These CCTV photos released by Victoria Police show Aiia Maasarwe, 21, sometime before she was killed while walking home after a comedy show in Melbourne, Australia. (Victoria Police)
The Australian city of Melbourne is once against in mourning after another young woman was killed on her way from home from a comedy club – the second such murder in six months.
Police said Aiia Maasarwe, a 21-year-old exchange student from Israel, was slain at 12:10 a.m. on Wednesday shortly after she got off a tram in the suburb of Bundoora.
Maasarwe, a student at Shanghai University doing a six-month study aboard program in Melbourne, was the phone with her sister – who is overseas – when she was attacked by at least one attacker, Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper said. The sister alerted authorities.
The sister “heard the sound of the phone falling to the ground, she heard some voices and that was it,” he said. Maasarwe was less than a mile away from her home.
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Maasarwe’s body was found at 7 a.m. Wednesday near the tram stop. Police assume the attack was random and opportunistic.
“Out of respect to the family, we’re not going into details of injuries and the nature of the assault,” Stamper said. “This was an absolutely horrendous, horrific attack inflicted on a completely innocent young woman who was a visitor to our city.”
Investigators said the 21-year-old woman’s bag was split open and some of its contents were removed. Police also recovered a black baseball cap with “1986” on the front and a gray and black T-shirt about 330 feet from the crime scene that they suspect belonged to Massarwe’s killer.
The clothing, Stamper said, was the “key to solving this crime.”
The shirt and hat found near the crime scene by authorities. (Victoria Police)
“Somebody in the community knows who did this. Somebody’s come home on Tuesday night or in the early hours of Wednesday morning, maybe with blood on them, missing items of clothing,” he said. “Somebody knows about this and we need help.”
La Trobe University, where Maasrwe was studying, said its community was “shocked and saddened.”
“La Trobe University is committed to providing a safe university environment. On campus we undertake a range of activities to improve personal and physical safety and our security has been intensified as a result of this incident,” the school said in a statement. “We are committed to continuing to work closely with all relevant authorities to address these serious community issues around public safety and violence against women.”
In this Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019, photo, police investigators work at the scene where the body of Israeli student Aiia Maasarwe was found in Melbourne, Australia. Australian police are looking for at least one attacker who killed the Israeli woman as she was walking on a city street speaking to her sister by phone. (Stefan Postles/AAP Image via AP)
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Maasarwe’s uncle, Abed Katane, told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that her father has left for Melbourne in a bid to coordinate her body’s return home.
“She was an excellent student, full of life,” he said. “She wasn’t in a very dangerous country at all, and yet we are still receiving such a painful message.”
Israel’s embassy in Australia said it is ready to help and support Maasarwe’s family to return her body home for burial.
“We have complete faith in the Victorian Police and have no doubt that they will leave no stone unturned in the search to bring the perpetrator to justice,” the embassy said in a statement.
Hours after Victorian Police confirmed her identity, tributes began to pop up on social media, asking Melbourne’s residents to come together and reflect on the latest tragic event to hit the city.
“Aiia Maasarwe, I am sorry you came to our country on a new adventure, ready to learn, live and enjoy life and someone so cruelly snatched that away from you. Australia is better than that. You should have been safe and I’m so sorry that you weren’t. It’s unforgivable,” one person wrote on Twitter.
Jessamy Gleeson, who is organizing a vigil on the steps of Parliament, said she was “shattered and heartbroken” to be organizing another event just six months after bringing people together to mourn aspiring comedian Eurydice Dixon, who was raped and killed on her way home from a comedy club last June.
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“There are a lot of things that need to change… and a lot of these changes can start with the government itself and the choices they choose to make,” she told SBS News. “We want women to be safe and to be able to walk home without being attacked.”
Melbourne is Australia’s second-largest city and draws more than 200,000 students from all over the world to study. Despite the two deaths, Melbourne is generally considered among the safest cities in the world.
“It is a terrible tragedy,” Victoria state Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, who lives in the Bundoora area, said. “As a government, we will do whatever is required to support this woman’s family and friends and I extend my sympathy to her family and friends at this terrible, terrible time.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.