On a Wednesday afternoon in early September, Natsumi Kogawa attended a calligraphy lesson and an information session in downtown Vancouver.
When she finished at 5:30 p.m., she went to the downtown branch of the Vancouver Public Library, where she studied for about an hour before heading home to Burnaby.
Around midnight, she exchanged messages with a friend, making plans to hang out the following day. The pair were to meet in front of Kogawa’s home, near Holdom SkyTrain station, at 5:30 p.m.
When the friend arrived for their meeting, the 30-year-old Japanese student was nowhere to be found.
After five days of trying to reach Kogawa with no luck, friends reported the disappearance on Sept. 12, and Burnaby RCMP began to investigate.
Friends sprang into action. A Facebook group was launched to spread the word about the disappearance and provide a timeline of Kogawa’s last known activities. Friends and friends of friends went to places in downtown Vancouver, where Kogawa often spent her time, to hand out posters with Kogawa’s photo, pleading with strangers to call police if they recognized their friend. Her image appeared on screens at transit stations, and was shared widely on social media.
Two weeks into the search, Burnaby RCMP released surveillance video, and asked the public to help identify a man who was seen walking with Kogawa around 1:30 p.m. on the day of her disappearance near Seymour and Hastings. In the images, the student can be seen speaking and gesturing to a man with a backpack.
On Thursday, three weeks after Kogawa was last seen, Vancouver police went to the historic Gabriola mansion on Davie St. near Nicola. Burnaby RCMP’s serious crimes unit had been investigating, and their work led to the abandoned-looking heritage property.
The following day, friends and family members’ worst fears were confirmed as police announced Kogawa’s body had been discovered at the West End mansion.
“It is a very dark time for me right now and the words I am writing right now cannot possibly convey my sadness,” wrote Jay Vergara, a friend who had spearheaded the social media campaign to spread word of Kogawa’s disappearance.
“My greatest hope right now is that the person who did this to Natsumi will be swiftly and severely brought to justice.”
At the Gabriola mansion Friday afternoon, Tomoka Asami, who is from the same Japanese city as Kogawa, prayed and wept after laying a bouquet of flowers at a small memorial where several others had also laid flowers.
“It was so sad,” said Asami, who’d helped distribute flyers about Kogawa’s disappearance. “But I don’t want people to think that Vancouver is a dangerous city.
“I live in North Vancouver and my friends in Japan have sent me emails. It (Kogawa’s disappearance) was very big there.
“I didn’t know her, but she and I came from the same town in Japan, Aomori.”
Delrae Fawcett, who lives two blocks away, said Kogawa’s death was shocking, adding that she hadn’t noticed anything odd on the mansion’s grounds which she passes by regularly.
She’s seen people who were often “chilling out” on the grounds. “But it’s always pretty quiet.”
Erik Lauzon, who lives across the street from mansion, said there have been no problems at the house although a few squatters sometimes congregate in the back alley, “but never on the grounds.”
“This doesn’t change anything for me,” said Lauzon when asked if he now looks at his neighbourhood a little differently. “It’s an isolated incident.”
While the cause of Kogawa’s death has yet to be determined, one man has been arrested.
William Victor Schneider, 48, was arrested in Vernon shortly before midnight on Thursday and charged with indignity to a human body.
Sgt. Brian Montague, a spokesman for the Vancouver police, could not say whether the investigation was a homicide, as investigators are still gathering evidence.
“There must be evidence to support charges. It is still very early in the investigation and an autopsy scheduled for Monday will hopefully determine cause and approximate date of death,” he said.
Montague said that it will be up to Crown prosecutors to lay any additional charges as the evidence is collected.
Kogawa was an experienced traveller. She had come to Canada to study English, and had plans to switch her tourist visa to a working holiday visa. In recent weeks, she had also spent time with friends at Nikkei Matsuri, a Japanese festival where she also had the chance to meet Whitecaps FC player Masato Kudo, of whom she was a fan.
The 17,000-square-foot Gabriola mansion was built by the Rogers family in 1901. It has been empty since the Macaroni Grill restaurant closed in the mid-2000s. It was sold for $6.2 million to Nevin Sangha, who plans to convert it back to rental apartments.
108 total views, 1 views today