Wednesday, February 23, 2011
WHITECOURT — Just after midnight Saturday, an angry young man put down his guns and walked across the highway to the Whitecourt RCMP detachment, where he demanded to know why police hadn’t come to his apartment.
The 23-year-old was agitated and bleeding, but unarmed. By his own estimation, he had been firing off shotgun rounds for hours, expecting officers to arrive any minute so he could “go to war” with them, police say.
Shots had shattered the man’s balcony window, and he’d cut his hands clearing glass from the kitchen window after firing two rounds into a parking lot.
“He was agitated and wondering why the police hadn’t come,” said Staff Sgt. Rodney Koscielny.
Police were equally surprised. Though the man fired gunshots for at least two hours, police say no one in the three-storey Hillcrest apartment building on Whitecourt’s Sunset Blvd. – just within eyesight of the RCMP station – bothered to call police.
After the man surrendered peacefully to police, officers who searched his third-floor apartment found 15 spent shells, eight long-barrel guns, 3,000 rounds of ammunition, survival books, and camouflage. Bullet holes riddled the ceiling and walls. It was a lot of gear for someone with no record who had never been on police radar. Stranger still was the fact that nobody called police.
“I have no explanation. I think that somehow, legitimately, they didn’t think anything of it,” said Koscielny.
One resident mistook the shots for the slamming of a garbage bin lid. Another neighbour saw an armed man outside, but didn’t bother calling it in.
“Apparently, he was walking around outside with three guns attached to him, strapped to him,” said Koscielny. “Somebody walking a dog walked past him and never called us.”
Michael Dube lives on the same floor of the building but doesn’t know the man. Dube said he heard several gunshots at around 9:30 or 10 p.m. His girlfriend awoke at 2 a.m. to the sight of several police cruisers surrounding the building.
Dube said he didn’t think to call police when he heard the shots. He didn’t feel he was in danger.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with me,” said Dube. “I just worry about my own business.”
Tiffany Pineau lives in a second-floor suite in the building. She wasn’t home when the shots were fired but heard “a bunch of yelling and screaming” from the suite later.
“I was a little scared and upset, and after we were all like, ‘Where was everybody when this happened?’ ” said Pineau. “There were so many gunshots fired, why didn’t someone call?”
Pineau doesn’t know the man but said he has a reputation for acting out and is “well known in town.”
Whitecourt’s mayor said though the event was strange, it could have been much worse.
“It’s one of those things. How do you make sure stuff like this doesn’t happen?” said Trevor Thain. “They’re all one offs, there’s nothing you can do to prepare yourself or stop it before it happens.”
Outside the Whitecourt RCMP station are four black slab benches, each commemorating an officer killed about 50 kilometres away in March 2005. The proximity of the Mayerthorpe murders, which involved a Whitecourt constable, is never far from mind.
“Anthony Gordon was from here, so everybody goes back to that five years ago kind of thing,” said Koscielny.
He said officers are trained to deal with all kinds of unpredictable and potentially violent situation. It’s strange when nobody calls after 15 gunshots. The more typical scenario is the opposite: people mistaking fireworks or a backfiring engine for gunshots.
Cody Hunter-Hooper appeared in Whitecourt court Tuesday morning to face mischief and careless use of firearm charges. The case was put off for 30 days, so Hunter-Hooper will be sent to Edmonton to undergo mental health testing. He remains in custody.