Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Homicide a targeted attack, police say

Witnesses ran to stop attacker from stabbing victim

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The parking-lot stabbing death of a Winnipeg woman is being investigated as a deliberate, targeted attack -- and not the work of some random, deranged killer.

Justice sources told the Free Press that is why police have been strangely silent on such a high-profile and unusual public slaying, which occurred just after 7 a.m. Wednesday in a residential neighbourhood and was witnessed by several people. Police waited until late Thursday morning to offer their first public comments on the case and only confirmed the obvious: Kaila Latoya Tran, 26, was the victim of a homicide.

Investigators also provided a generic description of a potential suspect seen fleeing the area but would say little else about the city's 17th homicide of the year.

Sources say there is a reason for the lack of information being released, as police believed from the outset there was no reason to alarm the public about a knife-wielding man on the loose. Instead, they quickly began working behind the scenes to piece together a profile of the young victim. That includes both her personal and professional background, along with those closest to her.

Both Tran and her live-in boyfriend were well-known in the local bar-and-club scene, sources told the Free Press. Tran had previously done work in concert promotions, while her boyfriend has worked for several years doing private security at nightclubs and special events in the city.

Most recently, Tran had been working for communications company Teleco, according to the firm's website. Tran had no criminal record, and there were no restraining orders or peace bonds filed in the court system.

Tran was attacked in the parking lot outside her Clayton Drive apartment building in St. Vital as she was about to get into her vehicle.

Witnesses told the Free Press they heard Tran screaming "Leave me alone!" as she was being attacked. They described seeing her on the ground with the man on top of her, his hand going up and down.

Several people rushed to intervene and scared off the attacker. At least one witness got on a bike and chased the attacker as he ran along Clayton Drive, before deking toward the river and over an embankment. The cyclist was unable to follow.

"We are looking for a male suspect who was observed fleeing the area," Winnipeg police Const. Jason Michalyshen said Thursday. He described the suspect as a dark, olive-skinned man, in his early 20s, with a slim build and short dark hair, and believed to be 5-6 to six feet tall.

Several neighbours performed first aid on Tran, who had a cut hand, a stab wound to her shoulder near her neck and damage to her teeth. The woman was struggling to breathe and unable to talk, a witness said.

"We don't know the motivation behind (the attack). We're looking at all possibilities," Michalyshen said Thursday. He said it was extremely helpful to investigators to have the number of witnesses step forward.

Police have used both their canine unit and the underwater dive unit to search for the suspect and potential evidence.

Witnesses said Tran's attacker used a knife, but police said no weapon was found. Michalyshen said police will not confirm Tran died from a stabbing, adding they are awaiting the results of an autopsy.

Friends wrote on her Facebook page, calling her a "loving and giving soul" and "one of the sweetest people I have ever had the honour of knowing out of this world."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2012 A9

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