Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

From wedding plans to funeral

Family, police try to piece together final hours of slain teen

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For Asmahan Zalfo, who was planning to get married in the new year, the engagement party thrown for her and her 36-year-old fianc last January was the highlight of her short life.

In every picture taken that night she's smiling, even beaming in her traditional Kurdish dress.

"It was a wonderful party," fianc Jamal Salehi said yesterday as he and Asmahan's mother, Warda, and eight younger brothers and sisters gathered barefoot on the living room floor of the Zalfo family's Langside Street home.

"We all drove around in cars honking the horns and then we went out for pizza. We were supposed to be married Jan. 1. It was going to be a big celebration."

Instead, Salehi and Zalfo's family are planning the 17-year-old's funeral. Her body was discovered Sunday afternoon under a pile of rocks along the bank of the Red River, near the outlet of the Winnipeg floodway.

RCMP spokesman Sgt. Steve Saunders said police identified the dead girl yesterday morning with help from the family. They had reported her missing to city police on Saturday, after not seeing her since early Wednesday afternoon.

"We were worried about what had happened to her," Salehi said, breaking down in tears. "The police said they would look for her. They told us to look for her, too. We've been looking all week."

Saunders said the Mounties won't release any details about the girl's slaying because they don't want to compromise their investigation.

Salehi said the family hasn't been told much, either. "They just say that she's dead," he said, hanging his head in his hands. "We cannot eat. We cannot sleep. We cannot do anything."

"We want, all the family, to ask police to find out who is responsible for this, and to pay for what they did to her," mom Warda added. She spoke in Kurdish as Salehi translated.

"It's like, maybe someone just grabbed her and went after her," Salehi said.

Salehi said Asmahan and her parents and older siblings came to Canada in December 1998, first settling in Edmonton before coming to Winnipeg. Before that, they had lived in a Kurdish refugee camp in Syria for about seven years. Originally, they had lived in Dahok in northern Iraq. Asmahan was the oldest of the family's children.

"You know, we are Kurds, and you know what Saddam Hussein does to the Kurdish people," Salehi said. "He uses chemical weapons."

Ismat Simo, a counsellor with Welcome Place, an agency that helps refugee families, said the Kurdish community in Winnipeg is small, numbering about 150 people. The city's Kurds regularly meet at social functions, he said, adding he last saw Asmahan and her family in January.

"If she knew you, she was very friendly and outgoing, but she was very shy to strangers," Simo said.

Salehi and Warda said Asmahan was a typical teenager, but that she didn't like going to classes at Gordon Bell High School. Instead, she enjoyed watching East Indian movies and hanging out at a grocery and record store on Notre Dame.

She had last attended classes at Gordon Bell in June 2000. School officials said she had made an appointment in February to resume her schooling, but she never kept the appointment and never returned.

The family said she never used drugs and didn't drink alcohol.

Her brother Zaman said the last time the family saw her, she had just asked her mom for $10 so she could go to a store. That was around noon on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, she had visited Salehi at his residence.

When she walked out the door of the family home, it was the last anyone saw of her until yesterday, when the family identified her body.

Saunders said as part of the investigation, detectives made inquiries at a local cultural centre, and were alerted to a recent report of a missing person that had come through the centre to the Winnipeg Police Service.

Late Wednesday afternoon, police spent time with the family, and after a lengthy interview through a Kurdish language interpreter, determined the body was Asmahan's.

Saunders said police are pursuing all leads and angles, including whether Asmahan was killed as a result of a hate crime. "We're not in a position to rule out any possibility," he said.

He said what police won't do at this point is comment on whether Asmahan was sexually assaulted or how she died.

Saunders also said investigators are doing their best to re-trace Asmahan's last steps, to find out who she was with and identify any suspects.

"We've got to learn as much about her as possible," he said.

Salehi said he believes Asmahan was last in the company of a local man, who suddenly went home to Pakistan with his family on Sunday.

He said he's in so much shock he was admitted to hospital for the last couple of days. A hospital spokesperson confirmed Salehi was admitted to the Grace Hospital's emergency room and discharged yesterday.

"I opened my eyes and I was in the Grace," he said in a wavering voice.

"I just got out," he added, staring at Warda. "I cannot believe what has happened. I want to see her so bad. I still think I can see her."

RCMP

PHOTO

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2002 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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