New Westminster's Filipino community is mourning the violent death of a vibrant mom and singer who worked hard to bring her family to Canada.
Maria Cecilia Loreto recently worked at a Superstore in Vancouver — among the 49-year-old's multiple jobs since arriving 10 years ago, according to longtime friend Salve Dayao.
Last week, her burned body was found near a children's playground in Burnaby.
Two people were charged Wednesday with her first-degree murder, as well as indignity to a human body — a 21-year-old man named Carlo Tobias and a 15-year-old who, under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, cannot be named.
Tobias is also charged separately with sexual interference.
On Friday, the two accused appeared briefly by video in New Westminster Provincial Court, wearing orange jump suits and masks, but the matter was put over to later dates.
None of the friends or family who knew the homicide victim as "Mycel" were present.
But Salve Dayao, an old friend, told CBC that she was known for her love of community, dance and her singing — and she was very close with another singer she called "Tita" or Aunty.
"It's the most horrible thing to happen to her. She worked hard to bring [her] children here. She is a very beautiful person. She can't be written off. She will be remembered," said Dayao.
Victim knew 2 suspects, police say
The discovery of Loreto's body started with a call to a Burnaby firehall reporting a grass fire in Greentree Village Park. When crews arrived, they found a body on fire, just metres from a children's playground
Police say they believe Loreto was killed in her home in New Westminister on the evening of March 17 before she was brought to the park.
There is a publication ban on any further details to protect the identity of the young accused but Dayao says investigators believe they know what happened.
"For for this to happen to her — it's just so horrible. I don't know why it had to end this way for her."
Dayao, heads the New Westminster Philippine Festival Society and organizes the multicultural festival at Westminster Pier Park every year.
The professional singer, who also ran the Java Jazz Bistro in New Westminster for more than 15 years before she sold it, says she first met Loreto in 2011 and would often spend time with her at the restaurant.
She says she knew her young friend as Mycel — a contraction of her first two names Maria and Cecelia. Dayao says the young mother loved to perform, sing and dance and helped out with, and performed at, many community events.
"She was such a bubbly, sweet young lady," said Dayao."I never heard her say anything nasty about anybody," she said, her voice breaking recalling Loreto's generosity.
"She would always say that she is my "fan" and you wouldn't think that she had any worries in the world," said Dayao.
Loreto had lived in New Westminster originally and then in Vancouver, before returning to the Royal City recently to live in an apartment with her youngest daughter.
Over the years, she worked three jobs until she could save enough money to bring her family — her husband and a son and daughter — to Canada to join her around 2018 or 2019.
Dayao said her friend would tell her if there was a sale on rice at the Superstore and bring it to her restaurant where they'd share dinner.
"She would call me and say — 'Tita — there's a sale of rice, would you like me to get you some? How many bags would you like?'" said Dayao.
The New Westminster senior, who just celebrated her own 41st wedding anniversary, said she could not sleep Thursday night and thought about her friend as she baked late into the night, trying to dispel the loop of negative thoughts.
"I will never understand why this had to end this way for her."