A portrait has begun to emerge of Mathew and Isaac Auchterlonie, 22-year-old brothers from southern Vancouver Island who were named Saturday as suspects in a botched robbery last week at a Bank of Montreal branch in Saanich, B.C.
As children, according to their closest friends, they were shy, a little nerdy and liked fantasy novels and Star Wars figurines. One was rarely found without the other. Following graduation, they seemed to drop off the face of the Earth, ghosting their former friends. According to one of the brother’s online footprints, he was becoming increasingly angry and radical, obsessed with guns, explosives and perceptions of government tyranny.
The two young men were killed in a shootout with police outside the bank on Tuesday. Six responding officers were also shot, with three suffering life-threatening injuries. On Sunday, Victoria Police spokesman Bowen Osoko said that one remains in hospital but all three face “a long road ahead.”
On a now locked Instagram profile, Isaac regularly made posts between 2018 and May of this year that showcased photos and videos of him holding or using various firearms, the models of which were often hash-tagged in the description of the posts.
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Among the firearms frequently featured and identified on the profile were an M14 semi-automatic rifle, a Russian SKS semi-automatic rifle and a C7A2 assault rifle, which is a standard issue firearm for members of the Canadian military.
More than a dozen posts on Isaac’s Instagram featured what appear to be glorifications of violence toward state officials and police. These posts include media on the 1997 North Hollywood bank robbery attempt; the 1993 Waco siege, when federal officers took over a Branch Davidian religious compound in Texas; and clashes between the Irish Republican Army and British soldiers and police.
A handful of posts specifically targeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his government’s recent move to ban the sale of handguns and for the implementation of vaccine mandates.
Alongside pro-firearm and anti-government posts are videos of Isaac shooting guns in a forest. While it is unclear who is filming these handheld videos, other posts show the two Auchterlonie brothers standing together in the forest. In one video, they can be seen standing on a ridge holding rifles.
Justin Henry, who considered himself the Auchterlonie brothers’ closest friend throughout childhood, said he first met the pair in Grade 4 at Bench Elementary School in Cowichan Bay, B.C. The three shared a passion for Lego, Star Wars films and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he said.
At a news conference, the RCMP described the brothers as twins. But Mr. Henry and five other young men and women who spoke to The Globe and Mail said they were in fact triplets, with a sister rounding out the trio. They also had two older brothers.
Mr. Henry described the Auchterlonie brothers as “unbelievably smart.” He could always tell the two apart, but “they looked pretty well identical and used to get mistaken all the time.”
Both were “very quiet and very shy,” he said. Until high school at Frances Kelsey Secondary School, in Mill Bay, B.C., when they began branching out, they were like two peas in a pod: One was rarely seen without the other. “They looked out for each other. They were a team.”
A young woman who went to school with the triplets said the brothers were extremely shy, to the point of it being debilitating. When the two spoke, the young woman said, it was almost like they were whispering. In high school, she says, they were almost invisible.
Another young man who was close to the brothers grew up near them in Shawnigan Lake, rode the bus to school with them every day, and spent a lot of time in their home. He said the two were into shooting and hunting as kids. But he added that neither owning rifles nor sport shooting is uncommon on rural Vancouver Island. Like him, the brothers were bullied in middle school at George Bonner Elementary. Of the two, he says Mathew was slightly more assertive.
The Globe is not identifying the sources because of concern about their safety online.
The young man moved away after high school, losing touch with the Auchterlonies, but noticed the brothers’ Instagram pages had become increasingly politicized in the last few years, and focused on guns, shooting and wearing camouflage – to the extent that he found it concerning. (Mathew’s Instagram page was deleted sometime prior to his being named a suspect.)
He in fact worried the brothers might do something drastic and violent. The thought they might become involved in a shooting once crossed his mind.
Mr. Henry also recalled seeing photos of the brothers in tactical gear. They often “dressed in camo,” adding they “liked blowing stuff up. That was their big interest.”
Isaac’s Instagram page shows a certificate for pre-reservist military training, but the brothers do not appear to have received formal training beyond this. Captain Amber Lawson, public affairs officer with the Cadets and the Junior Canadian Rangers, confirmed Sunday that there are no records indicating the Auchterlonie brothers were cadets.
Sometime after graduation, the brothers began drifting away from friends, becoming increasingly isolated, Mr. Henry and several other friends of theirs recalled. Mr. Henry said he hadn’t spoken to either brother in a few years. “Something had to have happened to have made them do something like this. They were really good kids,” he said, adding that he had a hard time wrapping his head around what happened last week.
“The motive behind the armed robbery and subsequent exchange of gunfire with police has not yet been determined,” Corporal Alex Bérubé of the RCMP said at a news conference on Saturday.
Police have said officers, including members of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team, were first called around 11 a.m. on Tuesday to a report that armed men had entered a BMO branch at the corner of Shelbourne and Pear streets. The shooting started as the suspects exited the bank.
It’s not clear who shot first, but as many as 50 rounds were fired, according to multiple witnesses.
Police have said the investigation has so far determined that the Auchterlonie brothers are the only two suspects in the botched heist.
Police found – and later safely detonated – explosives in the brothers’ car, a white ‘92 Toyota Camry with black racing stripes.
Neither had a criminal record, police clarified Saturday, and neither was known to them.
Cpl. Bérubé said the brothers were identified Friday by the BC Coroners Service. He said police had spoken to the family of the suspects and they are co-operating with the investigation.
On Sunday, police reopened the area around the BMO branch in Saanich.
The Saanich Police Association and Victoria City Police Union launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the officers wounded in the shootout and their families. By Sunday evening, it had raised more than $124,000.
With a report from Jake Kivanc
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