On July 30, 2008, 22-year old Tim McLean, boarded bus 1170 to return home to Winnipeg, Manitoba after finishing a stint as a carnival worker in Alberta. It was 12:01 p.m. when he took his window seat at the rear of the bus.
It was a long 22 hour ride so he had brought his music and was quietly reflecting on his journey when at 6:55 p.m., the bus made a stop at Erickson, Manitoba and picked up a new passenger named Vince Weiguang Li — a tall man in his 40s wearing sunglasses and sporting a shaved head. At first, Li sat near the front of the bus but after a rest stop, he moved to the back to sit next to McLean.
After “barely acknowledging’’ Li, Tim fell asleep with his head on the window pane while wearing his headphones. All of a sudden, according to some witnesses, Li attacked McLean with a large knife and stabbed him in the neck and the chest.
Garnet Caton, a seismic driller who sat one row ahead of McLean, described hearing “a blood-curdling scream”. “I turned around and the guy sitting right behind me was standing up and stabbing another guy with a big Rambo knife….Right in the throat. Repeatedly.’’
Another passenger, Stephen Allison, stated that McLean fought his attacker which gave the other passengers time to get off the bus. The bus driver and two other men tried to come to McLean’s rescue but were chased away by Li who was slashing wildly with his knife.
Li decapitated McLean and displayed his severed head to the horrified passengers who had fled the bus and were gathering outside. They were in the middle of nowhere so they could not escape this horrific situation. Caton reported that he got sick after he saw the severed head. “Some people were puking, some were crying, some were in shock. The attacker just looked at us and dropped the head on the ground. Totally calm.’’
A police officer who had arrived at the scene, saw Li cut off body parts from the victim’s body and eat them. After the bus driver’s failed intervention, Li had gone back to the body to sever other parts and consume some of McLean’s flesh.
What is even more baffling than this gruesome attack on McLean is the fact that law officers who had arrived at the scene did not stop Li. They allowed him to continue decapitating and desecrating his victim’s body in plain view of the passengers. Li would pace back and forth. He had body parts in his pockets and would hold them up for everyone to see.
The bus driver had engaged the emergency immobilizer system to render the vehicle inoperable because Li had tried to escape by driving the bus.
So, the bus had transformed itself into a mobile Theater where the spectators outside could not help but view and in a way, participate, in this gruesome play. It was like the puppet shows that you see in France where the public is sitting in front of this makeshift mobile trailer and reacts very loudly to the drama of the story.
In this case, the spectators were puking, fainting and crying. Some of the male passengers were growing very upset over the inaction of the police and wanted to go in themselves to put a stop to the ongoing horror. But they were obviously ordered in no uncertain terms, to stay out of it.
In fact, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) had received a report of a stabbing in a bus at 8:30 p.m. They arrived to find the bus driver, and a truck driver armed with crowbar and a hammer, trying to prevent Li from escaping.
By 9:00 p.m., the police summoned special negotiators and a heavily armed tactical unit. Li was dangerous but he only had a knife and the cops had guns and outnumbered him. They stayed there and did nothing while Li was eating parts of the body and pacing around the bus. They started bringing the stranded passengers to the police department to be interviewed. The suspect declared, “I have to stay on the bus forever.’’
It sure looked like it. The police did not seem to be in hurry to stop the carnage. Some of the passengers were growing more and more upset in view of the law enforcement inertia. Were they expecting William Shatner to arrive in his helicopter to serve as their negotiator? It was a farce.
At 1:30 a.m., the suspect, probably tired of being in the bus, tried to break a window to escape. They shot him with a Taser twice, handcuffed him and put him in the back of a police car. You wonder why they did not enter the bus to Taser him long before he tried to get out on his own.
I do not understand to this day why the desecration of this young man’s body was allowed to happen for hours while they had plenty of resources to put a stop to the attack. Hell, I think I could have stopped him myself with a few of my girls and pepper spray.
The bus looked like a butcher shop; they placed parts of the victim’s body in plastic bags. McLean’s ear, nose and tongue were found in Li’s pockets. His eyes and a part of his heart were never recovered and it goes without saying that he ate them. There were some bloody parts strewn across the dashboard.
The Greyhound representatives had to take the passengers to a local store to replace their clothes as nothing left on the bus could be retrieved. They finally arrived in Winnipeg at 3:30 p.m. that day to be met by their loved ones. McLean’s mother, who was so anxiously awaiting the return of her son, had to be told that his tragic final destination had been reached earlier than expected.
In some Canadian towns, the police have been accused many times of shooting without any hesitation mentally ill people that they perceive as a threat. But in this case, they took their sweet time even though they had the ideal situation at hand; Li had basically been encaged in the bus. Were they not capable of going from first to second gear? Maybe there is no protocol in place for a bus attack?
In Toronto, they recently shot a young troubled man several times because he was ‘kind of causing trouble’ in a tramway car. Maybe there were no rules in their booklet for a ‘bus cannibal’. Whatever their excuse is, they demonstrated their outlandish incompetence in this specific standoff.
Tim’s mother, Carol De Delley, had heard on the radio that a young man was decapitated in a bus but had no clue it was her son. She even had prayed for him at dinner time with her husband. She finally learned from her former husband that it was her child. She was totally devastated by the death of her son, especially by the gruesome way he was killed.
She could not believe that law enforcement had allowed her son’s body to be desecrated this way and that the rampage lasted almost 5 hours. She was inconsolable. If the term mater dolorosa was ever invented with a purpose in mind, it was to describe the pain suffered by this poor woman. Tim was the doting father of a little girl and by all accounts, a great guy who had not engaged Li in any way, except with a friendly smile.
The entire family of Tim McLean brought a lawsuit of $150,000 against Greyhound, the Attorney General of Canada and Vince Li.
In 2011, two passengers filed a lawsuit against Vince Li, Greyhound, the RCMP and the Government of Canada for being exposed to the beheading. They are seeking $3 million in damages. Pretty ridiculous when you think that the family of the victim has been asking for a very reasonable amount of money for themselves.
Vince Li was obviously mentally ill and was under the impression during the attack that he was chosen by God to save people from an alien. He had been hearing voices for a while and was obviously not sane enough to realize that he was afflicted with schizophrenia.
He was born in China in 1968 and had graduated from the University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computers. He immigrated to Canada in June, 2001. He worked menial jobs at a Church to support his wife. The Pastor had no complaints against Li, except the language barrier. He did not show anger issues. But he was apparently hospitalized in 2004 after problems with the police.
He worked as a forklift operator and his wife as a waitress, and he showed no signs of trouble before he quit in 2005. He also worked at Wal-Mart and as a newspaper delivery man in 2006. Four weeks before the murder, he was fired from Wal-Mart for problems with other employees. A storm was brewing in his mind. He said he had to go to Winnipeg for a job interview and the rest is history.
He boarded a Greyhound bus bound for Winnipeg on July 28. On July 29, he got off the bus in Erickson with three pieces of luggage and spent the night on a bench. According to witnesses, he sat there all night staring into space. On July 30, he sold his new computer to a teenager for $60. It was seized by the RCMP and the boy received a new one for his honesty. Li finally boarded the bus going to Winnipeg that was carrying McLean just before 6 p.m.
During the attack, witness Garnet Caton said that Li was in his own world. Not enraged but more like a robot. When Li appeared on charges of second-degree murder, the only words he uttered were pleas for someone to kill him.
Because he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, Lee was found not criminally responsible. The psychiatrist testified that Li performed the attack because God’s voice told him to execute McLean. He was remanded to the Selkirk Mental Health Centre. He had not fully emerged from the psychotic phase at the time but he was starting to realize what he had done.
Chris Summerville, the CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, held regular meetings with Li. He visited him once every two months after his remand. Summerville believes that there are two victims and two families who are victims of untreated, uncontrolled psychosis. He says ‘’the media was more favorable to the McLean family because the country has entered a period of ‘tough on crime’ with very little attention being paid to restorative justice, rehabilitation, recovery and redemption or the role of mental illness in this unfortunate incident.’’
Summerville offered this take after his May 19, 2012 meeting with Li:
‘’It is remarkable the positive effects of the medication. Up to 25 per cent of people who will have a psychotic break with reality will never experience another psychotic episode.
Up to 65 per cent will experience a degree of recovery in order to live a meaningful life. Ten per cent will take their life by suicide due to the losses associated with schizophrenia.’’
‘’Of the 300,000 people in Canada who live with some form of schizophrenia, the vast majority lead quiet, law abiding lives hoping for some quality of life. People living with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of violence rather than being perpetrators of violence.’’
Since 2012, Vince Li has been granted temporary passes out of the Health Centre while supervised by a nurse and peace officer.
Tim McLean’s family was disappointed that Li was found criminally not responsible. They consider that he committed the crime and could still be a danger to society. Tim’s mother is unmoved by Li’s apology and remorse and thinks he should remain locked up.
‘’You’re interviewing an individual who has gone through treatment and meds and come to this place where he’s come to these realizations. Now you take him off those meds for a while and see what kind of an interview you would get,’’ she said.
At the same time, this good woman says she is trying to forgive her son’s killer.
‘’I’m working on it. I think for the advancement of my own soul, I think that that’s going to be a necessary thing,’’ she said.
‘’But it’s an extremely difficult and a very private thing,’’ she added.
The unjustified public fears about Li will probably keep him in a mental-health hospital longer than necessary. The horrific nature of Li’s act has demonized him in the public’s mind, Summerville said.
‘’I don’t think he will be released anytime soon because of public sentiment,’’ adding that the perception of Li is ‘’rooted in fear and in some people, in hate and in vengeance. Some hold a characterization of him that is just not true of him.’’
While he is not advocating Li’s immediate release, Summerville said there is little public understanding of the nature of schizophrenia and its treatment with medication. ‘’Schizophrenia is treatable. Recovery is possible.’’
When I try to put myself in Carol De Delley’s shoes, I can feel her pain and understand her argument but if I do the same for the family of Vince Li, I cannot help but feel compassion. I hope they both can find peace.
Li has been staying at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre since he was found not criminally responsible for killing McLean. Last year, he was granted supervised outings and he has now been granted more freedoms, in the form of unsupervised day passes to visit Winnipeg. He will have to carry a cell phone with him and will be closely monitored.
Psychiatrist Dr. Steven Kremer told the review board at a hearing earlier this week that Li has had no hallucinations in over a year, he takes his medication, and he has had “profound improvement” in his mental status.
Carol De Delley, McLeans mother, disagrees with the decision, but remains extremely kind and compassionate in her comments.
“I need for Vince Li and people like him to remain in a locked facility where they can make sure that they get their medications, where they are being treated for their illness. They’re treated with compassion, but the rest of public is kept safe,” de Delley told CBC News on Friday night.
“That’s what I need to move forward, carry on. I’ll never get my son back regardless of what I do, or what I’ve done already.”
Update: Click to read about review board asked to discharge Li.