Exchange District walkway called dangerous after vicious random stabbing
Spot where Red River instructor was stabbed had been identified as poorly lit
Just hours before a Red River College instructor was viciously stabbed outside the old Public Safety Building, a group of concerned residents and store owners identified the spot where the attack happened as needing better lighting.
The group was on a walking tour of the Exchange District to recommend areas that could use lighting to make pedestrians feel safer. They felt the covered wooden walkway that prevents pedestrians from being hit by crumbling pieces of rock from the old building posed a safety risk.
"It's obviously a terrible thing to have happen and thankfully it is a rare occurrence," said Sandy Klowak, special project co-ordinator at the Exchange District BIZ, which was conducting the tour of the area Tuesday night. Shortly after the tour, the 42-year-old instructor was seriously stabbed while on his way to catch a bus after teaching a class.
The victim tried to flag down drivers passing through the area but people continued to drive by until the victim was finally able to get the attention of a medical worker who stopped to help around 9:30 p.m. The instructor was rushed to hospital in critical condition.
Police said the suspect didn't say anything to the victim and it's not clear what motivated the attack.
"I mean it's kind of scary when you think about it like people walk around this area all the time," said Kayla Buehler, a second-year Red River College creative communications student.
"I walk around this area all the time so it's kind of freaky hearing something like that especially so close to where I go to school."
Buehler said she doesn't go through the walkway because she feels it is unsafe. She doesn't think the attack will change how she feels about her safety, noting she already takes precautions like having one earbud out while walking in the area.
Geralyn Wichers is another Red River student. She uses the walkway and said she felt physically ill when she found out about the attack. "I had seen the pictures on the news and I knew it was that corner right over there where I walk across every day so that kind of hit me a bit."
The sidewalk inside the walkway was badly stained in several spots with blood, which was still visible Thursday.
Red River College president Paul Vogt said in an email sent to students Thursday the instructor has been released from hospital and is now recovering at home. The college has brought in a counsellor for any students who want to talk and has beefed up security in the area.
Vogt said a number of people have expressed concern about the covered walkway where the attack happened.
"We know this vacant block is of concern and will continue to push for measures, such as improved lighting, that could help enhance pedestrian safety. We will also ensure that our mobile street patrol unit prioritizes this particular area during their daily security duties," he said.
Klowak said people shouldn't be fearful of walking in the area and pointed out the BIZ, like the college, has a free safe walk program anyone in the area can use.
"These things do happen but they are rare," she said. "It's an isolated incident. We want to always be thinking about how to make people feel safer when they come to the Exchange but there's a lot of great stuff going on down here."
Assaults rose the year after police left area
The old Public Safety Building shut down in July 2016 after the Winnipeg Police Service moved into its new headquarters downtown. Winnipeg police said in 2016 there were 45 assaults reported in the Exchange District. The next year that number went up to 77.
Police said from January to the end of July this year there have been 22 reported assaults in the area.
Red River College said it wants students to download its mobile safety app. The app is designed to keep them in the loop about anything happening on campus and gives immediate access to security and the safe walk program.
Police are still searching for a suspect and are asking any witnesses to come forward.