It's a twist on the familiar plea for public information: Vancouver police aren't asking for help tracking down a suspect or victim, they're hoping someone will recognize what appears to be a basement suite.
The city's police department held a news conference Monday to release 53 seconds of grainy cellphone video. The footage depicts what is believed to be a Lower Mainland basement or perhaps ground-level suite. Police believe a two-year-old boy was assaulted inside the residence sometime last year.
The video was discovered by an out-of-province police agency and no people are shown. During a curious news conference that yielded more questions than answers, Vancouver police said they don't know who shot the footage, exactly where it was taken, or who the assault suspect or victim might be.
"The word mystery has been used and that would be extremely appropriate in this case," police spokesman Constable Lindsey Houghton said. "We have very limited information."
Constable Houghton said his force received the video from another police department two or three weeks ago. He wouldn't identify the other police force, saying only that investigators came across the footage during a case unrelated to the suspected toddler assault. He said investigators have "information" the child was attacked, but wouldn't disclose what it is.
Police believe the Caucasian child was for some reason in the temporary care of two men of Somali descent at the time of the assault. Constable Houghton said the boy's parents are not suspects and might not be aware the assault even occurred.
But the limited information police do have has not turned up any victims or suspects. Unless police can locate the suite, the case will remain stalled.
"Without knowing where this occurred, it's impossible for investigators to continue this investigation," Constable Houghton said. "We don't even know that this suite is in the city of Vancouver. It could be in Richmond, it could be in Langley, it could be in Maple Ridge. That's why we need the public's help."
Once police have that information, they'll be able to look at occupancy records and contact past tenants, he said.
The video opens with a shot of what appears to be a yard, then cuts to a living room with a fireplace. It also shows a hallway with hardwood floors and a bathroom with light green or yellow walls.
Police throughout the region have not received any reports of an assault that fits what they are describing. Constable Houghton said the primary concern is the child's welfare, though police have no reason to believe he is in danger.
The assault is not believed to be sexual in nature, nor is the child believed to have suffered any lasting injuries. It was not captured on video, Constable Houghton said.
He said it's rare for police to issue an appeal in a case involving a child.
"We don't for many reasons … go public with information or details of cases that involve children because they are some of the most vulnerable people in our society and we do everything we can both as police and as a society to protect them," he said. "In this case, we don't know what exactly we're investigating.… But we have to do everything we can in our power to try and either confirm that something happened or rule out that something happened."