Wearing camouflage and toting guns, with a crossbow around his neck, the man walked blank-faced past dozens of people on the streets of this New Brunswick city.
Justin Bourque, the suspect in the killing of three RCMP officers in Moncton, proceeded to the bottom of Pioneer Avenue, where it ends at a stand of trees. But on his way to the woods, about 15 minutes before the gunfire erupted, Mr. Bourque passed behind Craig McCarthy’s car wearing a cold look. It sent a chill through Mr. McCarthy’s body.
“This guy was looking straight ahead,” he said. “Scary, just the look on him, no emotion. I felt fear. Instantly my stomach dropped. … He looked like he was on a mission and he was going to do something really bad.”
What Mr. McCarthy didn’t know then, as he slumped in his seat and told his mother to avoid making eye contact, was that the man would allegedly go on a shooting rampage that would leave three RCMP officers dead, two wounded and a city on edge as it went into lockdown and began to mourn.
On Thursday, New Brunswick RCMP told the public that their search continues – that as darkness began to fall, Mr. Bourque was still on the loose. Hours later, police announced that they had Mr. Bourque under arrest.
The tragedy and the manhunt captured the world’s attention, not just for its horror, but for its familiarity: a mass shooting allegedly at the hands of what some have described as a gun-loving, resentful man with a chip on his shoulder and a disdain for authority.
The sense of siege is also reminiscent of the lockdown in Boston after the marathon bombing that tore through the city’s core last year. Here, too, residents were locked inside their homes. Public transit was shut down. Schools were closed. A feeling of anxiousness was tangible.
The RCMP is revealing very little about the investigation, including whether Mr. Bourque’s family is co-operating and what, exactly, led police – as well as search dogs and a robot – to surround and enter a rooming house on Thursday, only to disperse hours later with no details to report.
From across the globe, in Brussels at the G7 Summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper extended sympathies to the victims’ families, adding his voice to the chorus of local and federal politicians offering their prayers. The RCMP isn’t releasing the names of the victims, though a spokeswoman said one was a father of three. One of the two injured officers has been released from hospital, while the other remains there.
At the Ottawa airport on Thursday afternoon, a woman boarded a plane bound for Moncton, clutching a framed photo of three people, including one dressed in the iconic red Mountie jacket. She and the person with whom she was travelling were greeted upon arrival and escorted to a private area.
As for Mr. Bourque, a picture is emerging of a 24-year-old man who was home-schooled by a religious family but now lives in a roughly $600-per-month trailer park rental on Pioneer Avenue with three others, possibly including his girlfriend. He also appears to have held strong political views, expressing fears Russia would invade Canada.
Mr. McCarthy had recognized Mr. Bourque because he once helped push the suspect’s car out of the snow. “And I talked to him a few times,” he said. “He seemed like a normal, nice person.”
In leaving Mr. McCarthy’s sight, the shooter entered into that of Vanessa Bernatchez, who was enjoying the warm weather in her family’s backyard. Ms. Bernatchez dashed inside her home, peering out the window as she and her loved ones watched the gunfire erupt.
An unmarked police car pulled up and a plainclothes officer stepped out. The officer turned front and back, not knowing the shooter’s position. Ms. Bernatchez saw the shadow of the gunman growing larger and larger nearby.
“We knew it was the shooter right away,” Ms. Bernatchez said. “We banged on the windows to let the officer know. We yelled ,‘Turn around.’ Then there was a shot. The officer went down. He got shot in the neck.”
Despite his mortal wound, she said, the officer managed to squeeze off two shots from his handgun as he fell to the ground.
Within 10 minutes, her street was flooded with police. Within about a half-hour, the community was ordered under lockdown.
It remains unclear why the suspect chose to pass people such as Mr. McCarthy and allegedly open fire on police, though anti-police slogans are featured on what appears to be Mr. Bourque’s Facebook page.
By Thursday morning, there was one confirmed sighting of Mr. Bourque, as well as two unconfirmed. “This is working through your worst nightmare,” said Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown, the RCMP’s commanding officer in the province.
“Never in my darkest dreams did I ever think that we would be facing what we’re facing today in Moncton,” echoed Mayor George LeBlanc at a morning news conference.
By Thursday afternoon, armoured vehicles and police carrying guns and shields surrounded a rooming house on one of the city’s main arteries, using a robot to open the door before storming inside yelling “Clear! We’re coming in,” witnesses said.
Several residents emerged with their hands up, the Telegraph Journal reported. A neighbour of the rooming house was told, presumably for security’s sake, “If you can get in a car and go away, do it.”
The reason for the afternoon standoff, which was ongoing around the time the House of Commons in Ottawa observed a moment of silence for the victims, remained unknown as of Thursday evening.
Hours later, a locked-down Moncton appeared headed for another night with a killer – possibly still carrying his guns, ammunition and a crossbow – on the loose.
That all ended early Friday morning – at 12:10 a.m. – when police arrested the suspect. “Residents of north Moncton can now leave their homes,” the RCMP tweeted.
With reports from Jill Mahoney, Tu Thanh Ha, Patrick White, Josh O’Kane and Fred Lum