WINNIPEG – A year ago, Kayli Shaw boarded a Greyhound bus for a long cross-country journey from Edmonton to her home in Ontario.
She was looking forward to seeing her boyfriend and took a seat four rows behind the driver.
The sun was setting as the bus travelled along the straight, flat Trans-Canada Highway that carves across Manitoba.
She and the other passengers settled in to watch the movie “Mask of Zorro.” She worried about making her connection in Winnipeg since the bus was running behind schedule.
All of a sudden a passenger rushed past her yelling for the bus driver to stop. Someone was being stabbed.
“I thought it was just a joke,” said Shaw, speaking publicly about her ordeal for the first time from London, Ont.
She quickly realized it was anything but. She looked behind her and saw Vince Li stabbing Tim McLean repeatedly.
“I just freaked out,” said Shaw, who left all her things on the bus and clamoured for the door. “I just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible.”
That unfolding nightmare haunts Shaw to this day.
She, like others who witnessed the horror that July night, can’t get the bloody images out of her head.
Li stabbed the 22-year-old carnival worker dozens of times, carving up his body and scattering it around the bus. Part of McLean’s heart and his eyes were never found.
When she closes her eyes, Shaw sees Li holding up McLean’s head, “taunting police” from inside the locked bus. She sees police standing outside the bus and firefighters leaning up against emergency vehicles as Li continues defiling McLean inside.
“It’s been hell,” said the 23-year-old. “If someone drops a pencil, I’ll jump. I’m afraid to get on buses. I have nightmares every night. I can’t sleep through the night at all. I barricade myself into my apartment.”
Shaw, who has been trying to get her high school diploma, had a few free sessions with a therapist, but can’t afford to continue. Her purse and identification which she had left on the bus were returned to her, but she can’t bear to look at them.
“It’s all in a storage facility. I can’t even touch it.”
Li was found not criminally responsible for his actions at a short trial in March. A judge found Li suffered from untreated schizophrenia and did not realize that killing McLean was wrong. His case will be reviewed every year to determine if he is well enough to be released.
Li is now locked up in an institution where doctors say he is making progress – taking his medication, watching movies, playing cards and reading a Chinese edition of the Bible.
But scars remain for the witnesses to what he did and for those who knew McLean.
Jennifer Ashley Ptashnik, one of McLean’s cousins, said her family hasn’t begun to recover.
She remembers McLean as a generous soul who used to horde sweets collected during one of his gran’s “candy scrambles.” He would then distribute them to the smaller grandchildren who were at a disadvantage in the game.
“Timothy was an amazing beautiful person who loved us all more than anything,” Ptashnik said. “Our whole family is very close and still extremely affected by this tragedy every day. We all miss him more than any of us could begin to describe. There are 15 of us grandkids and we are all within 15 years of each other. You can imagine the devastation.”
McLean’s mother, Carol deDelley, says she wished she had died the night she found out it was her son brutally murdered on that bus heading toward Winnipeg.
In a victim impact statement read out at Li’s Criminal Code review board hearing, deDelley said she can’t sleep, can’t eat and can no longer earn a living driving a school bus. There is a Greyhound stop in her hometown of Elie, Man., that is an inescapable reminder of her son’s murder.
She is now pouring her energy into fighting for changes so people who are found not criminally responsible for a crime still serve time in jail.
But her crusade can’t erase what happened, and every time she looks at her son’s picture, she has visions of his decapitation.
So does Greyhound bus driver Bruce Martin.
“Anywhere from five to 50 times a day I think about what I saw at the back of the bus – a body lying on the floor and Vince Li thrusting his knife into the limp body over and over again,” the driver wrote in his victim impact statement.
“Sometimes I can over-ride those visions in my mind and go on with my day. Many other times, I feel numb all over. At times, I feel a lot of anger over a person taking the life of another. Other times, I cry as I envision Tim McLean – a young man who had his whole life ahead of him and had it snuffed out.”
McLean’s death is being marked by a vigil at Manitoba’s legislature on Thursday. It is one of several that have been held in the past year.
His father, Tim McLean Sr., says he won’t be there and declined to say how he will be marking the anniversary of his son’s death. DeDelley also plans to grieve in private.
As family and friends of McLean continue to grapple with their loss, some say the voices of the silent victims – McLean’s fellow passengers – will now come to the fore.
Winnipeg lawyer Jay Prober is preparing to file a class-action lawsuit against Greyhound on behalf of passengers. Prober, who is also fighting a lawsuit on behalf of the McLean family, alleges the bus company didn’t do enough to protect the safety of its ridership.
Greyhound has said Li was solely responsible, but the bus line has introduced greater security measures. Passengers boarding in major cities must now pass through metal detectors and are required to check their luggage rather than carrying it on board.
While Li is in a mental institution getting the counselling he needs, passengers have been left to grapple with their nightmares virtually on their own, Prober said.
“It’s had a severe impact emotionally on the passengers, some of whom can’t sleep, they can’t eat and at least one of them suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome,” he said.
“There are some serious issues.”