Police hope that a stolen laptop and webcam might provide clues as to who killed a college student in her Toronto apartment as her boyfriend watched helplessly over the internet from 11,000 miles away in China.
Toronto Police say Qian Liu, a 23-year-old Chinese national studying English at York University, was killed Friday morning when she let an unidentified man into her room while chatting online with her boyfriend in Beijing.
The boyfriend told police there was a knock at Liu's door around 1 a.m. ET Friday and a man asked to borrow her cell phone.
The boyfriend witnessed "a struggle between the deceased and the man," according to police, before the suspect shut off her computer and stole the laptop. Also stolen were the webcam she was using to chat with her boyfriend and her cell phone.
The boyfriend, who police have not publicly identified, immediately took to the internet to raise people he knew in Canada who could alert the police. He contacted Liu's family in Beijing who called the Chinese consulate in Toronto. But it was almost 10 hours after the intruder knocked on the door that police finally entered Liu's apartment and found the woman dead.
Liu was found naked from the waist down, but there were no signs of sexual assault, according to police.
Police interviewed the boyfriend over the phone, who described the intruder as a white male, 20 to 30 years old, 175 to 200 pounds, with "medium-length brown hair, messy at the front and well-groomed at the back."
Police have yet to identify the man at the door or determine whether Liu knew him.
Deadly Assault Witnessed on Webcam
"I'm not going to speculate as to whether she knew him," said Det. Sgt. Frank Skubic. "She opened the door to him. That being said, there was no peephole to evaluate who was on the other side."
Police said neither the boyfriend nor a third party recorded their chat. However, they hope that if they locate Liu's laptop, a Thinkpad T400, or the webcam, or are able to access the boyfriend's computer they might be able to find "remnant" footage of the moment when the intruder entered the home.
Skubic said police had been in touch with several people, including one "person of interest" who has been seen in photos with Liu circulating on the internet.
Skubic said he did not "at this time confirm" that the person of interest is the intruder, but said police had been interviewing him since Friday night.
He would not confirm whether that person matched the physical description of the intruder.
Deadly Assault Witnessed on Webcam
A person claiming to be Liu's friend said the person of interest lived in the same apartment building and had been stalking the college student.
"The suspect once shared the same house with Liu," the friend wrote anonymously online in a Toronto-based Chinese-language chat room, according to the Toronto Star.
"The suspect was chasing after her, but she refused, then he started stalking her by texting her all the time," the friend wrote.
Skubic said Liu had never reported any harassment to police and as far as they could determine had likely not been stalked in the criminal sense.
"We have no information that she was being stalked in the criminal sense," he said. "She may have been asked to go out on dates, she may have refused, she may have gone out on dates, that does not constitute criminal stalking."
Liu arrived in Canada in September 2010. Her family is expected to arrive in Toronto later this week.
Liu death appears to be the first time that a murder has been witnessed on the internet, although there have been instances of suicides carried out live on the internet.
In 2009, Mohamed Hossain, received a frantic call from his 21-year-old daughter's boyfriend that the young woman had just attempted suicide inside the family's Tucson, Ariz., home. The boyfriend, living in Michigan, watched via the Internet as the woman hanged herself from a ceiling fan.
A year earlier, Abraham Biggs, 19, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., livestreamed his suicide over the internet as commentors egged him on and called him names. Biggs overdosed on sleeping pills and laid motionless for several hours as the broadcast continued. Viewers realized Biggs was not joking when they watched paramedics storm his bedroom.