Western mourns loss of first-year student as man accused in his death appears in court

Gabriel Neil. Supplied by family

The Western University community is continuing to mourn the death of an 18-year-old freshman over the weekend as the man accused of manslaughter in the case made a brief appearance in court.

Gabriel Neil, a first-year health science student, was assaulted and critically injured near Western and Sarnia roads around 2 a.m. Saturday, police said. He was rushed to hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Details about the case remain limited. Police have not released any further information about the night itself.

A 21-year-old man, Aliyan Ahmed, was arrested and charged with one count of manslaughter in Neil’s death. He appeared in court on Tuesday by video from EMDC. His lawyer, Sam Puchala, told court she looked to “get bail started as soon as possible,” according to a London Free Press report.

Ahmed’s case is expected to return to court later this week, the report states.

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A statement issued by a representative of Neil’s family described the 18-year-old as a “gentle and kind soul who made friends wherever he went.”

“He was excited to be starting his first year of Kinesiology at Western and had aspirations of one day becoming a doctor,” the statement read.

The statement thanked staff members Western University, London Police Service, Middlesex-London Paramedic Service, London Health Sciences Centre, and the Critical Care Trauma Centre “for the care they have provided not only to Gabe but to us as well.”

“We will not be conducting interviews or issuing any further statements at this time and we ask for privacy as we grieve together with our family.”

Western President Alan Shephard said in a statement to the school community that the university was “devastated by this senseless loss, and are heartbroken for his family, friends and all who knew him.”

“While this terrible tragedy is unconnected to the other incidents this weekend, I know it has resulted in heightened concern for safety on campus. Please be assured this case is being thoroughly investigated by (London police), and a suspect from the London community is in custody.”

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Officials with the University Student Council said they were devastated by the news of Neil’s death, and offered their condolences to the young man’s family, friends, and to others on campus who have been impacted by the news.

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“We know this tragedy will be difficult to process given how challenging the past few days have been for our student community,” a statement issued Tuesday by USC read.

“We are postponing our programming this upcoming week so students can take some time to process and access health and wellness resources. As we take time to grieve this loss, we hope we can lean on one another and support each other through this difficult time.”

Click to play video: 'London, Ont., police investigate social media posts about alleged sexual assaults at Western University student residence'
London, Ont., police investigate social media posts about alleged sexual assaults at Western University student residence

Neil’s death came amid a particularly distressing and violent first week and weekend of the school year for the city and university.

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Western has been rocked by allegations of sexual violence on campus, with university brass saying Monday that they had received four formal complaints from students over the past week.

The university also said it was looking into additional allegations over the weekend on social media involving the Medway-Sydenham Hall residence.

Some reports suggested 30 or more students may have been victimized, however no reports involving the residence had been formally filed with police as of mid-afternoon Tuesday, said Chief Steve Williams during a virtual news conference. Police are investigating the allegations.

Williams said they had received three complaints of alleged on-campus sexual assault that took place prior to the Medway-Sydenham allegations, involving four female student victims.

One male student suspect was arrested in one of the complaints, but was later released from custody and no charges have been laid, he said.

“While there is no information at present linking the three prior allegations to the events alleged to have occurred at Medway-Sydenham Hall, these incidents remain under active investigation, and involved persons have been identified,” Williams said. Police are working to determine if any of the complaints may be connected.

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Williams stressed during the news conference that police and community partners would support those who came forward to them.

“There is no room for gender based violence in our community, and we encourage anyone who has experienced sexual violence to report the incident to police so that the matter can be fully investigated,” he said.

Williams also dispelled online rumours that Neil’s death and the allegations involving Medway-Sydenham were somehow linked.

“These two incidents should, in no way, be connected, and these types of unfounded comments are hurtful to Mr. Neil’s family,” he said.

London police are also investigating what they say were two separate, targeted shootings in the city within a matter of hours.

One occurred in the city’s northwest end around 7:55 p.m. Police had responded to the area of Wateroak Drive and Heardcreek Trail for reports of multiple gunshots.

There, they located Lynda Cruz Marques, a local registered nurse, with life-threatening injuries. Marques was taken to hospital and later succumbed to her injuries.

Police have not said whether any suspects are in custody.

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The day’s first shooting occurred around 12:15 p.m. near Vinewood Court and Cleveland Avenue in the city’s Glen Cairn neighbourhood.

Officers at the scene located a man with a non-life threatening gunshot wound. He was later taken to hospital.

Two people, an 18-year-old London man and a youth who can’t be identified, were arrested and charged with multiple counts in the incident, police said Tuesday.

The shooting prompted the temporary lockdown of nearby St. Sebastian Catholic Elementary School.

— With files from Sawyer Bogdan, Jacquelyn LeBel, Kelly Wang, and The Canadian Press

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