious. Sergeant Adam MacIntosh, spokesman for the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, said robbery was likely the motive. Police believe it is related to another violent robbery of a woman in the same area on Dec. 16 and are appealing for witnesses to come forward.
Police will set up a command post at the Newton Arena on Thursday and Friday to encourage the public to come forward with information, while investigators will be canvassing the neighbourhood and putting up posters.
Mr. Shawara said grief counsellors are working with the team, who have rallied around the Paskall family. But the attack has also underscored a growing concern about what he said is a deteriorating neighbourhood, with "seedy" characters drifting over to the parking lot from the nearby bus loop.
Before the minor league coaches send their kids outside to warm up outside the Newton arena, they typically go out first to sweep the area for signs of drug activity, he said.
"It's been getting worse over the last few years," he added, yet the security crew that used to patrol the grounds have disappeared. But he said there aren't many other rink options for the Surrey league, which represents 1,100 young hockey players.
"For me, I run to the battle, I would rather have the boys go. We all know we are going to go back to that rink. But I know I have parents that don't want to jump into it."
Harbs Bains, president of Surrey Minor Hockey Association, said he will be meeting with civic officials to discuss safety measures in the next few days.
"I've had a number of members call and express their prayers for the family, but they also talked about the importance about safety and security. They want us to revisit the lighting of the facility. They want changes so we can continue to enjoy the sport we love, safely."
The homicide capped a terrible year for crime in the city of Surrey, and within the first hour of the new year, police were investigating another suspicious death, of a 19-year-old woman who fell from the 26th floor of a high rise.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts announced a task force in November to study the surge in homicides. In an interview, Ms. Watts said the task force will begin releasing information in the next week or so. She said there has already been significant movement on a number of fronts, but did not elaborate.
She said Surrey could "definitely" use more police officers, but added that's true of many cities.
The mayor noted such increases in violence can be cyclical. She pointed to the fact Surrey had only nine homicides in 2012, and that there have been years in which Vancouver's number of homicides was in the 20s. Vancouver had just six homicides in 2013.
Robert Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said most of the murders in Surrey and the Metro Vancouver region are linked to the drug trade, making incidents such as the attack on Ms. Paskall rare.
He said it's difficult to study Surrey in a vacuum because drug-related violence is a problem throughout Metro Vancouver, but he said he doubts that a task force in Surrey can turn it around.
Mr. Gordon said it would be unfair to criticize the RCMP for the number of homicides in Surrey, but said the increase in violence could be easier to solve if Metro Vancouver had a regional police force, instead of a mix of municipal forces and the Mounties.