The close-knit street community in Prince George, B.C., is reeling in the wake of the arrest of a man accused by police of being a serial killer who preyed on local women.
On Monday, police announced Cody Alan Legebokoff has been charged with three new counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Jill Stacey Stuchenko, Cynthia Frances Maas and Natasha Lynn Montgomery.
The 21-year-old had previously been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Loren Leslie, 15, last November. He is scheduled to appear in court later this month.
Mary-Ann Sorenson runs An Association Advocating for Women and Children, a women's emergency shelter in downtown Prince George where people knew several of the victims.
"Many of these women were well-known to lots of us who worked in the downtown and the women we serve ... so there's been a lot of sadness, anger, shock," she said.
Coun. Murray Krause, who runs Prince George's Native Health Centre, said the city just hasn't been able to protect its most vulnerable women.
"It's one more black eye for Prince George ... but maybe we can applaud the RCMP for having done the work to arrest someone," Krause said.
Police seek more victims
In September, the B.C. Missing Women Inquiry held a series of forums in northern B.C. to hear from the families of missing and murdered women in the area.
At Monday's news conference, attended by members of the media and representatives from local First Nations communities, police said they believe Legebokoff acted alone.
Police said the investigation was "far from over," as investigators are looking for witnesses and additional victims.
It's believed Legebokoff used the internet and social media websites to meet women, frequently using the online name 1CountryBoy, and he lived in Lethbridge, Alta., from June 2008 to 2009, said police.
Legebokoff is originally from Fort St. James, B.C., but had been working at a Prince George car dealership before his arrest last year.
The mother of Loren Leslie said her daughter allegedly met Legebokoff online.
Donna Leslie told CBC News Tuesday that after the online introduction, she believes that her daughter later met Legebokoff face-to-face at a Prince George party.
Leslie said that she now feels sorry for everyone that had anything to do — even indirectly — with her daughter's slaying.
"They have lost their son as much as I’ve lost my daughter. That’s how I feel," said Leslie. "Even the alleged killer, I feel so sorry for him. There has to be something that went wrong in his brain, otherwise people just don’t do that kind of thing.
Leslie said she believes her daughter would have a similar view.
"I believe she would feel the same way that I do, just because she was such a compassionate person. She would have hated what he did but also felt compassion for the person behind the act."
Police say it does not appear that Legebokoff is connected with the disappearance of at least 18 young women — many of them aboriginal — who have been murdered or gone missing on a 700-kilometre stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert. The stretch has become known as the Highway of Tears.
Sorenson said the idea that more than one serial killer may have been stalking vulnerable women in the area is troubling.
"It's very frightening. It's disturbing," she said. "There's a sense of almost powerlessness or helplessness that what we do doesn't seem to be enough to keep women and girls safe."