A man accused of killing a 17-year-old Surrey teenager last week is a high-risk sex offender whose release from jail last year sparked community outrage.
Raymond Lee Caissie was arrested early Saturday in Vancouver, and has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of Serena Vermeersch.
Police announced an arrest late Sunday afternoon, just four days after identifying Vermeersch as the victim whose body was found the evening of Sept. 16 in an area densely covered in brambles, near railway tracks in the 14600-block of 66 Avenue.
She was discovered less than four hours after police issued a public appeal for help locating the teen. The discovery prompted a community warning, urging citizens to use caution and common sense when outdoors alone or after dark.
At a press conference Monday morning, police confirmed that the accused was known to them, but would not disclose any information that could potentially identify him, citing a publication ban that was requested by defense counsel.
However, late Monday afternoon, they confirmed Caissie – who was released into an unspecified Surrey neighbourhood last year after serving 22 years for a violent assault – was the arrested individual.
Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pound, spokesperson for the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, would not comment on how Vermeersch died.
The teen’s mother reported her missing in the early hours of Sept. 16, after Vermeersch failed to return home. The Sullivan Heights Secondary student was reportedly last seen just after 8 p.m. the evening before, boarding a transit bus near 128 Street and 64 Avenue. Police believe she got off the bus at 64 Avenue and 144 Street, walked towards her home, up 144 Street, then east along the north side of the train tracks.
Vermeersch’s death was quickly deemed a random attack, and Chief Supt. Bill Fordy said investigators worked around the clock to identify and locate the person responsible.
As of Peace Arch News’ press time Monday, police were still trying to identify a dark-clothed male who was seen walking across the tracks and leaving the area in a pick-up truck less than an hour before Vermeersch’s body was found. The vehicle is described as a full-size, grey/silver Dodge ¾-ton with a canopy and roof rack.
It was seen departing westbound on 66 Avenue, then making a U-turn at Uplands Road to head eastbound towards 148 Street.
Pound said the man in the pickup is not a suspect, but remains a person of interest whom investigators would like to speak with.
Assistant Cmsr. Dan Malo said he hoped Saturday’s arrest would bring “some small comfort to (Serena’s) family, friends and the community at large.”
Malo said the accused was to appear in Surrey Provincial Court Monday afternoon. Caissie’s next appearance has been set for Oct. 2.
His criminal history includes two counts of sexual assault with a weapon; two counts of forcible confinement and robbery; theft; break, enter and theft; theft over $1,000; and possession of stolen property.
His release last year prompted harsh criticism from Mayor Dianne Watts, who said it “makes no sense.”
At that time, officials with B.C. Corrections Branch said the 43-year-old had maintained a varied pattern of crime, having offended both violently and sexually, in both an opportunistic and impulsive manner.
He was to be closely monitored by police.
At the press conference, Malo said police are “very well-prepared” to answer questions regarding the accused, but were silenced by the ban.
In a statement read by Pound, Vermeersch’s family said they are appreciative of the support and kind words received in the wake of their daughter’s death, but declined to comment further.
“We respectfully ask that our privacy remain undisturbed.”
Tributes to Vermeersch quickly appeared, and continue to grow. There are now bouquets of flowers next to a telephone pole near where her body was found, and dozens of comments posted to her Facebook page follow her own last post, dated Sept. 13 – a photo of herself with the status “I’m lonely.”
The comments describe the teen as “an angel” who will be missed.
“You were a beautiful girl inside and out and going to be greatly missed by your family members and many, many friends. You will live on in our hearts and will never be forgotten,” writes Dennis Thalmann.
“May you RIP and may your family have all the love and strength they need to get through this. So happy they caught him. Another beautiful young lady taken too soon,” writes Naomi McGeachy.
Others were critical.
“The justice system let Serena down,” writes Silvia Wittenberg Sandhu.
– with files from Kevin Diakiw