It was around 4 a.m. and the backyard sensor light flicked on. When the homeowner went to investigate, he saw two figures and – loudly – asked who they were.
“Shh,” one of the men responded. “I’m the police.”
Within moments, the homeowner had agreed to let the officers inside. They told him a potentially dangerous situation was unfolding across the street. Larry – who asked that his last name not be used – saw the officers point their sniper rifles out his window.
About thirty officers in all descended on this quiet neighbourhood in the bedroom community of Delta to investigate an Amber Alert issued hundreds of kilometres away, in the Okanagan town of Vernon. When it was over, and the alert rescinded, a 15-year-old girl was safe and her father was in police custody.
Gord Molendyk, an RCMP spokesman, said Mounties were first called to the Vernon home of a 15-year-old and her grandmother at 1 p.m. Sunday. He said there had been a physical altercation between the grandmother and the teen’s father.
Mr. Molendyk said the teen agreed, after the alleged altercation, to get in her father’s vehicle.
The RCMP spokesman was unclear about the custody situation involving the teen – he said the girl’s mother does not live in Vernon.
Mr. Molendyk said certain criteria must be met before an Amber Alert is issued. He said the approval process started a few hours after the alleged altercation, though the alert wasn’t formally sent until 11 p.m.
“Our investigators determined reasonable grounds to believe that she was potentially facing imminent danger. As a result, they applied for, requested an amber alert, and one was issued,” he said.
Mr. Molendyk would not disclose why police felt the teen was in danger, just that there were “indicators.” He said he did not know if the father was previously known to police. When asked if the man had any mental-health issues, he said that question would make up part of the investigation.
The father was known to have family in Delta and, at around 2:15 a.m. Monday, a patrol unit spotted his vehicle outside the residence in the 11600 block of 94 Avenue. The emergency response team, as well as police negotiators, were told to get ready.
“At about 7:15 a.m., our negotiators made contact with the suspect,” said Constable Ciaran Feenan, spokesman for Delta police. “At that point, he surrendered to the police peacefully and without incident. Once he was taken into custody, we were able to locate [the teen]. She was unharmed.”
Constable Feenan said negotiators made contact by calling the home telephone line. He said the father’s relatives were not using the residence at the time of the incident – the father and his daughter were the only two people inside.
The father did not have any weapons when he was taken into custody.
The teen was still in the care of Delta police as of Monday afternoon.
Both Delta police and Vernon RCMP are still investigating. Constable Feenan said it would be premature to discuss charges against the father, 37-year-old Shane Phalen. He said he was not aware of an alleged motive.
Mr. Molendyk said the case was a testament to how well the Amber Alert program works. He said there have been 13 Amber Alerts in B.C. since 2004, involving 16 children in total. All were safely located, he said.