A dispute over the condition of a basement apartment turned deadly when a landlord gunned down his tenants – an engaged couple in their 20s – and then exchanged fire with police, Hamilton Police Service said Sunday.
The suspect was later fatally shot, according to the Special Investigations Unit, or SIU, Ontario’s police watchdog.
Sergeant Steve Bereziuk of Hamilton Police said the victims, a 27-year-old woman and a 28-year-old man, were shot dead outside the home in the Hamilton neighbourhood of Stoney Creek on Saturday. Their names have not been released.
Police said they found their bodies when answering a call at approximately 5:40 p.m. and the victims were pronounced dead within minutes of their arrival. They said the 57-year-old suspect then barricaded himself in the home for hours while police negotiators tried to resolve the situation.
“At one point during the negotiations, the suspect fired at the Hamilton Police armoured vehicle. The suspect later fired additional rounds, which resulted in an interaction with police,” the force said in a news release.
The SIU said “there was an exchange of gunfire between the man and a police officer” around 10 p.m. “The man was struck and pronounced deceased at the scene,” the watchdog said in a news release.
The SIU, which probes incidents involving police in which someone is killed or injured, is investigating the incident, while Hamilton Police will continue to investigate 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.
Sgt. Bereziuk said the male victim was an electrician and the female victim was an educational assistant for a 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.”
Sgt. Bereziuk said none of the people involved were known to police, a factor he said makes the situation a little more shocking.
“These are not people that this should happen to,” Sgt. Bereziuk said of the victims in a televised news conference from the scene on Sunday.
“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.”
Sgt. Bereziuk said there were several registered handguns and rifles in the house. He said police were expected to be on scene for much of the day.
Witnesses reported hearing gunfire and described seeing the couple running out of the house during the late afternoon on Saturday, Sgt. Bereziuk said.
Sandra Chaisson, a neighbour, said she was shocked by the events. She said the landlord was a quiet man and she was not aware of any trouble with his tenants, although she did not interact much with any of them.
“I’m shocked that he even had weapons,” Ms. Chaisson said of his neighbour. “I don’t know what his dispute was with tenants, but to go to that end, to end in tragedy like that, I can’t believe it.”
Ms. Chaisson said her family was asked by police to stay inside away from windows and then, when gunshots were fired after 10 p.m., to go down to their basement. “We stayed there until they phoned at about 12:40, 12:45 and said it was safe now,” she said.
Janice Carney, who lives on the same street, said the incident happened “within eyeshot, and I was home when the police arrived. It was very scary.”
With reports from The Canadian Press and Molly Hayes