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Park where B.C. girl attacked to have foliage cut back

Laura Szendrei, 15, died on Sept. 25 following an attack in Mackie Park, Delta B.C..

The mayor of suburban Delta says she made an impromptu decision to order bushes and trees cleared to improve visibility in a park where a 15-year-old girl suffered fatal wounds in a daylight attack last weekend.

Lois Jackson says the order, announced Thursday, seemed the proper thing to do because of community concern since Laura Szendrei's death last Sunday although police have yet to provide city hall with an audit on incidents in Mackie Park, and were not calling for effort.

Since Ms. Szendrei was found suffering fatal wounds on Saturday afternoon, residents in Delta about 20 kilometres southwest of Vancouver have complained about safety in the park, but Ms. Jackson said she never received any e-mails or calls expressing those concerns.

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"I had not heard anything untoward about any incidents in the park, in the wooded area. I am not sure they may have been reported."

Still, Ms. Jackson said she decided, out of an abundance of caution, to have parks staff trim bushes and cut all tree limbs to a height that will improve the sightlines and visibility.

Ms. Jackson also announced she has asked the chair of the city's parks commission to review all other park areas identified as potential areas of concern by residents of the community,

"I did it strictly because of the circumstances that surrounded Laura's passing," Lois Jackson said in an interview Thursday.

"When the police said, [the killing was]in this wooded area and there's a lot of underbrush and so on...I said, `We are cleaning that out now, period.'"

She said a decision was made more than 20 years ago to maintain green space in the area, but sections of the park has become unkempt over time.

Robert Muckle, whose house backs on to the park, said the mayor's order seemed a bit extreme.

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"It's a bit knee jerk. I am not in favour of any action being taken without local community input," he said, noting there have been no previous problems with safety or security in the park where Ms. Szendrei was attacked. The teenager died in hospital on Sunday, the day after the mysterious attack.

"I fear there being a backlash - an overzealous approach to park management that isn't going to benefit certainly those who back onto the park."

He said the overgrowth now targeted by the mayor's order provides protection and shielding from the noise of a nearby soccer pitch and baseball diamond, and that opening up the area may lead to opportunities for vandalism of property and more noise.

The attack on Ms. Szendrei happened within metres of his property, but he said he has faith that police will make an arrest in the case.

Ms. Jackson said the fatal attack was an "odd strange circumstance," which came on a bright sunny day as the teenager was going to meet friends who were seconds away at a football game.'

"Who would have thought that would a problem at that time of the day? I guess there's no guarantees out there. What we're going to try and do is minimize any future potential," she said. "Everybody thought we were safe here."

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The Delta Police Department, which has launched a massive investigation into the killing, has yet to reach a conclusion on whether the attack on Ms. Szendrei was random or not. The park has been a focus of the investigation this week.

On Thursday, Delta police said they are working through more than 150 tips. They also said they would like to speak to anyone in a wooded trail area of the park to call them if they saw anything or anyone suspicious.

Police earlier said they were interested in speaking to a man, aged 16 to 25, seen in the park 15 minutes before the discovery of Ms. Szendrei, noting that man may have information that would assist in the case.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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