Diana O'Brien, 22, began modelling locally more than a year ago and a stint in Milan was her first big break. ((Barbara Coultish Model Management))

A young model from Saltspring Island, B.C., had been stabbed and was fully clothed when her body was found in Shanghai, her boyfriend told CBC News on Tuesday.

Diana O'Brien, 22, had been in China since mid-June after landing a contract with a modelling agency in Shanghai.

"All I know is [the] roommate she was working with down there found her in the stairwell of their apartment," said Joel Berry, O'Brien's boyfriend of five years.

Berry's source for what happened to his girlfriend has been second-hand information.

Charlotte Wood, another B.C. model working in Shanghai, discovered O'Brien's body, Berry said.

"I heard that [the apartment] had been robbed or ransacked. A lot of the electronics were missing, [like] their laptops and cameras," he said.

"Either she was caught alone, away from work and away from her apartment or she was.… Someone got into their apartment maybe."

Berry said Wood has been told by Chinese police she can't leave the country, because she's a witness.

O'Brien didn't mind bar work: boyfriend

O'Brien's family and friends learned on Monday that her body had been found. Few details about her death have been released by authorities in Canada or China.

Her friends said earlier she didn't like working in Shanghai, and had bought an airline ticket and planned to return to B.C. in two weeks, after finishing her final assignment.


Joel Berry says his girlfriend might have been unhappy, but not because of concerns about the kind of work she was asked to do in Shanghai's local bars. ((CBC))

Berry said Tuesday his girlfriend might have been unhappy and wanted to come home before the end of her three-month contract, but it was not because of concerns about the kind of work she was asked to do in local bars.

Other friends have told the media O'Brien was unhappy with the work promoting a whisky brand by dancing on podiums in bars, and that was why she wanted to come home.

Her friends have since denied earlier reports that O'Brien was required to dance partially nude, saying she would have refused any sort of questionable work.

"[She was] definitely not being pressured by the agency to do any type of jobs that she didn't want to do. If she didn't want to do any jobs, she was able to turn them down without any problems," Berry said.

The website belonging to Jh Model Agency, the Shanghai company O'Brien was working for, vanished on Tuesday. Calls and e-mails to the company have gone unanswered.


Diana O'Brien, 22, landed a contract with a modelling agency in Shanghai to work the summer months. ((Barbara Coultish Model Management))

In a written statement issued Tuesday, the B.C. talent agency that sent O'Brien to work in Shanghai said it was saddened by her passing.

"We have a working relationship with the company with the intent to have our models travel to Shanghai and be promoted by Jh Model as fashion models," the statement by Barbara Coultish Model Management said.

"Jh Model escorts their models to each casting and assignment they are booked for. Models are not accompanied on their personal free time.

"We have not been told all of the details of this tragedy. However, we do know that she was not working at the time," the statement said.

Berry said O'Brien told him that she would never go anywhere in Shanghai alone.

The agency disputed claims by O'Brien's friends that the aspiring model was unhappy with some of the work she'd been given.

"She told us that she was happy in Shanghai and enjoyed the agency, the city and her roommates," the statement said.

O'Brien, who had lived with her boyfriend and other friends in Saltspring Island, began modelling locally more than a year ago and a three-month stint in Milan before her China trip was her first big break, friends said.

Modelling industry booming in China

An agent who places Canadian models in China said she has never experienced problems, but noted the industry is changing quickly.

Antonella Mainella, who is in charge of international bookings with Folio Montreal, said she works with two established agencies in Shanghai, but could easily work with dozens more as the industry in China is mushrooming.

"I have e-mails every single day, [from] new agencies that have come up … so we are very, very careful with that," said Mainella.

"If it's not an agency we've worked with in the past, or that we have a relationship with, or that we've met personally, I do not place the girls," she said.

Mainella said models and Canadian agencies should make sure they check the reputation of agencies in China before agreeing to take jobs there.