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Left in the 'dead zone'
When he walked past the end of Whalley's notorious "strip" on 135A Street near 106 Avenue last week, he saw her chained to a tree, moaning, trying with a weak voice to call for help.
Ken Smith knew the 43-year-old Surrey woman well, but he barely recognized her because of the violent beating she appeared to have suffered.
Her underwear was pulled down around her ankles, and she drooped from a tree, her arms chained to a big limb and her knees touching the muddy ground, Smith recalled.
Some people in North Surrey are saying that in addition to being beaten, the woman was sexually assaulted and had one of her eyes scratched out over a drug debt.
Surrey RCMP won't confirm details of the beating and won't confirm or deny whether a sexual assault occurred.
Police also say they didn't find the woman bound to a tree when they responded to a call at 12:40 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 2.
They are saying she was a victim of a serious assault and suffered life-threatening injuries, including broken bones.
As of Monday afternoon, the woman remained in hospital in critical condition, clinging to life.
As for the possibility of an outstanding drug debt being a motive, Surrey RCMP Cpl. Bert Paquet said it's early in the investigation and a motive hasn't yet been determined.
Smith said he's been homeless on the streets of Whalley for two years and he's seen lots of horrible things, but never anything this bad.
"A lot of it was a blur," the 51-year-old recalled. "Nobody should have this happen to them."
He spotted the woman behind a tire shop at 106 Avenue and 135 A Street. The area around the tree shows is frequented by many along the strip, with syringes, cast-off clothes, plastic bags and a plastic doll with its leg and head torn off littered across the small patch of green space.
A white cinderblock wall is covered in graffiti, with one missive stating: "No retreat, No surrender, Mad respect."
The tire shop was closed on Dec. 2, and no one at the shop can recall much about the incident except that one of the police officers in a white crime scene suit came in to use the washroom the next day.
Several people in Whalley are angered that police didn't release a warning to the public immediately following the discovery of the beaten woman.
It was only after calls from The Leader days later that police released some scant details publicly.
Smith isn't surprised.
"This is the dead zone," he said as he walked north of 104 toward 108 Avenue. "They don't tell you when bad stuff goes on up here."
Cpl. Paquet told The Leader Monday that "at the early stages of this investigation, there were a lot of questions that remained unanswered. At the time, we believed that releasing details of the investigation might jeopardize its success."
Not everyone in Whalley accepts that explanation.
"If this was a middle-class woman walking down the street, there would be a hue and cry (and) a great amount of outrage," said Jonquil Hallgate, executive director of the Surrey Urban Mission Society, which is located just blocks away from where the woman was found.
"The fact that she happened to be homeless, quite possibly living with addiction issues, somehow makes her life less valuable? So we don't report it or we don't have the same sense of outrage?"
Eight days after the attack, police are now calling for witnesses in what they are calling a "horrific" assault.
Police are asking for anyone who was in the area of 135A Street and 106 Avenue on Sunday, Dec. 2 at just after 12 noon who may have seen something unusual to contact them at 604-599-0502.
To remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).
The investigation continues.