Vince Li arrived from China about four years ago and found a home in Winnipeg, surrounded by a loving wife and caring members of the community who quickly took him under their wing.
He soon found a job, vastly improved his English and enjoyed socializing with new friends at Sunday-morning church services, dinner parties and trips out to Falcon Lake.
On the outside, life appeared to be very good for the new Canadian.
Yet those who got to know Vince Weiguang Li well soon recognized that beneath his friendly, polite exterior lurked something very troubling.
"He was kind of a lost soul. It was as if he was always looking for something," a member of a Winnipeg family which befriended Li -- even having him over for Christmas dinner two years ago -- told the Free Press Saturday in an exclusive interview.
The woman and her family have requested anonymity, not wanting to be deluged by other media covering a story that has made headlines around the world.
They are reeling over this week's horrific, unprovoked slaying aboard a Greyhound bus in which Li is accused of beheading a sleeping passenger in front of dozens of witnesses.
They say Li was clearly battling mental illness, but refused repeated offers to see a doctor and get help.
"I think, in their culture, (the issue of mental illness) is kind of frowned upon," the woman said. She works in the mental health field and said it was obvious Li was struggling.
"He was definitely schizophrenic, probably paranoid schizophrenic," she said. "He needed help but he just wouldn't get it."
There was the constant paranoia, a feeling that he was always being watched and that others might be out to get him.
There were his bizarre, rambling stories that seemed to come out of nowhere.
And there were the unannounced bus trips that would catch his wife by surprise -- such as the time he hopped on a Greyhound headed to The Pas, later explaining that he wanted to look at some land he was thinking about buying.
"I don't think he actually had any money. This was probably just a symptom of his disease," the woman said.
She recalls an unusual conversation with Li shortly after he got a red-light ticket in Winnipeg. "He started talking about how 'they were after me, there was nothing there,' " the woman said.
Li's illness soon began taking a toll on his marriage.
He and his wife Anna found a home in the Osborne Village area of Winnipeg shortly after coming to Canada.
He got hired as a forklift driver with Midland Foods on Nairn Avenue, while she began working several waitressing jobs at Chinese-food restaurants in the city.
The couple began occasionally attending church services at the Grant Memorial Baptist Church, which opened the door to other social opportunities.
Li worked at the church and its attached schoolhouse as a night custodian for a time.
The woman who spoke with the Free Press said her father and stepmother took a liking to the couple and began having them over for dinner and, eventually, for visits to their Whiteshell cottage.
"He was always a little bit quiet, kind of reserved. I think that's because he was self-conscious about his English," she said.
However, Li eventually warmed up to the family.
"We'd play cards together, dominoes, games like that," she said.
However, things took a turn about two years ago when Li suddenly left his wife and went to Edmonton. The woman said it's clear Li's wife was frustrated by her husband's erratic behaviour.
She stayed behind in Winnipeg -- continuing to work various jobs -- but recently moved to Edmonton where Li had apparently found work delivering newspapers and flyers.
Members of Grant Memorial church had recently spoken with Li, apparently concerned about how he and his wife were doing.
However, nobody predicted things would reach such a crisis point and climax in one of the country's grisliest murder cases.
The woman predicts Li will finally now get the help he needs -- far too late for the victim and everyone else impacted by the crime.
"There's no way he's going behind bars. He's going to end up in a mental health facility," she predicted.
Tom Castor, senior pastor at the church, said Saturday that he's certain he met Li at some point, but couldn't remember speaking with him. Turnover amongst custodial staff is high at the church, Castor said, as workers gather skills and move on to other jobs elsewhere.
Castor said has not looked at Li's now-closed employee file yet. Today at a pre-Sunday service meeting, Castor and staff at the church will discuss how the church could appropriately try to offer some kind of help to him.
"Certainly we're stunned by the event and curious about what circumstances in someone's life would lead them to commit such a serious crime," the soft-spoken Castor said.
In his past experience dealing with people in similar circumstances to Li, he said for the first week, it's likely that Li will only see people he has asked to see. As of Friday, a shaken and physically battered Li was refusing to speak with anyone, including a lawyer.
Li will appear in court again Tuesday, when he may be ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation. Castor said before that happens, it's hard to say how the church might get involved.
"It would be difficult to walk into his personal situation before the psychological evaluation," Castor said.
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