Photo: IHIT

Remembering Marrisa Shen

It’s been 4 years since Marrisa Shen’s life was cut short at the age of 13. Now, a classmate shares who Marrisa really was.

By Srushti Gangdev | July 19, 2021 |9:29 pm

Emma C met Marrisa Shen for the first time in Grade 8 at Moscrop Secondary School. The pair shared a math class and a gym class, and Emma said their friendship got off to an odd start when she tapped Marrisa on the back and Marrisa “got kind of freaked out.”

The girl she came to know in the months to follow was one who cared deeply about her interests, and who wasn’t afraid to show when she didn’t care about something.

“She really loved badminton, but she hated almost all the other sports that we had to do. She would just kind of hide behind other people,” Emma told the Beacon.

“The amount of times I’ve been sacrificed in dodgeball so she wouldn’t get hit is kind of astounding. She would do everything to her best ability to avoid having to move unless it was badminton.”

The girls enjoyed a close friendship until the summer after Grade 8. That’s when everything changed.

On July 18, 2017, Marrisa went for a walk around her neighbourhood, as her family said she often liked to do. She left her Central Park area apartment building just after 6 pm. It was a sunny summer day, the daylight extending late into the evening.

She stopped by at her favourite Tim Horton’s.

Marrisa loved anime more than almost anything else (one of her favourites was ‘Yuri On Ice’), and it was an area where some of her other talents intersected.

Photo: IHIT

4 years after her death, a friend remembers Marrisa Shen as a talented artist with a knack for clothing design, and a love for anime.

Photo: IHIT

When she didn’t return home as expected, her parents reported her missing.

Marrisa’s body was found in Central Park, steps from her home, early on the morning of July 19—4 years ago today.

Emma said when she first heard the news, she thought at first it was some sort of elaborate prank. It only became real when she was pulled out of her summer school classes to be formally told that her friend had passed away.

Marrisa’s murder instantly became one of the highest-profile cases in the Lower Mainland: a 13-year-old child out for a daylight walk in a park popular with families, her life brutally cut short in a “random attack” with few details released and a suspect on the loose.

It was more than a year before police would arrest a suspect in Marrisa’s death. In the intervening time, investigators identified more than 2,000 persons of interest, scouring more than 1,000 hours of surveillance for 60 locations, and issued multiple pleas for information.

Finally, on September 7, 2018, the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team announced the arrest of then 28-year old Ibrahim Ali, who was charged with 1st-degree murder.

His trial, scheduled to begin last year, was delayed because of the pandemic. The BC Prosecution Service tells the Beacon it will now begin on September 20, more than 3 years after Ali was arrested.

Emma says, in the media furor, reporters forgot to humanize Marrisa, focusing instead on the hunt for her killer.

She said in a Reddit post that she somewhat understands now; they were just kids.

“But they didn’t try as hard as I expected,” Emma wrote.

In Emma’s eyes, Marrisa was a girl with immense creativity. She was shy but also wasn’t afraid to share her passions with the people she cared about.

Marrisa loved anime more than almost anything else (one of her favourites was ‘Yuri On Ice’), and it was an area where some of her other talents intersected.

Emma said Marrisa had a knack for clothing design and would replicate outfits from her favourite anime series.

“She would watch an anime, would fall in love with one of the characters, and would spend hours designing their actual clothes and then trying to make them in real life,” Emma said.

“She spent all of her allowance on that, to the point where she basically almost had nothing to eat at lunch because she spent all her money on fabric.”

As for how Marrisa got into that kind of hobby—Emma said she’d already developed the habit by the time they met at 13 years old.

And her love for cosplay wasn’t limited to just clothing and costumes. Marrisa loved 1 anime character so much she wanted to copy their hairstyle by dying her own jet-black hair completely white.

Emma said she and Marrisa had a whole argument over it, with Emma trying to reason with her that dying black hair white is harder than it sounds.

At the age of 13, Marrisa already had a caffeine addiction that bordered on “obsession,” once even showing up to a final exam late just so she could get an iced coffee from Tim Horton’s.

“She was in line for things and made the conscious choice to be late for her final in order to get her coffee. … She still managed to score higher than me on the test. I was really mad about it,” Emma said.

But she said Marrisa wasn’t academically inclined—unless the subject was to her interest, like math.

“She had a habit of sleeping through most of her classes. So she slept through most of English and science.”

If things went as they should have, Marrisa would have graduated high school a few short weeks ago, with her whole life ahead of her.

Emma says she can’t know for sure exactly what a 17-year-old Marrisa (soon to turn 18, on October 20) would have wanted from her life, but she thinks she would have taken arts in university or college.

“Game designing, or making anime, … or again, fashion designing was a big thing.”

She wishes Moscrop Secondary School had done more to support Marrisa’s friends in the wake of her death or more to memorialize her. A photo in the yearbook, or maybe a plaque in the school. Nothing too big, because Marrisa didn’t like being in the spotlight.

Now that they’ve all graduated, Emma hopes her fellow classmates feel they can break their silence the way she has and share who Marrisa really was.

Emma still remembers that caffeinated, anime-obsessed 13-year old girl who loved strawberry wafers and would “hiss like a cat if you scared her while jumping high into the air.”

“Most days felt like they could last forever. But as reckless and loud and slightly annoying as she was, she was kind, smart, caring, and honest,” Emma wrote.

“The biggest lie she ever told was when she told me she would see me tomorrow.”

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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