TORONTO — A 29-year-old Toronto man has been charged with the murder of a York University student from China in a case that gained international attention after authorities said she was last seen on a webcam struggling with an unknown intruder.
Toronto Police said Brian Dickson was arrested late Wednesday afternoon and charged with first-degree murder. He is scheduled to appear in court Thursday.
Qian Liu, 23, was found dead Friday in her basement apartment. Police said an autopsy failed to show a cause of death.
Her parents arrived in Toronto from Beijing on Wednesday, just before police announced the arrest at a hastily called news conference. Police did not release any more details about Dickson, but university spokeswoman Janice Wells said he is not a student at York.
Investigators have said Liu was chatting with a friend in China by webcam early Friday when an unknown man arrived at her apartment and a struggle took place.
The online witness reported the struggle lasted for several minutes before the man turned off Liu’s laptop. Police said the webcam images were live-streamed, not recorded, and they were searching for the laptop and a cellphone missing from Liu’s apartment.
Liu’s father said earlier this week that the person in China who witnessed the attack on the webcam was his daughter’s boyfriend.
“She was our only child,” said Liu Jianhui, a researcher at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
He said his daughter studied at Beijing City University before coming to Canada.
“She was interested in media and wanted to study for an MA in it. She already applied for several universities in Toronto and elsewhere including the University of Windsor,” Liu Jianhui said in an interview in Beijing.
“After hearing the news about Liu Qian, our family and friends were all very worried. But we were praying for the possibility that the victim was a different person with the same name … soon we found that we could no longer reach my daughter. Then the Canadian police made it quite clear that it was indeed my daughter.”
Police said Tuesday they had spoken to a person of interest about Lui’s death but they were not calling that person a suspect. There were other persons of interest as well, they said.
They also confirmed they had spoken to the person in China who reported witnessing the struggle on the webcam.
Liu was found naked from the waist down but there were no obvious signs of sexual assault, Det. Sgt. Frank Skubic said Tuesday. It could be weeks before the results of toxicology tests are known.
Meanwhile, police appealed to the public for help finding the items believed missing from Liu’s apartment. Photos of a black Lenovo ThinkPad model T400 and a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic phone were posted on the Toronto police website.
Liu’s death has shaken the York University community, especially in the private housing development known as The Village, which is popular with students. Liu’s apartment was located in a multi-unit house in the neighbourhood just south of the York campus.
Investigators on Wednesday were seen removing police tape that had marked off the apartment at 27 Aldwinckle Heights. Investigators have also been on the scene at her former residence on Haynes Avenue.
Rumours and theories had been swirling around the York community since news broke of Liu’s death. Toronto police warned the media not to publish any photos of Dickson as it might compromise the case.
Mamdouh Shoukri, the university’s president, released a statement late Wednesday expressing relief at the arrest.
“Qian Liu’s death has had a profound impact on all of us at York. We appreciate the dedicated effort of Toronto Police Service and we are pleased that they have apprehended a suspect.”
A student organization planned a community forum Thursday to raise concerns about Liu’s death and other violent incidents in the area.
“This year alone, we have seen York students raped, sexually assaulted and even killed on or around our campus,” said Vanessa Hunt of the York Federation of Students.
“Students feel as though the York administration is dragging its feet implementing significant changes to ensure safety at York University, which is both frustrating and upsetting,” Hunt added.
The university said it was increasing security patrols on its Keele campus, and also working with Toronto police to increase patrols off-campus in The Village, including undercover officers and uniformed officers on bikes.
— With files from The Associated Press