Two police officers who died responding to a call at an Innisfil, Ont., home did not draw their firearms before they were shot, Ontario’s police watchdog said Thursday, as grieving friends and colleagues remembered the two men as kind and dedicated.
The Special Investigations Unit had said a day earlier that there was an “exchange of gunfire” Tuesday night between the two officers and a young man, who also died in the shooting.
New details emerged from the agency on Thursday, including that a third officer had been at the home.
“Based on preliminary information, the two officers did not draw their firearms when they were fatally shot,” Special Investigations Unit spokeswoman Kristy Denette said in a written statement.
“A third officer who was also at the house exchanged gunfire with the man.”
The South Simcoe Police Service has identified the officers who died as Constable Devon Northrup, 33, and Constable Morgan Russell, 54. The third officer, who hasn’t been named, was not injured, Denette said.
The SIU, which is still investigating, said the three officers were responding to a call from a family member about a disturbance at a home.
The young man, who lived at the home, had a gun that the SIU said was a SKS semi-automatic rifle. That type of rifle is available for purchase in Canada with a valid possession license.
An autopsy on the man is set for Friday, the SIU said. The agency earlier said he was 23 years old, but clarified on Thursday that he was 22.
The SIU did not name the young man but a source close to the investigation identified him as Chris Doncaster.
Court records show that a Chris Doncaster was charged with mischief under $5,000 in October 2018 and two failures to appear in court. All three charges were withdrawn in June of the following year.
The Department of National Defence confirmed Thursday that a man named Christopher Joseph Doncaster was a Canadian Armed Forces member from May to December 2020.
“He was a private with no deployment history and who did not complete basic training,” the department said.
An Instagram account that uses the name Chris Doncaster featured a photo posted over a year ago that appeared to depict a young man posing on a South Simcoe Police Service jet ski.
Residents who live in the area have expressed shock at what happened. Some said an elderly couple who had an adult grandson lived in the house where the shooting took place.
South Simcoe police said words cannot describe the grief the force is experiencing.
Northrup, a six-year member of the South Simcoe Police Service, worked with the community mobilization and engagement unit, and also served as a member of the mental health crisis outreach team and the emergency response unit. He is survived by his partner and parents, police said.
In 2020, Northrup was given an Excellence in Emergency award by the force for his role in helping a person in crisis.
“The officers can take comfort in knowing they saved this man’s life that day,” an annual report by the police force read.
Russell, a father of two, was a 33-year veteran of the force. He was a trained crisis negotiator and was assigned to uniform patrol, the police service said.
Condolences and memories of the two officers continued to pour in on Thursday.
Flowers were seen placed outside South Simcoe Police’s Innisfil detachment, and a community vigil drew mourners together Wednesday night as the officers were remembered.
“From the flowers and food being dropped off at our stations, to last night’s packed candlelight vigil, to Innisfil Beach Park lit up in blue, to the book of condolence in Bradford, for all the posts and notes of condolence – thank you,” South Simcoe Police tweeted on Thursday afternoon.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving expressed sadness over Northrup’s passing, saying he was “played a pivotal role” at the organization’s York Region Chapter, where he worked as a former treasurer and director at large.
“Devon was a gentle giant with a smile that would light up a room; he will be truly missed,” MADD York Region said in a Facebook post.
Georgian College said in a statement that the school community was “saddened” about the loss of Russell, who graduated from the Law and Security program in 1988.
College president Kevin Weaver shared condolences for Northrup and said flags would be lowered at Barrie and Orillia campuses in their memory.