The Burnaby RCMP officer killed in the line of duty Tuesday has been identified as a 31-year-old member of the detachment’s mental health and homeless outreach team, just three years into her career.
Const. Shaelyn Yang was fatally stabbed while partnered with a City of Burnaby parks worker and attending a homeless campsite at Broadview Park just before 11 a.m.
“She was a loving wife, a sister and daughter. Those she worked with before joining the RCMP and her police colleagues described Const. Yang as a kind and compassionate person, which makes her death even more difficult to accept,” Dept. Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, commanding officer of the BC RCMP, said Tuesday.
McDonald said Yang was stabbed following an “altercation” during the call, and that despite the efforts of first responders she died in hospital.
The suspect was shot in the altercation, and remains in hospital with life-threatening injuries, he added.
“Const. Yang died bravely. She answered the call to duty today and she paid the ultimate price,” he said.
Yang, a Richmond resident, completed her RCMP training in December 2019, before being deployed to the Burnaby detachment, police said.
Chief Supt. Graham de la Gorgendiere, officer in charge of the Burnaby RCMP, described Yang’s death as “both senseless and tragic,” and said it left the detachment reeling.
“Speaking about the impact in the line of duty death of one of our members is probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in my career,” he told reporters, his voice cracking with emotion.
“She was compassionate and caring, and she brought those skills every day to her job, working with our community’s most vulnerable, including those experiencing homelessness and mental health issues.
“Working with mental health and homelessness can be challenging, but Shaelyn embraced that job with passion.”
Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley said city staff who were at the park remain deeply shaken by the incident.
He said the city stood ready to support them and the police.
“City staff work side-by-side with RCMP every day and I know they will feel this deeply,” Hurley said.
“The tragedy for first responders … always the worst thing can happen is when a member shows up for duty in the morning and doesn’t go home in the evening. And it’s going to take all of us, all the RCMP, all the members, a long time to recover from that. But we are going to be here and walk shoulder to shoulder with them through this period.”
Yang’s death is being investigated as a homicide by the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, while the Independent Investigations Office is probing the suspect’s shooting.
De la Gorgendiere said the City of Burnaby employee was physically unhurt in the incident, but couldn’t speak to details about the reason they and Yang had been deployed to the park.
He clarified that the worker was a member of the city’s parks division, not a bylaw officer as initially reported.
While sources had initially indicated the incident took place at a homeless encampment, images from the scene and neighbours suggested it was just one tent at the site.
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BC Emergency Health Services said it was called to the scene at 11:17 a.m., and deployed eight ambulances. It said two people were transported to hospital in critical condition.
Canada Way between Willingdon Avenue and Boundary Road remained closed to all traffic Wednesday afternoon.
In the wake of Yang’s death, reaction from political leaders, police departments and the public has been pouring in.
“We ask these people, men and women, to go where we would not go ourselves, and we need to stand with them,” Premier John Horgan said.
“My deepest condolences to the family and all of the colleagues within the RCMP and public safety and law enforcement across the province. These are the days when families go, ‘have we made the right choice,’ and I say thank you for your continued service and your continued commitment to protecting British Columbians.”
Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, visibly emotional, described Yang’s death as an “absolutely awful, horrible, terrible tragedy.”
“We have thousands of men and women in uniform, police officers, who go about their job every day protecting people in the province and this is absolutely the worst news that could happen.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter to say he was “incredibly saddened” by the death.
“My thoughts are with the family, friends, and colleagues of the fallen officer – I am keeping you in my thoughts during this terrible time,” he wrote.
Jagmeet Singh, leader of the federal NDP and MP for Burnaby South also took to Twitter to express his shock.
“Heart-wrenching news today of the killing of an RCMP officer in Burnaby,” he wrote.
“My condolences to their fellow officers, family, and loved ones. This is an unimaginable loss in the line of duty.”
B.C.’s opposition parties also expressed their condolences.
“This is truly horrific. My thoughts are with her family, loved ones, and @RCMP colleagues following this unacceptable tragedy,” wrote BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon.
“This is truly awful news. My heart goes out to the officer’s family, friends and colleagues,” added BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau.
There are a few other incidents in recent years when an officer was killed in the line of duty in B.C.
RCMP Const. Sarah Beckett was struck and killed by Kenneth Fenton in the island community of Langford in April 2016 while he was driving away from another police cruiser.
He had alcohol, cocaine and marijuana in his system at the time of the crash.
Abbotsford police Const. John Davidson was shot and killed while responding to a call of a stolen Ford Mustang on Nov. 6, 2017.
The man who killed Davidson was sentenced to life in prison in 2020.
Oscar Arfmann has no chance of parole for 25 years.
The last RCMP officer to die while on duty in Burnaby was Const. Terry Eugene Tomfohrm in 1967.