Shock and sadness swept through the Filipino community as police announced charges in connection with the murder of Maria Cecilia Loreto.
The 49-year-old woman, who is known to be active in community activities, was believed to have been killed at her New Westminster home on March 17.
Police in Burnaby found the remains of a burned body at a park the next day on March 18.
On Wednesday (March 24), the combined regional Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) revealed that the body belonged to Loreto.
IHIT announced that criminal charges were laid against Carlo Castillo Tobias, 21 years old, and a 15-year-old, whose identity was not revealed.
The two were charged with one count each of first-degree murder and indignity to human remains.
Loreto’s body was found burned in Greentree Village Park early in the morning on March 18.
Sgt. Frank Jang, a spokesperson for IHIT, told reporters March 24 that police believe Loreto was killed at her home in New Westminster earlier in the evening on March 17.
Jang said that the investigation so far indicates that the crime was an isolated incident and does not pose an ongoing threat to the public.
“We believe that this was not a random incident,” Jang said. “This was not gang-related. This was not drug-related. This was not a random incident. From what we can tell from the investigation, we believe that everybody knew each other.”
According to Jang, the two accused and Loreto “knew each other.”
Asked what the relationship between the three individuals was, Jang said he could not share that information in order to avoid inadvertently identifying the accused youth.
Information about their relationship will come out in court, assuming there is a trial, he said.
Jang offered condolences from IHIT to Loreto’s family and thanked the Burnaby RCMP, the New Westminster Police Department and the Richmond RCMP for their assistance in the investigation, which he said is still active and ongoing.
Loreto was reported missing in New Westminster on March 21, three days after her then unidentified body was found in Greentree Village Park near the main campus of the B.C. Institute of Technology.
The Philippine Consulate General in Vancouver also sent out a missing person notice on March 21, stating Loreto also used the first names Mycel and Maricel and was last seen on the night of March 17 in New Westminster in a black older-model Honda Civic.
“Although these are serious charges, my client is presumed to be innocent,” defence lawyer Matthew Nathanson told Postmedia, referring to Tobias. “We look forward to receiving the disclosure materials from the crown and beginning the preparation of his defence”
According to court files, New Westminster is listed as the city of offence for the murder charge, while Burnaby is listed as the city of offence for the charge of interference with a dead body.
The charges were sworn in a New Westminster courtroom March 24.
“We have a very good idea of what happened. We have a narrative. We have a very good theory. But all that information, right now, isn’t for public consumption,” Jang said. “I know there’s a lot of people that would like to know what happened … but those details must first and foremost be provided within the judicial process, in court.”