30 Years Later, We Still Don’t Know What Happened To Shafiq Visram

Barrhaven is still recovering from the shock of the March murders of the Wickramasinghe family.

A mother, her four children, and a family friend were brutally killed in March. They were Sri Lankan nationals who had not been in Canada for very long.

The community wondered how something like this could happen. What many did not know, however, is that it was not the first time a Sri Lankan national has been killed in the area.

While the Wickramasinghe family will forever be remembered in our local history, Shafiq Visram has all but slipped through the cracks.

Thirty years ago this week, the 19-year-old high school student was sitting on the banks of Mud Creek near Prince of Wales and Bankfield Roads. No one knows why he came home from school, grabbed something to eat – his brother told the Independent 30 years ago that he left his dishes in the sink – and went to Mud Creek. He didn’t take his wallet or any ID, but he did take his backpack. Visram’s bank accounts had never been accessed since his disappearance.

He left the house, and then he was gone. The last time he was seen, he was sitting on the banks of Mud Creek.

What happened? Why did he go there? Did he just get on a bus and go to Toronto because he hated it here? Was he abducted?

Nobody had a clue.

He is the boy who simply slipped through the cracks.

The 1994 case of Shafiq Visram remains one of the biggest mysteries in the history of the area.

Remains found

In 2016, human bones unearthed at a construction site caused many long time Manotick and area residents to wonder and speculate if, perhaps, the body of the 19-year-old student who went missing in May, 1994 may have finally been found.

The bones were found at a home in Phase 6 of Maple Creek Estates near First Line Road and Prince of Wales Drive, just south of Barrhaven and west of Manotick. Tim Carver and Jason Pink were digging in front of the house on Cabrelle Place to install fence posts. When they went to take a break, Pink stepped on something hard. He looked, down, and saw what appeared to be a human jaw bone.

When the police were called in they agreed with the two contractors that the bone was likely human. A forensics expert was called in, and for the next few days, the home’s front yard turned into an archaeological dig site. Vertebrae were found, which would help experts determine the age and origin of the bones.

The police said that they could not begin to form a direction for the investigation into the bones until information was received. Const. Marc Soucy said that, first, “we have to know if these are 600-year-old bones or 20-year-old bones.”

For longtime residents, their immediate thoughts went to the student who went missing from the nearby Mid Creek area.

Months after the bones were found, forensics confirmed that they belonged to Shafiq Visram.

Visram had last been seen on Monday, May 30, 1994, returning home from school.

“We’re not sure what happened,” OPP Const. Ian McCurdie said at the time. “He is a good student but his marks had slipped a bit. That’s all we know.

“Ordinarily, we would not search for a 19-year-old, but from some of the information we had, we decided to look into it.”

The Visram family, originally from Sri Lanka, arrived in the area from Kenya two years earlier. Shafiq’s father has passed away, and most of his family is now living in the Greater Toronto Area. He has a brother living in England.

“What I remember about that case was how the community got together,” said Mike Williscraft, who publishes a newspaper in Grimsby but covered the story for the Barrhaven Independent and Manotick Messenger at that time. “It was an interesting time because community policing was just becoming popular, and people wanted to get involved and volunteer to help. There were people from Manotick, Barrhaven, Kars, North Gower, Osgoode and Richmond all coming together to look for that boy.”

Hundreds of volunteers linked arms and walked through farm fields and through the woods looking for Visram. Police dogs were brought in, and helicopters flew overhead during the search.

“Eventually, the search was called off,” recalled Williscraft. “There were no clues. It was like he vanished.”

Visram was described by everyone as a good kid. He lived a clean life. He was not a kid who was into drugs, or any kind of trouble for that matter. Yet his disappearance remains an ongoing mystery in the community.

As the search was called off, South Carleton High School would endure another tragedy less than a week later. Scott Whittle, a student at South Carleton who played in the Osgoode Rideau Minor Hockey Association, was killed in a car accident. The Kars youth volunteered with the ORMHA initiation hockey program.

While Whittle’s death turned some of the focus in the community away from Visram, there were other factors at play.

“Right around that time, there were changes in policing in the area,” said Williscraft. “The local OPP detachments like Manotick’s were being closed in favour of larger, regional police departments. While the Visram disappearance showed no clues or evidence, a lot of the police officers were preoccupied with what was going to happen to their own careers. Since they turned up nothing, the Visram file eventually became a cold case.”

Had the backpack been found a couple hundred metres north of where it was, the Nepean Police would have been drawn into the case as the border was Bankfield Road.

Visram’s death is considered suspicious. Though the optics appear that he was murdered and then buried in the area wear the housing development was built, that cannot be proven.

When the remains were found, it did provide some closure for Visram’s family.

But there was little comfort, as we are no closer to finding out what happened to him than we were 30 years ago.