“I was shocked to find in the evening news that Aiia was the one who was killed after getting off Route 86 tram on Tuesday night. I can’t believe that something like this has happened in Melbourne,” he said.
“Aiia was studying English at La Trobe University. She was such a positive and friendly person.”
Mr Chandran said he first met Aiia in December when she joined the group on a trip to meet Australian animals near South Morang.
He said she was intelligent and had spoken fondly of the time she had spent in Shanghai before coming to Melbourne.
Police have not released CCTV footage of the 21-year-old student’s final tram ride out of the city, but it is understood known sex offenders in the Bundoora area are being examined as a major line of inquiry.
Aiia’s body was found dumped in bushes near a car park entrance to Polaris shopping centre on Main Road in Bundoora about 7am on Wednesday.
Other locals have reportedly shared with police their concerns about potential loiterers seen in the area, as the hunt for the brazen killer enters its third day.
Indian cafe owner Baju John runs Vindaloo Palace, located on the first floor of the Macleod student apartment building where Ms Maasarwe was living. He described her as the “smiling girl” who used to wave to him.
“When I saw the photo on the front of the newspaper and news TV, I thought ‘I know her'”, he said.
The mood at the accommodation was sombre today, Mr John said, and police had been interviewing residents. The apartments are more than 1km from the Plenty Road tram stop.
“In that building, everyone [is] upset,” he said. “One of my friends lived in the apartment next to her [Aiia]”.
He said the walk from the tram stop to the apartments was a normal route for students, but he said female staff working at his cafe did not walk there at night.
“Every day I drop them off, the girls who are working,” he said. “Every evening I drop them off at the tram stop.”
Karen Gibbs, 50, and daughter Nikita, 21, were among the dozens of mourners to lay flowers or gifts at the site on Friday morning.
“I don’t know why I get so emotional, because I didn’t even know her,” said Nikita breaking down in tears.
“I’m her age, I’m at uni and it’s scary. It’s just overwhelming – I get that tram to uni everyday”.
“Everyone should be able to come home safely to their families, to their house,” Nikita’s mother Karen said.
The Reservoir mother said she’d always felt unsafe near and in the underground carpark at Polaris near the crime scene because of a lack of lighting.
“Learn a lesson, put a bloody big light there, put another over here,” she said pointing around the scrub behind the concrete car park.
“It’s just disgusting that she’s been left in a bit of land like a piece of rubbish. The girl contributed to society,” she said.
“She’s obviously a very intelligent young woman – what have we lost here? We don’t understand what we’ve lost here.”
Karen said she shops at Polaris shopping centre every day, and said the place would never feel the same.
“I just hope her family knows how much we’re all thinking about them. I really do. I hope that her father realises that.”
“We didn’t know her but she means something to the whole community, and she always will now. She’s always going to be in my heart, every time I pull in there [Polaris] she’s going be on my mind,” she said.
“No one deserves to lose a child like this, it’s the worst possible way”.
Eric Tlozek, an ABC reporter, visited Aiia’s family home in the Israeli city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye where her mother and sisters were too traumatised to speak.
Her uncle Ahmad Maarsawi said: “I can’t believe it. She’s beautiful, she’s clever.”
Another uncle, Abed Kittani, described the terrifying FaceTime call Aiia’s younger sister had with the La Trobe University student in the moments before her death.
Aiia was speaking to her sister on her way home on the tram on Tuesday night until the “phone fell”.
“She heard everything over the phone, she heard the cars passing by and she’s helpless. She can’t do anything. She started sending her messages, but there was no response,” he told ABC television.
“The feeling of the family is very, very bad. The mental state of the mother and the sister is the worst it can be.
“The tragedy and the horror isn’t easy to bear.
“Instead of coming home with a diploma, she’s coming home in a coffin.”
Aiia’s high-school, Al-Qasemi School, which she graduated from in 2016, remembered her as a hardworking student who “brought sunshine to every place she went”.
“We’ve known Aiia as energetic, friendly,” a statement from the school read.
“She was always passionate about connecting with other people and learning about new cultures and languages.”
The school said Aiia had excelled academically and she contributed to enriching the school’s knowledge about the Chinese culture, when she acquired during her travels to China where her dad runs a business.
“It is with deep sorrow that we receive the heartbreaking excruciating news. We send our deepest condolences to Aiia’s family. May her soul rest in peace,” the school said.
Friends and La Trobe University students will gather for a lunchtime vigil on Friday to remember the bright student.
A La Trobe University spokesperson confirmed a gathering had been scheduled for 1pm at the Agora, also known as ‘the Ag’ at the Bundoora campus.
Another student-organised vigil is also scheduled for 5pm on Tuesday at La Trobe’s Bundoora campus.
Anyone with information on Aiia’s death is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Erin covers crime for The Age. Most recently she was a police reporter at the Geelong Advertiser.
Simone is a breaking news reporter for The Age. Most recently she covered breaking news for The Australian in Melbourne.
Rachael Dexter is a journalist & audio video producer at The Age.