WINNIPEG — A year ago, Kayli Shaw boarded a Greyhound bus for a long cross-country journey from Edmonton to her home in Ontario.
She and the other passengers settled in to watch the movie Mask of Zorro. She worried about making her connection in Winnipeg.
All of a sudden a passenger rushed past her yelling for the bus driver to stop. Someone was being stabbed.
“I thought it was just a joke,” said Shaw, speaking publicly about her ordeal for the first time from London, Ont.
She quickly realized it was anything but. She looked behind her and saw Vince Li stabbing Tim McLean repeatedly.
“I just freaked out,” said Shaw, who left all her things on the bus and clamoured for the door.
That unfolding nightmare haunts Shaw to this day.
She, like others who witnessed the horror that July night, can’t get the bloody images out of her head.
Li stabbed the 22-year-old carnival worker dozens of times, carving up his body and scattering it around the bus. Part of McLean’s heart and his eyes were never found.
When she closes her eyes, Shaw sees Li holding up McLean’s head, “taunting police” from inside the locked bus.
“It’s been hell,” said the 23-year-old. “If someone drops a pencil, I’ll jump. I’m afraid to get on buses. I have nightmares every night. I can’t sleep through the night at all. I barricade myself into my apartment.”
McLean’s death is being marked by a vigil at Manitoba’s legislature on Thursday. It is one of several that have been held in the past year.
His father, Tim McLean Sr., says he won’t be there and declined to say how he will be marking the anniversary of his son’s death.
Shaw, who has been trying to get her high school diploma, had a few free sessions with a therapist, but can’t afford to continue. Her purse and identification which she had left on the bus were returned to her, but she can’t bear to look at them.
“It’s all in a storage facility. I can’t even touch it.”
Li was found not criminally responsible for his actions at a short trial in March. A judge found Li suffered from untreated schizophrenia and did not realize that killing McLean was wrong. His case will be reviewed every year to determine if he is well enough to be released.
Li is now locked up in an institution where doctors say he is making progress — taking his medication, watching movies, playing cards and reading a Chinese edition of the Bible.
But scars remain for the witnesses to what he did and for those who knew McLean.
Jennifer Ashley Ptashnik, one of McLean’s cousins, said her family hasn’t begun to recover.
She remembers McLean as a generous soul who used to horde sweets collected during one of his gran’s “candy scrambles.” He would then distribute them to the smaller grandchildren who were at a disadvantage in the game.
“Timothy was an amazing beautiful person who loved us all more than anything,” Ptashnik said. “Our whole family is very close and still extremely affected by this tragedy every day. We all miss him more than any of us could begin to describe. There are 15 of us grandkids and we are all within 15 years of each other. You can imagine the devastation.”
McLean’s mother, Carol deDelley, says she wished she had died the night she found out it was her son brutally murdered on that bus heading toward Winnipeg.
In a victim impact statement read out at Li’s Criminal Code review board hearing, deDelley said she can’t sleep, can’t eat and can no longer earn a living driving a school bus. There is a Greyhound stop in her hometown of Elie, Man., that is an inescapable reminder of her son’s murder.
She is now pouring her energy into fighting for changes so people who are found not criminally responsible for a crime still serve time in jail.
But her crusade can’t erase what happened, and every time she looks at her son’s picture, she has visions of his decapitation.
DeDelley also plans to grieve in private.