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Search parties scour Toronto for York University student missing for 3 days

Family and friends of a missing York University graduate student are searching for signs of her in three areas of Toronto on Sunday.

Zabia Afzal, 30, a PhD student and a community activist, was last seen on Thursday at about 10:40 a.m. near Ashbridges Bay in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood, according to York Regional Police.

Searches have been conducted at the Scarborough Bluffs, on the Toronto Islands and now one is underway in the neighbourhood of Thorncliffe Park.

Zubair Afzal, Zabia’s older brother, said her cellphone was found with some other belongings on Thursday morning at Ashbridges Bay.

“As a family and friends we have also made plans to help the police in terms of scouting various neighbourhoods and parks that connect closer to the last location that we have seen her at,” he said.

“Since the last two, three days we have been doing this and today was a major push. We are very hopeful that she is in the neighbourhood close by,” he said in Bluffers Park in Scarborough. “Obviously, we are very concerned for her safety at this moment.”

Zabia Afzal, 30, has been missing since Thursday, and was last seen near Ashbridges Bay in Toronto’s east end. (York Regional Police)

Searchers are focused on areas she frequented, he said. Zabia was familiar with Ashbridges Bay and the Bluffs and did volunteer work in Thorncliffe Park, he added. The Woodbine Beach area also was searched after her disappearance.

“Zabia tends to go into places that she is familiar with and we’re hoping that one of the familiar places that she’s been to in the past we might be able to locate her there,” Zubair Afzal said

“We have received an outpouring of support from the community as well and we are very grateful for that. Family and friends, they are very concerned for Zabia’s safety . . . and we’re hoping that we can locate her, we can find her today.”

Posters with her photo have been put up in several areas of the city.

Searching Bluffers Park

About 60 people, some wearing T-shirts with her photo, searched Bluffers Park, along the shoreline, in its parking lots areas closer to the bluffs themselves and near residential areas that border the park. About 20 others searched parts of Toronto Islands.

An hour before she disappeared, Afzal was reportedly seen at 9:40 a.m. in the Vaughan area, near Highway 400 and Major Mackenzie Drive West, police said.

Afzal said there has been an outpouring of support from Toronto residents.

Friends and family of Zabia Afzal, a York University student, have launched a social media campaign #FindZabia to help uncover information about what happened to her. (Facebook)

He said her disappearance is out of character. He described her as a “very caring” person, a “smart and bright” woman.

“She is a very strong individual,” he said. “She has been doing a lot of community work in terms of women’s rights in the Thorncliffe area itself.

“She is absolutely, she is somebody who cares and loves every person. She really connects with others. Definitely, a very caring individual,” he said.

Zabia lives in Toronto, but works in Vaughan, he added. She has five siblings, he said.

According to a news report, she co-founded a group called Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In, a community organization that works on issues of concern to the neighbourhood.

Social media campaign launched

In an attempt to find Afzal, family and friends have organized a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter, with the hashtag #FindZabia.

People are urged to use the hashtag to share information about Afzal.

“Her friends and family are requesting help in bringing her back. Any support would be greatly appreciated,” reads the description of Find Zabia, a Twitter account created by friends and family.

My friend Zabia is still missing. Please come out and join search parties of friends and community members to find her today: <a href=”https://t.co/y4vwrxZkXz”>https://t.co/y4vwrxZkXz</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/FindZabia?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@FindZabia</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/FindZabia?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#FindZabia</a> <a href=”https://t.co/mU2ZJcEg4V”>pic.twitter.com/mU2ZJcEg4V</a>

&mdash;@sarapaloooza

One Facebook post suggests Afzal left work in Vaughan and took an Uber to Woodbine Beach on Thursday morning.

“She was last traced to near the water where Woodbine Beach joins Ashbridges Bay,” the post reads.

CBC News has not independently verified the information in the Facebook post.

CUPE 3903, the union representing striking contract staff at York University, also took to social media about the student and fellow union member.

Family and friends of a missing York University student are searching the Scarborough Bluffs for signs of her on Sunday morning.(York Regional Police)

“Zabia is a dedicated [teaching assistant] who prioritizes her students above her own academic pursuits,” a caption on a photo on the Find Zabia Facebook group said.

“Zabia is a brilliant PhD student uncovering the injustices of the healthcare system,” another post read.

Police said they are concerned for her well-being.

Afzal was last seen wearing black pants, a black or navy zippered hooded sweatshirt and a green floral shirt.

Anyone with information is asked to call York Regional Police’s criminal investigations unit at 1-866-876-5423, ext. 7441.

If you have seen her or have any information please call 1-866-876-5423 ext. 7441.<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/findzabia?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#findzabia</a> <a href=”https://t.co/ePeKBDYK5Z”>pic.twitter.com/ePeKBDYK5Z</a>

&mdash;@FindZabia

Friends out at <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Toronto?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Toronto</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/island?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#island</a> to <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/FindZabia?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#FindZabia</a> if you see her, please call York Regional police 1-866-876-5423 ext 7441 <a href=”https://twitter.com/YRP?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@YRP</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/TorontoPolice?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@TorontoPolice</a> <a href=”https://t.co/qv5StIwF8N”>pic.twitter.com/qv5StIwF8N</a>

&mdash;@FindZabia

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