A brazen double homicide in which an engaged couple was allegedly gunned down by their landlord as they fled their rental home has shaken residents of their southern Ontario city and raised questions about how a landlord-tenant dispute could explode into such violence, Hamilton police said Sunday.
Sgt. Steve Bereziuk said a 27-year-old female educational assistant and a 28-year-old male electrician were shot dead just outside the home they shared in the community of Stoney Creek on Saturday, describing them both as “truly innocent victims.”
Bereziuk said the 57-year-old suspect is a landlord who lived in a unit above the tenants and died hours after police negotiators tried to resolve the situation peacefully while area residents sheltered in place on police instructions.
Bereziuk said witnesses reported hearing gunfire and described seeing the couple running out of the house late afternoon on Saturday. He said police expected to spend much of the day trying to piece together details of the deadly altercation, which revolved around “the state of the rental unit.”
“These are the questions, right? How does it escalate so quickly and to such lethal force? That’s something we’re obviously continuing to look into,” Bereziuk said in a phone interview.
“It’s a perfect storm of tragedy in this case because you can’t predict something like this and you can’t prevent it. Because nobody was on our radar, at least for the Hamilton police. It makes it difficult to understand how things can (happen), certainly with respect to a landlord-tenant dispute.”
He said police were called to the home at around 5:40 p.m. on Saturday and the victims were pronounced dead within minutes of their arrival. Several handguns and rifles were registered to the house, he added, but did not specify who owned the firearms.
Hamilton police released a statement Sunday saying the suspect barricaded himself inside the home for hours and fired multiple rounds during negotiations, “which resulted in an interaction with police.”
The Special Investigations Unit, Ontario’s police watchdog, issued a statement of its own later in the day saying Hamilton police exchanged gunfire with the man, who was struck and ultimately died.
The SIU – which probes incidents involving police in which someone is killed or injured – has now taken on the case. Hamilton police will continue to handle the investigation into the double homicide.
SIU spokeswoman Monica Hudon said the tenants lived in the home’s basement apartment, while the landlord occupied the main floor and upstairs.
Bereziuk said the female victim was an educational assistant for an unspecified Catholic school board in Brant County. He said he’d spoken with relatives who were understandably “absolutely devastated.”
“They’re having a real hard time with this, obviously.”
Bereziuk said none of the people involved were known to police, a factor that made the case even more shocking.
“These are not people that this should happen to,” Bereziuk said in a televised press conference from the scene Sunday morning.
“They’re not involved in any level of criminality or lifestyle that may lead to an incident like this. They are truly innocent victims, hard-working people, young people. They were engaged to be married. And this is a very tragic incident.”
Neighbours, meanwhile, were shaken by the incident, he added later by phone.
“When you have to, as a police service, put out a message to the neighbours to shelter in place and take cover in your basement, that’s scary. And I do know that witnesses in the area heard gunfire. The feeling is, I have no doubt, shock and a little bit of fear,” he said.
“I know it’s a bit cliché but this is a very quiet part of Hamilton. This is an eastern part of Stoney Creek. It’s sort of a mixed rural residential setting. You would never expect this level of violence anywhere, truthfully, but it is certainly unique for this area.”
Many details were not made public Sunday, including the names of the victims or suspect, the specific firearms involved, the number of shots fired or further details about the property and its occupants.