The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) says a man has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of 13-year-old Marrisa Shen.
Ibrahim Ali, 28, has been charged in connection with Shen’s murder in July of 2017. He was arrested on Sept. 7 in Burnaby and will appear in court next on Friday.
IHIT Supt. Donna Richardson said Ali has no criminal record.
“Prior to us having contact with this individual, he was not known to us, the police environment.”
IHIT said this is believed to be a random homicide.
“We still believe that this crime was a random act, meaning that Marrisa did not know the suspect and vice versa,” Richardson said.
“Beyond that, as far as motive is concerned and some of the details surrounding our operational techniques in identifying persons of interest or confirming suspects, I am not able to discuss these matters in order to protect our future judicial proceedings.”
WATCH: At a press conference Monday, Supt. Donna Richardson of IHIT announces an arrest in the 2017 murder of 13-year-old Marrisa Shen.
IHIT said Ali arrived in Canada as a refugee and has lived in Burnaby for 17 months.
“He was a Syrian national,” Richardson said. “It’s our understanding that he is a permanent resident.”
The Immigrant Services Society (ISS) of B.C. said Ali could have come to the province through several routes, privately sponsored by family or church or as a refugee claimant through the government.
“We’re not aware of him yet; I can’t confirm how he came to Canada,” ISS director of settlement services Chris Friesen told CKNW.
He acknowledged Ali’s Syrian background will raise questions around Canada’s vetting process.
WATCH: Syrian refugee charged with 2017 murder of B.C. teen Marrisa Shen
“All Syrian refugees undertook both a criminal record background check as well as a medical examination,” Friesen added.
“We understand and are concerned about perceptions that are around one horrific incident, that it whitewashes an entire community.”
At Surrey’s Peace, Welcome Centre for Immigrants, centre manager Kevin Thiessen told CKNW hundreds of Syrian refugees have come through the doors in recent years and while they miss their homeland, they’re settling in well in B.C., with most getting jobs and seeing their children happy at school.
WATCH: Arrest of Syrian refugee in the murder of B.C. teen raises questions about immigration control
He admits however to knowing what some will say when they hear a Syrian national has been charged with first-degree murder.
“I’m seeing it in the news in other countries in Europe and these incidents happen, an immigrant or refugee is being charged and that’s the kind of reaction but I just keeping going back to, my family history,” Thiessen said.
“My family are immigrants. I was born here but my grandparents were not and so they came and we were able to settle in and build a great life and this is what these families are really looking for.”
B.C. has accepted about 3,500 Syrian refugees since 2015.
The Syrian Canadian Council of B.C. said it’s going to hold a small vigil for Shen Friday morning in front of Vancouver Provincial Court Friday where Ali is set to appear.
“This is one of the largest files that IHIT has undertaken since our inception in 2003. At the height of this investigation, over 300 resources from various RCMP detachments, municipal police departments and specialized units worked on this file.”
Shen was reported missing by her parents on July 18, 2017, and her body was found in Burnaby’s Central Park seven hours later.
In early 2018, IHIT launched a website, MarrisaShen.org, that included details of the investigation with all available video clips of Shen’s movements before she disappeared.
As of Monday morning, Richardson said the website had generated 80,000 visits.
Shen was last seen at a Tim Hortons restaurant near her home and at Central Park around 6 p.m. on July 18.
Her body was found in the park in the early hours of July 19, just hours after her mother had reported her missing.
A brief statement from the Shen family was read by police at the media conference on Monday. The family thanked the public and police for their hard work in the case and their ongoing support and concern.
“We hope that justice will now be served and that Marrisa can finally be at peace in heaven,” the Shen family said.
WATCH: The family of Marrisa Shen released a statement, read by Cpl. Frank Jang of IHIT, following the arrest of a suspect in her 2017 homicide.
In April, IHIT released a criminal profile of the person they believed was responsible.
Raw: IHIT release profile of person believed to have killed Marrisa Shen
Following Shen’s death, Burnaby council approved a plan to bolster security in Central Park.
Chief Supt. Deanne Burleigh with the Burnaby RCMP said Shen’s death “shook” the community and called into question the safety of area parks. She said work continues to reinstate a sense of safety and security for members of the public.
“We have been and we continue to conduct high visibility patrols on foot, on bikes and in our vehicles to ensure that everyone can continue to feel safe in our parks,” Burleigh said.
WATCH: Burnaby RCMP on the impact of Marrisa Shen’s murder on community
Both Burleigh and Richardson spoke to the intensity of the investigation. In the past 14 months, police identified and eliminated more than 2,000 persons of interest. More than 1,000 hours of video footage was collected and reviewed from about 60 locations. Police have conducted more than 600 interviews.
“We know that this was a very difficult, at times gruelling, investigation,” Burleigh said.
“It’s an investigation that, as a police officer, you don’t ever want to have to be involved in,” Richardson said. “When you are involved in something like this, it’s a huge sense of relief for us in law enforcement and for the family to bring some justice to them.”
WATCH: Marrisa Shen investigation was one of largest in IHIT history
Richardson said IHIT continues to offer support to the Shen family.
-with files from Emily Lazatin, CKNW