In the eyes of police, it was an inside job.
Minutes after midnight Friday morning, a team of private security guards pulled up to a dark service road along the north edge of the University of Alberta campus, carrying cash to restock bank machines.
It was otherwise a routine stop for the company, known as G4S Cash Solutions, on a quiet Edmonton evening. Two trainees were among the team. But so too was another young employee – one who’d soon become the subject of a manhunt.
The team split up, with at least one staying by two vehicles, a large armoured truck and a smaller minivan, and at least three others heading up to the second-floor concourse of HUB mall, a long strip of indoor shops with several floors of dormitories on either side. The bank machine was near a window overlooking the vans.
Moments later, gunfire broke out. Firecrackers, some students thought, but a campus volunteer came across the first bodies in the mall shortly after – two dead, with a third injured and screaming for help. Calls to police began rolling in as students took photos from their dormitory rooms.
Outside, lying face-down with arms and legs neatly together, was another guard, fatally shot next to the minivan. With no security cameras, a quick exit path and the cover of darkness, it was what one source called a “perfect kill zone.”
The armoured van was gone, later discovered in what could be considered the unlikeliest of places – some 65 blocks away, down the street from the G4S compound. Its engine was still running, its lights were still on.
As dawn broke over the city, word spread about the tragedy – three guards dead, a fourth severely wounded and a mystery shooter on the loose. The shooter fled so quickly that campus officials thought it unnecessary to bother activating their emergency system, which would have notified staff and students by text message.
But police settled in on one key piece of the puzzle: one guard was missing.
By Friday afternoon, after initially calling him a “person of interest,” investigators issued four warrants for the arrest of G4S guard Travis Baumgartner, 21, including three of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.
“And I can’t stress enough: We sincerely believe that Baumgartner is armed, he’s dangerous and we’re urging the public to use extreme caution should you happen to encounter this person,” Bob Hassel, the superintendent of criminal investigations for Edmonton Police, said in the late afternoon.
Mr. Baumgartner lived in Sherwood Park, an Edmonton suburb, and had argued with his mother Thursday evening.
His mother, Sandy, issued a plea Friday evening for her son to turn himself in.
"I'm sorry that we had an argument last night, and had bad words between us, but I want you to come home and do the right thing. Let's work this out together, she said. "Trav', as your mother, I ask that you come forward now and take responsibility for your actions. Please Travis, I love you, and I'm pleading with you with all my heart, to end this without further bloodshed. As your mother, I promise to you now, that I will be there by your side to support you."
Police tactical officers had surrounded the family's Sherwood Park home earlier Friday, to no avail. A nearby home daycare was evacuated. “[I’m] terrified, horrified. I’m still shaking,” said Noelle MacLachlan, 29, who came to pick up her children, age 4 and 1. But Mr. Baumgartner remained at large - even changing his license plate, police announced Friday night.
A profile of the wanted man then began to emerge: a 21-year-old who was somewhat of an outsider – he had friends, but one said he wasn’t prone to the “status-quo.” He posed online with a gun, or wearing a balaclava, and his last Facebook status quoted the ramblings of the Joker in a recent Batman movie, The Dark Knight. “One night she grabs the kitchen knife to defend herself, now he doesn’t like that... Not... One... Bit...” Mr. Baumgartner wrote. Two weeks earlier, he’d written: “I wonder if I’d make the 6 o clock news if I just started poping [sic] people off.”
In another online profile, on a dating website, he describes himself as an outdoorsman whose ambition “is to better our world” and “become a CEO” to help others. “I’m a great guy, we don’t come along often.”
News of his involvement surprised some who knew him. “It’s really surprising. I can’t believe he’d be the person of interest, that he’d be involved in any way in these shootings,” said former classmate Billy Gascoigne, 20, who went to school with Mr. Baumgartner.
Ross McLeod, president of Canada’s Association of Professional Security Agencies, said only “amateurs or fools” would undertake this kind of heist, saying the bloodshed isn’t necessary. “It was really botched and messy and very, very amateurish,” Mr. McLeod said. “Whomever it was didn’t know their stuff.”
Families were left stunned at the sudden loss of the other guards – identified as Michelle Shegelski, 26, Brian Ilesic, 35, and Eddie Rejano, 39, with a fourth, Matthew Schuman, left in hospital.
Ms. Shegelski was the veteran among the group, having worked for GS4 Canada since about 2008. Mr. Ilesic and Mr. Rejano had each been on the job for only a few months. Mr. Schuman, another rookie with just a couple of months experience, is a corporal in the military base at CFB Edmonton.
Ms. Shegelski was married just two months ago. “It’s especially tragic,” said Roy Shegelski, her father-in-law, his voice breaking. “They had just started a life together.”
The company, G4S, remained tight-lipped. There was no indication of how much, if any, money was stolen.
With reports from Dawn Walton in Calgary and Tu Thanh Ha and Stephanie Chambers in Toronto
- Newlywed among three killed in Alberta attack on armoured car
- Police issue warrants for University of Alberta shooting suspect
- Students question University of Alberta’s response in wake of shootings