A man has been charged with the first-degree murder of Burnaby Const. Shaelyn Yang, who was fatally stabbed while attending a tent on Tuesday (Oct. 18).
The B.C. Prosecution Service confirmed the charges have been laid against Jongwon Ham. He made an initial appearance in court Wednesday and is due back on Nov. 2. The charges have not been proven in court.
According to the Criminal Code, first-degree murder charges are always laid when the victim is a police officer, regardless of if it was planned and deliberate.
Court records show Ham, a 37-year-old Burnaby resident, was wanted on assault charges from an incident in Vancouver on March 17. A warrant was issued for his arrest on Monday, but Integrated Homicide Investigation Team media relations officer Timothy Pierotti said Yang was not enforcing the warrant when she was stabbed on Tuesday.
Yang, 31, was called to the site of a single tent, located in a grassy area between the Burnaby School District office and Broadview Park, around 11 a.m.. She was assisting a city parks employee in informing the tent’s occupant that he wasn’t allowed to pitch it there, according to Pierotti. He said these kinds of calls were normal for Yang, as she was part of the mental health and homelessness outreach team.
On Tuesday though, an altercation broke out between Yang and the man living in the tent.
Yang was stabbed and taken to hospital where she later died. IHIT investigators estimated it was only about 30 minutes between Yang attending the tent and being pronounced dead.
The suspect, who was shot, was also taken to hospital with serious injuries.
Police say they cannot comment on the extent of the suspect’s injuries but that they are receiving medical attention. Police also won’t say if they have been arrested or charged.
— Jane Skrypnek (@janeskrypnek) October 19, 2022
Zulekha Karim, a resident living across the street from Broadview Park, said she wasn’t home when the stabbing occurred, but that she heard from neighbours that there had been at least two gunshots.
“It was scary.”
She said she walks through the area next to Broadview Park on the way to her mosque, and that she first noticed an small orangey-yellow tent there a few weeks ago. Karim never saw anyone coming in and out of the tent though, and she said she never saw city staff or police there either.
She said the tent is the first she has seen in that specific area, but that she has heard from other neighbours that there are more tents within Broadview Park as well. In the 13 years she has lived there, Karim said she has never felt unsafe in her neighbourhood.
Speaking Tuesday, Burnaby Chief Superintendent Graham De La Gorgendiere described Yang as a kind and compassionate person.
“She was a loving wife, sister and daughter,” he said, teary-eyed. “I can tell you that an on-duty death is the most difficult and heart wrenching incident that we have to deal with as an organization.”
Yang was with the Burnaby detachment for three years.
Speaking separately, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Yang “sacrificed her life in the course of duty,” but he had no other details about her death.
A visibly shaken Farnworth said it is “absolutely a tragic and horrific situation.”
He expressed sincere condolences to all police officers in B.C. on behalf of members of the legislature.
“Every day we ask thousands of men and women in uniform in this province to go out and do their duty, keeping our communities safe, keeping the public safe, knowing full well it’s an extremely dangerous job.”
Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley said in a statement that the city is devastated to hear of the death of Yang.
“Our thoughts are with her family, friends, fellow RCMP members and civilian staff during this terrible time. I know our city staff and the community will also feel this deeply — please seek support if needed. We will continue to work closely with the RCMP to provide all the support we can.”
The Metro Vancouver Transit Police Department tweeted “outrage builds as our hearts break.”
“Our officers worked closely with her and she will be deeply missed,” the statement said.
Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said he was devastated by the news of the loss of the officer in the line of duty.
“At this difficult time, my heart goes out to the family and friends of the deceased officer and to the entire Burnaby RCMP detachment,” he said in a tweet.
The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. has confirmed it has been deployed to look into the incident. The office investigates any incidents linked to police in B.C. involving serious harm or death.