ABBOTSFORD, B.C. - The homeless population living in a British Columbia community that is reeling from a deadly high school stabbing is worried about being targeted in a backlash, says a pastor who works with marginalized groups.
Ward Draper said reports from police that the man who attacked two Grade 9 students in an Abbotsford, B.C., high school was a barefoot homeless person are bound to reinforce misguided stereotypes that people living on the street are all angry, crazy and violent.
"It's going to be lingering in the back of people's minds for years to come, that a homeless person killed a child. All the other things will fall away over time. This is going to be a residual mark on an already struggling community," said Ward, who has worked on the streets of Abbotsford for more than a dozen years.
"It's going to play into a lot of negative stereotypes that exist. It's going to further entrench a lot of negative ideas."
Police said a man walked into Abbotsford Senior Secondary School on Tuesday and stabbed two female students in the entrance, killing one of them and putting the school on lockdown for hours. School officials and police described the incident as "a random act of violence."
Gabriel Klein, 21, is in custody and faces one charge each of second-degree murder and aggravated assault. Homicide investigators released a picture of Klein on Thursday taken by a closed-circuit television camera from an unidentified location hours before the attack.
The photograph shows a thin, young man with close-cropped, dark hair striding into a building carrying a backpack and wearing a long-sleeved, green camouflage hoodie, jeans and light sneakers.
Court records show Klein was in Calgary in recent years. In 2014 he was fined $414 on three counts of tampering with a vehicle and in August 2015 he was convicted of not paying a light-rail transit ticket.
Police have not identified the victims of the attack, but fellow students say the teen killed in the school's atrium was 13-year-old Letisha Reimer. Her 14-year-old friend, whose name is protected under a publication ban, was taken to hospital with stab wounds.
Cheryl Forchuk, a homelessness expert at Western University in London, Ont., said incidents like the one in Abbotsford perpetuate falsehoods about the dangers posed by people living on the street.
"People think that they're more aggressive when in fact it's the opposite, they're more likely to be victims. People with mental illness — there's a huge overlap between that group and the homeless population — are actually less likely than the general population to be aggressive. Yet that's definitely not the stereotype. The stereotype is the opposite," Forchuk said.
"When these terrible tragedies occur, it's human nature, you want to blame somebody. You want a focus for the anger and the grief that you're feeling. But we just have to be careful that we don't make other vulnerable people the focus of that anger and grief."
Members of the homeless community in Abbotsford are as upset and appalled as everyone over the horrific incident, Ward said. "They're just like, 'This is horrible. This is not who we are,'" he said.
The City of Abbotsford has had a fraught relationship with its homeless population in recent years. The community made headlines for spreading pepper spray and chicken manure on temporary homeless camps in an attempt to evict its occupants.
— Follow @gwomand on Twitter