News & Runway


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A 22-year-old British Columbia woman who had planned to fly home early from China after a bad experience with an overseas modeling agency was found dead near Shanghai yesterday morning, reportedly the victim of a homicide.
Diana Gabrielle O’Brien’s body was found by Chinese police, two weeks after the budding model had arrived in Shanghai for what she thought would be a promising assignment with Jh Model Agency, but turned out to be a gig as a bar dancer.

“She kept getting jobs to go to clubs to promote whiskey that just involved dancing on podiums. She was sort of hoping for a fashion show or anything that was more model-related. She thought that was pretty ridiculous,” said Melanie Callas, Ms. O’Brien’s friend of 10 years.
Just a few days ago, Ms. O’Brien sent an e-mail to Ms. Callas, telling her she’d be flying home to Saltspring Island before her contract was done.
“She wasn’t really happy there. She didn’t like the jobs she was getting,” Ms. Callas said.  Early yesterday morning, Ms. Callas got the call that her friend, the leggy brunette, who she described as “the sweetest girl in the world,” would not be coming home.
Ms. O’Brien had grown up in the small island community and worked as a waitress after graduating high school.
Ms. O’Brien said her modest friend had always dreamed of modeling. “She was always really into fashion and into photography, too, probably since her teen years,” Ms. Callas said.
About a year ago, she joined a small agency and got a few jobs modeling for the website of a local company.
Wanting to break out of her small community, she contacted the Barbara Coultish Agency based in Victoria and was hired as a model, Ms. Callas said.
After getting a bit of local work, Ms. O’Brien got her big break: two months of work in Milan.
Ms. Callas said her friend returned from Italy, raving about how much she loved the excitement and glamour of the industry.

“She had such a great time in Milan. It was the time of her life,” she said. “She made so many great friends.”
She had wanted to return to Milan as soon as possible, but jumped at the opportunity to work in China with Jh Model Agency – a job that came up after she had only been home for two weeks. The agency had been impressed with Ms. O’Brien’s freshly made international portfolio, and booked her to work in Shanghai, Ms. Callas said. Ms. Callas said her friend had complained about the type of work, but was also sick of the smog in Shanghai and had been missing home. While she had developed a large network of fellow models in Milan, it seemed she only knew one other model from the Barbara Coultish Agency in Shanghai. She lived in an apartment in the city with the other model, Ms. Callas said.
Ms. Callas said it was not Ms. O’Brien’s first trip to Asia. The two women and another friend had travelled to Thailand the previous year on vacation.
“We assumed everything would be fine. We were all happy for her – she was living her dream. You don’t always get the opportunity to do that,” she said.
Joel Berry, the long-time boyfriend of Ms. O’Brien, was shaken up yesterday morning after Mounties travelled to Saltspring Island with the sad news.
Mr. Berry’s older brother, Ben, spoke for him. “It’s been a pretty hard day for all of us,” Ben Berry said from his brother’s Saltspring apartment where Joel Berry and Ms. O’Brien had lived together.