Doug Scarr was enjoying a morning smoke on Tuesday when a Saanich officer on a BMW motorcycle screamed to a stop in front of his stoop on Pear Street.
“You – get over here!” the officer shouted, tossing his helmet to the ground as he walked toward Saanich’s Bank of Montreal at the corner of Pear and Shelbourne Street. It was around 11:15.
One block north, Nicole Novakovics was sitting at her Elm Street kitchen table, finishing up some work while her kids played in the basement. She heard the same officer: “You – over here! Now!” It was coming from the BMO, just behind her fence.
Another neighbour, one block to Ms. Novakovics’s north, saw a white Sprinter van come careening down the middle of the street, weaving through traffic, heading for Shelbourne Street.
“Pop! Pop! Pop!”
Chris Ford, who recently moved to the sleepy bedroom community north of Victoria with his girlfriend, Tracy, and her daughter, Eden, wondered why someone was setting off fireworks in the middle of the day.
Sergio Elizalde, who grew up in Queretaro, in central Mexico, knew those weren’t fireworks.
So began a brazen, ultimately botched bank heist in Saanich, B.C. When it was all over, two suspects were dead. Six officers were wounded by gunfire, three critically. And a sleepy Vancouver Island community was left reeling.
When the shots rang out, Ms. Novakovics began screaming and ran for the basement: “They were so loud, it sounded like they were coming from the next room.”
Eden, Mr. Ford’s 10-year-old stepdaughter, cowered under the kitchen table with her mom, crying. “She felt like this was her last day – like this was the end,” says Mr. Ford. Their instinct was to get down. Mr. Ford’s was to run for the BMO.
Standing on Shelbourne, Mr. Ford saw the white Sprinter van turn into the BMO lot. A group of police officers and a German shepherd followed.
Mr. Elizalde probably had the best view of the two suspects.
From his yard, he could see that they were surrounded on two sides by a brick wall. There was nowhere to run. Some six metres separated them from police, who began moving in.
At this point, it’s not clear who fired first. Saanich police haven’t said. As many as 50 rounds were fired, according to multiple witnesses.
Mr. Ford had a better view of the officers than the suspects. He saw one get hit, then crumple to the pavement behind the Sprinter van.
“Officer down!” one cried.
Moments later, Mr. Ford saw a second officer take a chest hit, then spin backwards from the force of the shot.
Officers jumped on both of their fallen colleagues, as if “to protect them” from further gunfire, says Mr. Ford.
In the distance, he could see one of the gunmen take fire. “He kept jolting as he was hit with bullets. It was something straight out of a movie,” Mr. Ford said. “My stomach started spinning. As soon as the gunfire ended, I ran to get my family. I gotta get them out – that’s all I could think.”
A cloud of acrid smelling gun smoke wafted overhead.
A neighbour saw some 20 people – later described as hostages – emerge from the bank and head for a city bus marked “Safe Bus.” They walked in a line, dazed, expressionless. They were driven to a police station in Victoria to give statements.
Some time later, Ms. Novakovics heard an explosion. Police told her and her family to hide behind their house.
Saanich Police haven’t said yet whether this came from the suspects. Multiple IEDs – improvised explosive devices – were later found in their vehicle, police said Thursday. The explosion could also have been a flashbang grenade, a tool used by officers to disorient a suspect’s senses. At that point, police didn’t know how many suspects they were hunting. Three days later, they still haven’t told the public how many suspects they believe were involved in the heist.
Outside the BMO, the scene has yet to be cleared. Large pools of blood were left to dry in the lot, marking the spot where the suspects fell.
A steel mail slot outside the bank is riddled in dents from bullets. The brick is pockmarked with bullet holes.
“Quite frankly it’s a miracle no member of the public got hurt,” Saanich Police Chief Constable Dean Duthie said Thursday.
In all, six officers were wounded, three sustained life-threatening injuries.
Mr. Ford has only slept a few minutes since the shooting, and woke up screaming. When police allowed them to return home on Thursday evening, Eden refused to go. She’s been having panic attacks.
“I think we’re going to have to move,” says Mr. Ford. A year ago, she watched her dad die in front of her. She was home alone with him at the time. “I don’t know how to make her okay.”
Gurjeet Cambo describes Saanich as “tight knit,” a diverse mix of retirees, families and students – the University of Victoria and Camosun College are both within walking distance.
For her parents, arriving in Saanich from the poverty and violence of South Asia 50 years ago was “like winning the lottery.”
Ms. Cambo has seen the community change in the last decade, as the drug crisis has worsened and rising rents have driven more people onto the streets. A few years ago, the old Mount Tolmie Hospital became a homeless shelter, what was meant to be a temporary measure. Saanich, she says, has started to feel more city than suburb.
“We’ll heal from this,” she says. “I don’t know what it will look like though. We’re still a long way from normal.”
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