A 40-year-old man has been charged with second-degree murder after a busload of passengers saw him stab a fellow traveller and then cut off his head on a Greyhound bus driving on the Trans-Canada highway.
Following one of the most grisly investigations in Canadian criminal history, Vince Weiguang Li appeared in court in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, yesterday after being arrested attempting to flee the blood-spattered vehicle, on which the sleeping carnival worker next to him had been randomly killed and disembowelled.
The unprovoked attack, 40 miles west of Winnipeg on Wednesday night, left 37 men, women and children watching from the hard-shoulder as the bus driver and a passing trucker struggled to prevent the killer from escaping. Mr Li, from Edmonton, Alberta, was holding his victim's head in one hand and a Rambo-style hunting blade in the other. He then lifted up the severed head in an apparent attempt to "taunt" onlookers.
A passenger, Garnet Caton, told reporters that the victim had been sleeping with headphones on when a man in the next seat began stabbing him repeatedly. The two men appeared to be complete strangers and had not previously exchanged words during the journey.
"This guy just took a knife out and started stabbing him like crazy and cut his head off," said Mr Caton, 26, who was sitting just one row from the attack. "He must have stabbed him 50 or 60 times. There was no rage or anything. He was like a robot, stabbing the guy.
"Some people were puking, some people were crying, other people were in shock. Everybody was running, screaming, off the bus. We were telling him, 'Stay put, stay put, stay there, don't try to come out'. While we were watching, he calmly walks up to the front of the bus with the head in his hand, and just calmly stares at us, and drops the head right in front of us.
"Then he tried to drive off, but the bus driver disabled the bus somehow from the back. I'm not sure how he did it, and at that point, I think the police showed up."
Cody Olmstead, another passenger, said that the attack took place while most of the 37 passengers were watching a film. "We were watching Zorro. The next thing I know, I hear someone screaming," he told reporters. After beheading his victim, and dropping the head in front of onlookers, the suspect "went back and started cutting the body".
"Some people were puking, some people were crying, other people were in shock . . . everybody was running, screaming, off the bus."
After a stand-off lasting for hours, in which the suspect could be seen walking around and refusing to leave the bus, Mr Li was arrested early on Thursday morning.
"By the time the police had arrived, the driver and the remaining passengers had all safely exited the bus," Sergeant Steve Colwell, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, told a news conference. "At 1.28 am, the suspect... attempted to jump out of the bus after breaking a window. He was immediately subdued and arrested without incident and is currently in custody."
Although police refused to confirm the name of the victim until next of kin could be contacted, he was identified by the Canadian press as Tim McLean, a 22-year-old carnival worker who was travelling on the bus from Edmonton to Winnipeg to stay with his parents.
Yesterday, Mr McLean's Facebook and MySpace profiles contained a mixture of condolences and tributes to the victim, who had described himself as 5ft 5in and 125lbs.
"He has a lot of friends all very upset he's gone," said one friend, Jossie Kehler. "They would like to say they miss him and he will always be in their hearts."
The random and cold-blooded nature of the attack has sent shockwaves through Canada, and has already led to calls for tougher controls on the sale of knives. The attacker had apparently boarded the Greyhound in Brandon, Manitoba, roughly an hour before the incident, and changed seats to be next to his victim, shortly before pulling the six-inch blade from his rucksack.
Mr Li refused to speak in court yesterday. The judge said Mr Li should appear in court on Tuesday after he had had an opportunity to speak to a lawyer.