In their team profiles on the roster of Lethbridge Bulls, Mitch Maclean and Tanner Craswell look tall, strong and every inch the baseball players that they were: Mr. Maclean, 20, a 6-foot-1 right-hander who lists his favourite movie as The Rookie and Mr. Craswell, 22, listed as a 6-foot-2 infielder whose favourite food was pasta.
Now the strapping teammates are dead, two of four people killed in a round of gunfire that took place in the predawn hours on a stretch of Alberta highway and has devastated friends, families and associates across the country.
The incident, which police are investigating as a murder-suicide, occurred just north of Claresholm, Alta. Responding to reports of shots fired, RCMP arrived to find two people – a man and a woman – dead at the scene. Another man and woman were rushed to hospital for treatment, but the man died of his injuries by midday Thursday. The person who fired the shots is also dead.
“It was pretty horrific,” RCMP Sergeant Patrick Webb said.
The shooter was a man who shot his victims before turning the gun on himself, Sgt. Webb said.
“We now have a total of four deceased from that incident and one female, who is in hospital, injured, but expected to recover.”
Police found four of the people in one vehicle and the fifth person in the second vehicle.
Part of the highway was closed as homicide investigators combed the scene for clues.
“Our investigators on the scene are trying to make heads or tails out of not only what is there, but also why this came about,” Sgt. Webb said.
Police as of late Thursday had not released names of the deceased or information about the weapon used.
But associates confirmed the two PEI baseball players were among those killed. Shayna Conway, formerly of Charlottetown and the girlfriend of one of the men, was in hospital.
According to social media sites and local media, Tabitha Stepple of Lethbridge, a friend of Ms. Conway, was the woman killed.
Media reports have suggested the shooter was Ms. Stepple's ex-boyfriend and that the others didn't know him.
Mr. Maclean and Mr. Craswell were headed to Calgary to catch a flight home to Prince Edward Island. The two had lived in Lethbridge at the home of Bulls’ president and general manager Kevin Kvame.
Mr. Kvame, choked with emotion, said their last conversation was about how much they were looking forward to going home to Charlottetown for Christmas.
“They dreamed of everything in baseball,” Mr. Kvame said. “It was all they could think of.”
Mr. Kvame, up late watching a movie on TV, said he had been exchanging text messages about Christmas and other things with Mr. Craswell, as the group travelled along the highway.
“Then, around 3 in the morning, they stopped,” he said. “It wasn’t like him.”
When he heard about shootings near Claresholm, Mr. Kvame said he got a bad feeling. “Could it be?” he wondered.
He texted Mr. Craswell about the time he should have been on a stopover in Toronto. “There was no reply.”
Mr. Kvame said Ms. Conway was Mr. Craswell’s girlfriend. Ms. Conway was driving the two young men to the airport, but did not want to head back alone, he said, so a friend of hers came along for the ride. All four were originally from Prince Edward Island, Mr. Kvame said.
He said it appeared there was tension between the second girl and the person who committed the shootings.
“Those boys were in the wrong spot, at the wrong time.”
The two young men were enrolled at Prairie Baseball Academy, a Lethbridge facility that teaches baseball to students who attend either of the city’s two postsecondary institutions for academic credits.
Mr. Tanner was an all-star shortstop in the Western Major Baseball League this past summer, while Mr. Maclean was the Bulls’ rookie of the year.
Mr. Kvame said one of the young men lived in an attic suite above the garage, while the other stayed in the basement. “I got to know them very well.”
Wednesday was Mr. Craswell’s 22nd birthday.
Claresholm is 125 kilometres south of Calgary and the crime scene is about one kilometre north of town.
At the scene, there was a Ford Escape, its windows smashed, and a Pontiac Sunfire. The incident closed Highway 2 for nearly 12 hours as police cleared the site.
Blood and broken glass remained on the shoulder of the highway, obscured by dirt after police wrapped up their investigation at the crime scene.
People in town expressed shock at the tragedy.
“It is crazy,” said Bill Moynihan, adding that crime is starting to hit small towns as well as big cities.
“Nowadays, there are shootings every day,” he said.
With reports from Tu Thanh Ha, Kate Hammer and The Canadian Press