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'Utterly devastating': Details released about suspect, victims of triple Chinatown stabbing

The suspect has had violent interactions with police in the past.

Police are releasing more details about the triple stabbing that marred the end of Vancouver's Light Up Chinatown event this weekend.

Three people were attacked by a stranger on Sunday, Sept. 10 near the festival's main stage. The suspect left the scene but was caught by Vancouver police minutes later, not far away.

He remains in custody.

The incident

Around 6 p.m., as the festival was winding down, a crowd gathered near the stage for a musical performance.

"Three people were amongst a crowd of other people near the festival's main stage near Columbia and Keefer Street," said VPD Chief Const. Adam Palmer during a press conference Monday. "A stranger approached these three people and attacked them, stabbing each of them."

The victims are a man and a woman in their 60s from Burnaby and a woman in her early 20s from Vancouver. All three received serious but not life-threatening injuries.

All three victims were also Asian.

Police reacted quickly to the situation.

"I was maybe 20 feet away and didn't see it," said Carol Lee of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation, which organized the festival. "There wasn't much to see if you weren't right there, and I'm very grateful for that."

The suspect immediately left the area of the attack but was located by police on East Hastings Street, where he was apprehended without incident, Palmer told reporters.

The suspect

Police have identified the suspect as 64-year-old Blair Evan Donnelly who, at the time of the attack, had been released from a forensic psychiatric facility on a day pass, said Palmer. The facility is in the Lower Mainland, but not in Vancouver, he added.

"He has had contact with police in the past but not here in Vancouver," Palmer said. "We have no VPD records of this person."

Donnelly is from elsewhere in B.C., he added, where he's had violent interactions with police officers.

Palmer is confident Donnelly will remain in custody as the investigation into the case continues, due to the seriousness of the incident and the fact he was on a day pass.

Donnelly has been charged with three counts of aggravated assault.

The incident is still under investigation and central to that is the motive. 

"It defies any logical explanation," Palmer said.

He noted it could possibly be a hate crime, but it's unclear right now. It also appears to be a stranger attack.

"That is something that is a very important part of our investigation, either to confirm that and be able to prove that or to rule that out," he said.

Anti-Asian crimes spiked during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Anti-Asian hate crime; those numbers have come down from the period during COVID when the numbers were very high, but they're still higher than traditional numbers we've seen in the city," said Palmer.

At the same time, Donnelly's mental health will have to be assessed as well.

Attack mars festival

The Light Up Chinatown event was a free, two-day gathering in the city's historic district which has faced issues lately. It drew "tens of thousands" of people out, said organizer Lee.

"After putting on a very successful Light Up Chinatown, this is not how we thought it would end," she said, calling the attack "utterly devastating and heartbreaking."

Jordan Eng of the Chinatown Business Improvement Association said the event was meant to celebrate how far Chinatown has recently come.

"This was a community event, this was to bring the community together, to Chinatown. To showcase Chinatown," he said. "It was a headliner event to end the summer after the love and support from all three levels of government."

That said, Eng also noted the attack may be indicative of what the community has faced in recent years.

"This is not what we expected, it really is completely heart-wrenching to see what happened," he said. "But this is the reason Chinatown was ringing the alarm bells during the pandemic."

Mayor Ken Sim voiced support for the Chinatown community and promised the attack wouldn't impact the city's resolve.

"This is a setback but make no mistake about it, we're all here for the community. It's our community as well," he said. "We're not giving up."