The Surrey teen who was fatally stabbed on a bus in Whalley on Tuesday night reportedly was riding home from a friend’s house and had texted his mom that he was being threatened by “some kids” and was scared.
“Ethan was a young, bright loved boy, unarmed and now his mother will forever be waiting for him to get off that bus,” a GoFundMe page set up by his aunt Andrea Van Der Gracht reads, seeking help to cover the teen’s funeral costs.
Ethan Bespflug, 17, died in hospital from his injuries after being stabbed on a bus in the 9900-block of King George Boulevard at 9:28 p.m. on April 11. Police have not yet identified a suspect.
“He texted his mom and said there’s some kids threatening me and I’m scared, and that was the last text that he got out,” his aunt, Andrea Van Der Gracht, told Global News. “He was a good kid. He had four younger sisters and brothers. He worked, he went to school, he got good grades, he wasn’t in trouble, he wasn’t a bad kid. The fact that he ended up in this situation is horrible. And it could be any of our kids now. You know, sitting on a bus, just going to meet your mom, shouldn’t mean you’re going to lose your life.”
The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team has taken conduct of the case. Bespflug is Surrey’s fifth homicide victim so far this year and was the second stabbing on a bus in Surrey this month. The first victim survived.
“I think the story out of Surrey is every parent’s worst nightmare,” Premier David Eby said of the fatal stabbing. “Transit needs to be safe and accessible for kids, for seniors, for everybody. I understand that the Surrey RCMP and the Transit Police increased patrols and presence on Surrey Transit. I’ve asked the minister for public safety to reach out to transit authorities and to police authorities to see if there is any other tools or resources that they need to ensure safety on our transit system for everybody.
“This is an absolutely horrific incident,” Eby noted.
“This is a profoundly concerning incident.”
Tuesday’s stabbing happened on a Route 503 bus eastbound from King George Station. Cpl. Vanessa Munn, of the Surrey RCMP, said police have no reason to suspect Tuesday’s stabbing was “in any way connected” to a man’s throat being slashed – also on a Route 503 – bus at Fraser Highway and 148 Street on April 1. That earlier stabbing resulted in the suspect, Abdul Aziz Kawam, being charged with four terrorism-related offences, with Kawam accused of committing the crime on behalf of the Islamic State otherwise known as ISIS.
So far two GoFundMe campaigns been been set up for Bespflug seeking donations to help with his funeral expenses.
“Ethan just turned 17 years old he had so much life ahead of him, a good kid, a kind kid a loving brother, son, grandson, uncle, friend, he always helped with his siblings always told his family how much he loves us, he would give the shirt off his back to anyone that needed it,” a campaign page set up by another aunt, Daphni Miller, reads. So far 79 donors have contributed $5,218 toward a “$10,000 goal.
A similar GoFundMe campaign, set up by Van Der Gracht seeking donations to “help lay Ethan to rest,” has so far received $6,146 from 81 donors toward a $7,500 goal.
“In a time when we are constantly being bombarded by sadness and death everywhere,” her campaign page reads, “we have lost one of our own. Ethan was a son and a brother who was senselessly murdered when he was supposed to be safe. Our fears of sending our children out into the world are becoming more and more prevalent in our daily lives. We are not supposed to fear our children going to school, we are not supposed to fear our children going home from school. Our children are dying, and gun violence and threats of violence are everywhere. In times like this families and communities need to come together to help everyone. Ethan did not deserve this. He woke up and went to school in the morning and never came back.
“Please donate to help lay Ethan to rest. In a time of tragedy help us come together as a community to help a family in need. Help them know that there is still good in the world. There will be peace again, and love and peace will prevail. Ethan was a young, bright loved boy, unarmed and now his mother will forever be waiting for him to get off that bus.”
Meantime, police ask anyone with information about Tuesday’s fatal stabbing to call investigators on the IHIT information line 1-877-551-IHIT (4448) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Const. Amanda Steed, spokeswoman for Metro Vancouver Transit Police, said uniformed officers assigned several units have been pulled from their regular duties have been assigned to buses and SkyTrain in Surrey. “We’re trying to saturate the system with a visible presence. We’ve also taken our detectives who work in a crime-suppression team – they’re in a plainclothes capacity so you might not see them but they are there – we’ve taken them from their day-to-day duties and put them in hot spots where we’ve identified where people aren’t feeling safe,” she told the Now-Leader.
As for both stabbings happening on a Route 503 bus, Steed said she doesn’t know if that’s a coincidence. “All of the stabbings that have occurred and slashings that have occurred they’re not connected in any way, there’s no evidence to suggest that they’re connected. But does that say that maybe the 503 is a route that we might need to look at a little but closer and perhaps improve our presence on that route? Absolutely.”
On Wednesday night, she said, police officers were on the 503 “to help address that.”
What’s fueling recent violence is a question for the age.
“I don’t understand what’s happening, this is so abnormal, this is not normal, and we looked at other provinces who are having issues like this, with violence and weapons, and we were always lucky that that wasn’t happening to us but now for some reason in the last couple of weeks the world has just lost it,” Steed said.
Bigger, more complex issues are at play, she suggests, “not necessarily just a policing issue, where this violence is coming from.
“We have to ask ourselves, what has brought these people to this spot? Why are they in this position, why are they exhibiting more violence and using more weapons that they have in the past? And I think it has a lot to do with mental health, and the drug crisis, and social housing crisis. I also think COVID also had a huge impact, we were isolated for so long. People are struggling right now, people who are already on the edge of a mental health break, they’ve completely gone over the edge, and even people who didn’t suffer from any type of mental health before, they’re struggling.
“People are really on edge.”
As for the suspect in Bespflug’s case, Steed noted, the buses are equipped with “really great CCTV, and video cameras in the stations as well, so I don’t think it will be long before IHIT identifies a suspect in that case but at this moment he has not been arrested.”