Innocent Alfred Wong, doomed by the cruel geometry of a moving car, a stray bullet and Vancouver’s gang warfare
The random and senseless fate of 15-year-old Wong, mortally wounded in the back seat of his parents’ car, has horrified Vancouver
On one of Vancouver’s busiest streets, the world of Alfred Wong – a boy of 15 riding home in the back seat of his parents’ car – and that of a nameless man carrying a gun would intersect with heartless and random precision.
Alfred’s world was swimming practice, church, his family, video games, and school at Pinetree Secondary in Coquitlam. He planned to work as a lifeguard and an electronic engineer.
What little is known about the world of the gunman stalking down Broadway with presumably deadly intent that night revolves around Vancouver’s drug trade and an increasingly brutal gang war.
It was unlikely that the vectors of their lives would ever have crossed, but at 9.30pm on Saturday, January 13, as Alfred and his parents drove home after meeting his elder brother for dinner, they would do so in a millisecond of cruel geometry.
The bullet was never meant for Alfred. It found him nevertheless, passing through his parents’ car and striking him in the chest as the Wongs drove oblivious through the evening traffic, past restaurants and outdoor equipment stores and a deadly gun battle.
CTV News reported that just before the shooting, shop surveillance footage had captured a man with a bandana over his face, following a group of people down Broadway; witness Bryan Zawada told the CBC that he saw a man running across the street while firing a semi-automatic rifle.
Police have not made clear who fired the bullet that struck Alfred – the man in the bandana or Kevin Whiteside, the young man he was about to murder. Whiteside, a 23-year-old with gang connections and a string of previous arrests, was also carrying a gun as he walked down Broadway, police say. It did him no good.
Alfred would die two days later in the ICU at Vancouver General Hospital. “Everyone gave their best, and we’re very grateful for that,” said his brother, Wilfred, at a police press conference on Monday.
At the press conference, Pastor Caleb Choi of the Wongs’ Coquitlam Christ Church of China described Alfred as “a bright young man” who excelled at school and was enrolled in many of Pinetree Secondary’s honour classes. “He was passionate about every lesson he took,” said Choi. “Outside school, he participated in martial arts, basketball, and swimming.”
Alfred was training to become a lifeguard and was intent on a career in electronic engineering. He had also been preparing to join a leadership camp “so he could help the community through volunteering”, said Choi.
“In his free time, Alfred liked to play video games with his friends. He would spend many hours with them, laughing, shouting as they played … he was close to his parents and brother, and was loved dearly by them.
“He was taken from us much too soon. He lived his 15 years to their fullest extent. We know he is now with God, in a better place,” said Choi.
Alfred’s funeral will be held on Saturday morning at Coquitlam Alliance Church.
Wilfred Wong said the family was “in shock, that something like this could have happened to us.”
“Everything is still very raw right now,” he added.
“The 15 years we had with Alfred were far too short, but we know that Alfred is now in heaven with God. My parents and I will always love him dearly, and his death will leave a void in our hearts.”
Wilfred said two scholarships had been set up in his brother’s name, to support people “with the same dreams and goals”.
The school said its scholarship would go to a Pinetree student focused on engineering “who embodies what we most admired in Alfred: his curiosity, determination, academic excellence and achievement in all areas of life”.
Vancouver police chief Adam Palmer said Alfred’s death and its senseless, random nature had “rocked our community”.
“As police officers, every day we deal with criminals engaging in criminal activity and there are often tragic consequences to engaging in this criminal lifestyle. However, having to deal with the death of an innocent 15-year-old boy has been difficult on everybody,” he said.
Palmer said forensic officers had meticulously restaged the shooting, while a mobile police command centre was set up at the scene, on Broadway and Ontario, to make it easier for witnesses to come forward.
He said 50 officers were continuously working on the complex case and “significant progress” had been made, with extensive video evidence under analysis.
But police had not identified a suspect, and Palmer urged more witnesses to come forward.
He said that although police knew whether it was Whiteside or his unidentified attacker who shot the bullet that killed Alfred, this information was being withheld from the public.
Nor would Palmer say if any gunmen other than Whiteside and his killer took part in the apparent shoot-out, in which a second bystander suffered minor injuries.
He added that it was “rare that we see an innocent person being killed, a young person at the early stages of their life. It’s heartbreaking.”
The last time an innocent bystander was killed in a Vancouver shooting was in 2004.
But the deaths of Alfred and Whiteside are part of a recent eruption of deadly gang violence in Metro Vancouver.
On Friday, Lovepreet Dhaliwal, a man known to police, was shot to death in Abbotsford. On January 6, two men were wounded in targeted shootings at an East Vancouver car park. And on October 10, Surrey gang associate Ibrahim Amjad Ibrahim was found shot dead in a Richmond park.
Without addressing specific incidents, Palmer said: “This particular cycle [of violence] that we are seeing now is significant. We haven’t seen gang violence like this in the probably the past 10 years.”
Although Palmer said “Vancouver is still a safe city”, he was also blunt about its gang problems.
“We are not immune from violence. We have several groups out there who are hunting each other down and killing each other. It all revolves around drugs.”
The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email email@example.com or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.