It was an emotional scene in courtroom 204 at the Chilliwack Law Courts Wednesday as the man accused of the first-degree murder of 28-year-old Belgian tourist Amelie Sakkalis had his first court appearance.
More than a dozen friends and family members of the accused sat in the gallery, some clasping hands, some crying.
Sean McKenzie, 27, appeared in person dressed in standard pre-trial custody issued orange clothes.
When the diminutive McKenzie was brought in to the prisoner’s box, he sat down, closed his eyes, then looked out at members of the gallery, some of whom were wiping away tears.
He stared intently towards at least one person and mouthed a few phrases.
The Oliver man was initially arrested at the crime scene where police found Amelie Christelle Sakkalis’ body in a rural area near Hwy. 1 at about 7:45 p.m. on Aug. 22.
McKenzie was then let go after his initial arrest as police did not have sufficient evidence to detain him. He was the owner of a white van found on the scene.
“He was not known to police and he does not have a criminal record,” IHIT spokesperson Cpl. Frank Jang told reporters Monday.
“He travels extensively through the province… for work.”
Jang did not elaborate on what job McKenzie held, nor why Crown was pursuing first-degree murder charges.
His brief appearance in Chilliwack court Wednesday ended with him being remanded under section 515.11 of the criminal code, a statute that allows an accused to be held in custody for specific very serious offences.
After the appearance, the friends and family left the courthouse but declined to speak to the media.
McKenzie’s next court date is Oct. 19 at 9:30 a.m.
The victim in the homicide, a Belgian national, Sakkalis had been travelling through Canada for a couple of weeks before her death.
“Amelie’s family in Belgium has been notified of the developments in her case,” Jang said.
Homicide investigators believe Sakkalis was picked up by McKenzie somewhere between Penticton and where her body was found.
Jang said that police received a call that led them to Sakkalis’ body, but would not elaborate on who had made that call.
Sakkalis had been in Penticton long enough to be reported missing, police said.
“They had just recently met that day,” said Jang.
“If you saw [McKenzie] with Amelie Sakkalis that day, on Aug. 22, that’s important to us. Pick up the phone and call us.”
When asked if McKenzie could have other victims despite not having a criminal record, Jang said the police would not rule anything out. The focus, however, on this investigation and his request is for information from the public is regarding the day Sakkalis was murdered, Aug. 22.
– with files from Katya Slepian