Family, friends search for missing York University student in Toronto

Family and friends of missing York University graduate student Zabia Afzal are searching for her after she went missing Thursday morning.

Search parties are scouring the city for Zabia Afzal, 30, last seen on Thursday

Zabia Afzal, 30, was last seen near Ashbridges Bay in Toronto's Beach neighbourhood, according to police. (Philippe de Montigny/Radio-Canada)

Family and friends of missing York University graduate student Zabia Afzal are searching for her after she went missing Thursday morning.

The 30-year-old PhD student and community activist was last seen near Ashbridges Bay in Toronto's Beach neighbourhood, according to York Regional Police.

Her older brother Zubair Afzal says her cellphone was found with some other belongings shortly after she went missing at Ashbridges Bay. 

On Monday, Zubair told CBC Radio's Metro Morning that he's hopeful she'll be found soon and that his family is trying to stay positive.

Zabia Afzal has been missing since last Thursday. Matt Galloway speaks with her brother Zubair Afzal about his sister and the search. 5:59

The search is now focusing on areas she frequented. The Scarborough Bluffs, the Toronto Islands, Thorncliffe Park and Woodbine Beach have already been searched.

Zabia was reportedly familiar with Ashbridges Bay and the Scarborough Bluffs and did volunteer work in Thorncliffe Park.

The PhD student and community activist has been missing since Thursday. (York Regional Police)

Afzal says he's appreciative of the support he's received from the community in the search for his sister so far. 

"We have received an outpouring of support from the community as well and we are very grateful for that," he said Sunday. "Family and friends, they are very concerned for Zabia's safety . . . and we're hoping that we can locate her, we can find her today."

Posters with her photo have been put up in several areas of the city.

Searching Bluffers Park

About 60 people, some wearing T-shirts with her photo, searched Bluffers Park along the shoreline, in its parking lot areas closer to the bluffs themselves and near residential areas that border the park. About 20 others searched parts of the Toronto Islands.

Afzal was reportedly seen at 9:40 a.m. Thursday in the Vaughan area, near Highway 400 and Major Mackenzie Drive West, police said. 

Afzal said her disappearance is out of character. He described her as a "very caring" person and a "smart and bright" woman.

Friends and family of Zabia Afzal, a York University student, have launched a social media campaign #FindZabia to help uncover information about what happened to her. (Facebook)

"She is a very strong individual," he said. "She has been doing a lot of community work in terms of women's rights in the Thorncliffe area.

"She is somebody who cares and loves every person. She really connects with others."

Zabia lives in Toronto, but works in Vaughan, he added. She has five siblings.

According to a news report, she co-founded community organization Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In.​

Social media campaign launched

Family and friends have also organized a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #FindZabia.

People are urged to use the hashtag to share information about Zabia.

One Facebook post suggests Afzal left work in Vaughan and took an Uber to Woodbine Beach on Thursday morning. ​

"She was last traced to near the water where Woodbine Beach joins Ashbridges Bay," the post reads.

CBC News has not independently verified the information in the Facebook post. 

Family and friends of a missing York University student searched the Scarborough Bluffs for signs of her on Sunday morning. (York Regional Police)

"Zabia is a dedicated [teaching assistant] who prioritizes her students above her own academic pursuits," a caption on a photo on the Find Zabia Facebook group said. 

"Zabia is a brilliant PhD student uncovering the injustices of the healthcare system," another post read.

CUPE 3903, the union representing striking contract staff at York University, also took to social media to share links calling for the public to help in finding the student and fellow union member.

Police said they are concerned for her well-being.

Afzal was last seen wearing black pants, a black or navy zippered hooded sweatshirt and a green floral shirt.

Anyone with information is asked to call York Regional Police's criminal investigations unit at 1-866-876-5423, ext. 7441.

With files from Muriel Draaisma and Philippe de Montigny