Near midnight on July 31, on a bus outside Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, Martha Beach-Yeo was an hour away from completing her 54-hour bus journey from Whitehorse to Winnipeg.
A third-year religious studies student from the University of Winnipeg, Beach-Yeo, 22, had been in Whitehorse with her best friend Jamie for a summertime “adventure.”
For the months of June and July they lived together at Robert Service campground, Jamie working at Alpine Bakery and Beach-Yeo working at Riverside Grocery and then Lizard’s Lounge.
Four rows from the front of the Greyhound, Beach-Yeo sat comfortably across two seats while her friend Calin sat across another two seats directly behind her.
Beach-Yeo was half asleep when Vince Li began stabbing Tim McLean in the throat with a large “Rambo” knife at the back of the bus.
She first heard a loud scream, which was muffled by the music in her headphones.
“My first thought was just like, ‘Oh, somebody’s goofing around’ or ‘somebody’s sick’ or something pretty unimportant,” said Beach-Yeo on Tuesday from her family’s home in Winnipeg.
“Then somebody yelled, ‘Bus driver, stop the bus, somebody’s being stabbed,’” she said.
The bus quickly pulled to the shoulder and all 36 passengers scrambled for the front.
“Just like a stampede, I was afraid somebody might get trampled,” said Beach-Yeo.
Outside, standing with a group away from the small gathering of passengers guarding the bus, Beach-Yeo was unaware of the carnage unfolding onboard the Greyhound.
When the police arrived, all the passengers were moved up the highway towards another Greyhound, and it was then that Beach-Yeo glanced up and got a look at the killer.
“I remember seeing (him) walking on the bus, walking around through the aisle and sitting down at one of the seats. I just sort of looked up at him and then kept going,” she said.
At the side of the road, Beach-Yeo kept asking the other passengers, “Why aren’t the police getting on the bus? What if this guy’s still alive?”
“And that’s when somebody said, ‘No, he’s not alive, he’s been decapitated,’” she said.
The group was transported by Greyhound to a Comfort Inn in Brandon, Manitoba, where they were met with crisis workers.
For days afterwards, Beach-Yeo found it hard to eat or sleep. And she quickly became swamped with phone calls and e-mails from friends, family and the media.
The passengers’ luggage was held for several days as part of the police investigation, but checked luggage had been returned within a few days, and passengers were even informed that they could very well see the return of possessions from the interior of the bus.
Beach-Yeo said that she had been informed that it is unlikely she will be having a pillow returned, as it is “too contaminated.”
A week after the incident that many, including Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, are calling “one of a kind in Canadian history,” Beach-Yeo said she still feels very removed from what happened.
“It doesn’t feel totally real; it’s still kind of like a movie I’m watching,” she said.
The sheer unprovoked randomness and horror of the murder has pushed it to newspaper headlines across the world, and caused some Canadians to call the notion of personal security into question.
It has certainly cast a spectre of paranoia, however temporary, upon Beach-Yeo and her family.
“I hope it doesn’t really deeply affect me in the future … but it’s made me want to isolate myself and only be around friends and family a lot more,” she said.
“My mom was saying to me that she’s found that when she’s out she’s really apprehensive of other people, wondering if they’re OK or not. Wondering what’s going through their mind,” said Beach-Yeo.
While she said that she doesn’t want to feel that the incident has prevented her from living her regular life, Beach-Yeo said she doesn’t “plan on getting on a bus any time soon.”
Beach-Yeo, who will spend the rest of the summer at her family’s cabin near Kenora, Ontario, before travelling to Europe throughout the fall, said, “I’m still processing everything … and trying to get back to normal life.”