Hamilton

Police finally find 'afraid,' 'vulnerable' key witness in Al-Hasnawi homicide case

After weeks of searching, police have tracked down a key witness in the shooting death of Hamilton teen Yosif Al-Hasnawi — a man who detectives say was living off the grid in many ways, which made him hard to find.

Detectives say someone called in a tip about the man this week

Police released these photos of the older man they say was being accosted when Yosif Al-Hasnawi intervened and was fatally shot. They say the man was finally located this week. (Hamilton Police Service)

After weeks of searching, police have tracked down a key witness in the shooting death of Hamilton teen Yosif Al-Hasnawi — a man who detectives say was "afraid," "vulnerable" and largely living off the grid, which made him hard to find.

The man is the person police say was being "verbally accosted" by two people in central Hamilton on Dec. 2.

That's when Al-Hasnawi, a 19-year-old pre-med student, came out of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre on Main Street East around 9 p.m. to defend him. 

A short distance away, Al-Hasnawi, who police deemed "a Good Samaritan," was fatally shot. He died at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton about an hour later.

Yosif Al-Haswani recites the Qur'an during a religious ceremony moments before he got into an altercation outside the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre, and was shot and killed. (Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre)

Police released new, clearer photographs of the man earlier this week, and on Thursday morning, detectives announced that someone called in a tip that led them to find the man yesterday afternoon. He was interviewed, and his evidence is now before the court, a news release reads.

Police say they are not releasing the witness's name.

Det. Sgt. Steve Bereziuk of the homicide unit told CBC News that finding the man was a curious case. He is "transient by nature" but not homeless, he said, and also "had access to funds."

Because the man wasn't accused of any crime, police didn't have access to helpful personal information that they might have with a court order in place. The man also made all his purchases in cash, Bereziuk said. That, combined with the fact that he didn't stay in the same place for too long, made him tough to track down.

"It's difficult to find a person when they live that way. It's an interesting lifestyle," he said.

Bereziuk classified the man as a "vulnerable individual;" someone who is older, not strong, and has a somewhat diminished mental capacity. 

Family and friends of Yosif Al-Hasnawi are seen performing final rites before his burial in Najaf, Iraq. (Mazen Al Zurufi/Facebook)

That's why it appears Al-Hasnawi intervened, Bereziuk said — to protect him.

"By finding him, it adds to the credibility of the evidence that he was protecting him."

The man was reluctant to come in, he said, because he appeared to be scared and wanted to stay out of it.

"I think he's just afraid," Bereziuk said.

Both the province and Niagara Regional Police are investigating the conduct of paramedics at the scene. They arrived just after 9 p.m. and didn't leave to take Al-Hasnawi to the hospital until 38 minutes later.

Al-Hasnawi's father and two brothers are suing police and paramedics. A 19-year-old, Dale King, is charged with second-degree murder. James Matheson, 20, is charged with being an accessory after the fact.

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Adam Carter

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Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.