Community cautious following teen’s death

Leaders call for residents to move forward but use caution in wake of murder of Taylor Van Diest in Armstrong Halloween night.

“We can’t shut down the community. We just have to be cautious.”

That’s Armstrong Mayor Chris Pieper’s aim as the city, neighbouring Township of Spallumcheen and North Okanagan communities still try to come to terms with the murder of Taylor Van Diest, 18, Halloween night.

Pieper and counterpart Will Hansma of Spallumcheen signed a letter sent out to residents following a meeting among community leaders with RCMP Thursday, who gave an update into the Van Diest investigation.

“This is a stressful time,” said Pieper at Monday evening’s Armstrong council meeting. “People are asking ‘Why our community? These are things that  you hear happen somewhere else.’ We have to continue to be diligent and cautious but not scared to proceed forward.”

Pieper and Hansma called for community wellness in the one-page letter sent to residents, and neighbours looking out for one another is a good place to start.

The mayors reiterated the RCMP’s advice for community vigilance and urged everyone to add personal safety precautions to their day-to-day plans.

“Travel in a group; ask parents or friends for a ride. Travel areas of the community that have good visibility,” stated the letter. “Let family or friends know where you are going and when you expect to arrive. Once you have arrived, call someone to let them know. If you have a cell phone, carry it.”

Anyone with any information on the Van Diest murder is asked to call a dedicated tip line established by the RCMP for the case. The number is 1-888-688-4264.

Pieper said following the meeting with RCMP he’s satisfied with the way the investigation has been handled.

“They’re communicating very well with us,” said Pieper. “I’d love to have them come up with a solution and I’m sure they’d be happier than me to come up with a solution.”

Police announced last week the creation of the tip line, and also commented on a letter received from someone claiming to have been responsible for Van Diest’s death, and threatening more harm to women.

Police stated at a news conference that they were unable to confirm if the letter was authentic. They would not say if the letter was typed or handwritten or how it arrived at the Armstrong detachment.

There have been no updates from the RCMP on the investigation since.

The Armstrong Spallumcheen Chamber of Commerce also sent a letter to its members, encouraging community wellness by taking part in such community events such as the upcoming Downtown Light Up on Nov. 24.

The North Okanagan Shuswap school district sent a letter home to parents supporting the RCMP’s recommendation for students to travel in groups and to ask parents or friends for a ride.

The school district encouraged students to not rely on cell phones for sole safety purposes.

Coldstream council observed a minute of silence for Van Diest at its regular meeting Monday, as the teen’s father and grandparents grew up in the district.