An Ottawa teen is behind bars charged with first degree murder of a downtown church librarian. 

Tyler Hikoalok, 18, is charged in the beating death of Elisabeth Salm.  Salm was found unconscious and viciously beaten inside the Christian Science Reading Room on Laurier Avenue where she worked in the early afternoon of Thursday May 24. She died later in hospital.

On Monday, Hikoalok made his first appearance in an Ottawa courtroom,

“Tyler, right now, is obviously a bit stressed and confused as to what has happened in the last 24 hours,” his lawyer Mike Smith told reporters outside the courthouse. “Keep in mind this guy is 18 years old and now he’s facing a first-degree murder charge.”

Hikoalok kept his head down, speaking softly when prompted by the judge in court. Sources tell CTV mental illness is part of the police investigation, but Smith says it’s too early to comment on that.

“We're still waiting on the disclosure and that will me a lot more and will determine the course of action that will be best for Tyler.”

Hikoalok, originally from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, is an aspiring hip hop artist, a member of Tr1be Music, a hip hop group that promotes Indigenous music.  Tr1be’s founder, Justin Holness, considers Hikoalok a friend; he’s been trying to mentor him for years.

“This is an unfortunate circumstance of a young person who fell through the cracks,” Holness told CTV News.

Holness says Hikoalok has a troubled past.  At a young age he was forced to jump from foster home to foster home and then later from group home to group home.  Holness says over the last six-months Hikoalok seemed to be struggling with mental health issues.

“I’ve never known him to be violent, and I’ve never known him to take things to this extreme, hence a big part of my shock.”

Holness says he’s always tried to steer Hikoalok in the right direction, even awarding him for progress he made in the past.

“We recently gave him an Indigenous Youth Genius Award because he went up north, this was last year, he went there, he provided a lot of support, came back, no incident and from what I know that was really a change for him.”

Salm’s family says they have no reason to believe Elisabeth and Hikoalok were known to each other, but that is all now part of the police investigation.

Hikoalok will be back in court June 5th.