VANCOUVER – A 15-year-old who was struck by a bullet when his family’s car passed a brazen gang shooting in Vancouver is being remembered as a polite, friendly boy who loved to swim and was training to be a lifeguard.
Mark Bottrill, head coach of the Hyack Swim Club, said Alfred Wong was the teenager who died Monday after getting caught in the crossfire Saturday evening. He said he saw the shooting on the news and was stunned when Wong’s parents told him the victim was their son.
“You can’t believe it. It’s shocking and devastating, and you just don’t really even grasp it in the moment,” he said.
Vancouver police have said the boy was heading home to Coquitlam with his parents when shots were fired between at least two people and he was struck. The shooting was gang-related and the 23-year-old man who was the target of the attack also died in hospital, said Chief Const. Adam Palmer.
Palmer has called the shooting “reckless” and “reprehensible” and dedicated more than 50 officers to the investigation.
Bottrill said Wong joined the swim club when he was a young boy and swam competitively until about two years ago, when he switched to a non-competitive group that met twice a week. The group of about 12 kids was tight-knit and Wong’s death has left a “big piece” missing, he said.
“When we told the kids that Alfred was, in fact, the boy, it just takes a minute for it all to sink in. Then you have the various reactions of shock and disbelief and upset,” he said. “As time passes on, and more and more people become aware of it and more people talk about it, it ends up becoming more emotional.”
Bottrill did not personally coach Wong, but he said he knew the boy and he was nice, smart and well-liked by his teammates. Wong had recently joined their volunteer lifeguard program, he added.
He said Wong went to Pinetree Secondary School and police are arranging for counsellors to speak with children in his swim group and on his basketball team.
Wong’s parents are planning his funeral and have asked the swim club to post the details when they’re finalized, Bottrill said, adding that Wong has an older brother.
Swimming Canada, the national governing body for competitive swimming, tweeted its “sincere condolences” to Wong’s friends, family and teammates.
“This senseless violence has caused a tragic loss for the nationwide swimming family and we grieve with you,” it said.
The Coquitlam Christ Church of China posted on Facebook that the 15-year-old victim was a member of their congregation, although they did not use Wong’s name.
“We are devastated and saddened over his loss, and our hearts ache with his family,” the church said. “Thank you to those of you who have reached out to us offering your prayers and condolences.”
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart offered his condolences to Wong’s family, calling him an “unfortunate innocent victim” of gang violence.
“The father in me is heartbroken over the loss that this family now faces. Our hearts and our prayers are with the family, the friends, the loved ones of young Alfred,” he said on Facebook.
A Coquitlam school district said it would not name the school the victim attended out of respect for the family’s privacy.
“It is with heavy hearts and sincere condolences to the family that we confirm that it was a student from School District 43 who passed away,” said community relations manager Peter Chevrier.
He said the district’s critical response team is providing support services to all those affected at the school.
Police have identified the 23-year-old man who died as Kevin Whiteside and said he was known to police. Other suspects have not been identified.
— With files from Chris Purdy in Edmonton