Elisabeth Salm, 59, was volunteering at the Christian Science Reading Room when she was fatally attacked on May 24, 2018. The weeks-long trial of the man accused of her murder, Tyler Hikoalok, is underway in Ottawa. (Photo courtesy of Lyle Young)

Who was Elisabeth Salm? Murder trial brings to light details of victim and the man accused in her death

Tyler Hikoalok accused of killing Salm in 2018; his trial is set for its 4th week in Ottawa

By Madalyn Howitt

The moment Lyle Young picked up the phone just after 1 p.m. on May 24, 2018, his life changed forever.

“Something has happened to Elisabeth,” said the voice on the line.

“Come to the reading room right away.”

Young raced to the Christian Science Reading Room in downtown Ottawa where Elisabeth Salm, his wife of 28 years, had been volunteering that morning.

He was told Salm had been rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries she suffered in what appeared to be an attack at the reading room.

Young rushed back home to get his wife’s medical documents and power of attorney forms, and then headed to Ottawa Civic Hospital where Salm was undergoing emergency surgery.

But surgery wasn’t enough. Salm died the following afternoon. A traumatic brain injury is listed as the cause of death, and court later heard she suffered 54 separate injuries in the attack.

Back at the crime scene, investigators would piece together evidence and narrow in on a suspect. Two days after Salm’s death, they made an arrest.

Tyler Hikoalok, 22 and originally from Cambridge Bay, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Salm, 59. He was arrested May 27, 2018.

Last month, more than four years after he said goodbye to his wife for the last time, Young sat on the witness stand across from the man accused of killing her.

Tyler Hikoalok sits in the prisoner box at the Ottawa courthouse. Hikoalok faces a first-degree murder charge in the 2018 death of Elisabeth Salm. (Courtroom sketch by Lauren Foster-MacLeod)

Court has heard Salm was badly beaten, and there was evidence she was sexually assaulted.

Experts have testified that DNA found on Salm’s body as well as video footage taken from a neighbouring building link Hikoalok to the crime scene.

Hikoalok’s trial moves into its fourth week on Tuesday. It’s being held in courtroom 36 at the downtown Ottawa courthouse, just one block from the building where Salm was killed.

Over the past three weeks, the 14-member jury has heard testimony from nearly two dozen witnesses including investigators, first responders, medical experts, educators who knew Hikoalok and people who knew Salm.

Young, 64, was the first witness to take the stand back on Sept. 13. He spoke about how they met through the Christian Science Church in Ottawa and went on to be married for 28 years before Salm was killed.

The couple were very active in the church, even moving for a few years to Boston to work in the organization, Young said during his testimony.

Salm was a choir singer and Sunday school teacher, and volunteered as a librarian and attendant at the Christian Science Reading Room, which functions as a small study room and shop near the church that is open to the public.

Car-free since 1991, the couple often rode their bicycles around the city. Salm in particular was an environmental advocate who had helped organize all-candidates debates about the environment during municipal elections.

She cared deeply about her family and her community, Young testified.

He recounted for the jury getting a call from Janet Dudley, a colleague of Salm’s, telling him something had happened to his wife and he needed to come to the reading room.

Since his day on the stand, Young has sat in the courtroom and listened to every gruelling detail of the trial.

Elisabeth Salm, a librarian at the Christian Science Reading Room at 141 Laurier Ave. in Ottawa, was found severely injured inside the centre’s study room on May 24, 2018. Tyler Hikoalok, 22, faces a first-degree murder charge in her death. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

Other family members and friends of Salm’s come nearly every day, too, sitting with Young.

There’s no indication that any family or friends have attended court to support Hikoalok as he stands trial in a city 3,000 kilometres from his Nunavut hometown.

Each day as court is called into session, he is led into the prisoner’s box in the centre of the courtroom wearing the same red sweatshirt and grey pants he’s worn every day of the trial.

He has a stocky build and stands somewhere around 5’4″. He keeps his dark hair pulled back off his face and tied into a ponytail, the longer strands in the back falling around his neck.

Hikoalok stays quiet but attentive, looking straight ahead at the witnesses and counsellors in front of him. Occasionally, he lets his gaze fall toward the floor for a few moments before looking up again.

He had been a student at the Debbie Campbell Learning Academy from 2015 to 2018, an alternative school for youths unable to attend traditional classes.

Educators who worked with Hikoalok have testified he was a funny kid who would joke around with his fellow students, and often talked about the music he was working on as part of an Indigenous hip-hop collective known as TR1BE.

When he turned 18 in January 2018, however, his attendance became much more sporadic and he stopped coming to class regularly.

He did attend the school on May 24 of that year, coming by to eat lunch before leaving again in the afternoon.

The trial is being presided over by judge Anne London-Weinstein. The Crown is represented by attorneys Lisa Miles and Brian Holowka. Hikoalok’s attorneys are Michael Smith and Brook Laforest.

People who can’t get to the Ottawa courthouse in person can watch the proceedings over Zoom.

The Crown officially closed its case on Sept. 29 after calling its final witness. When court resumes Tuesday, the defence is expected to begin laying out its case.

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