At least some of the victims of a shooting rampage in the Vancouver region that killed two people and left two others injured were experiencing homelessness, according to people and outreach organizations in the community.
The string of killings, which spanned six hours on Monday in the suburban city of Langley, B.C., underscored the dangers faced by the community’s most vulnerable people and raised the spectre that the shooter could have specifically targeted homeless people, though police have not speculated on a motive.
Investigators said the first shooting happened around midnight early Monday morning, when a woman, who remains in critical condition, was shot near the Cascades Casino. Roughly three hours later, the gunman killed a man at a nearby supportive housing project before shooting another man dead at the Langley Centre bus loop.
Around 5:45 a.m., police shot and killed the suspect, later identified as 28-year-old Jordan Daniel Goggin, near the Langley Bypass. Another victim was found nearby with a non-fatal gunshot wound to his leg. Authorities first identified some of the victims as “transient” but later said they were unable to confirm whether they were homeless.
In Langley on Tuesday, members of the homeless community struggled to process what had transpired a day earlier.
Joseph Belcourt and his partner Aida Mimo were alarmed to realize that they had slept at one of the shooting sites – by the Langley Centre bus loop – one night earlier. They were made even more uneasy after learning that they knew three of the victims, none of whom had been publicly identified by police.
One of the men who died had been active in Vancouver’s drug scene but moved to Langley to get away from the chaos, Mr. Belcourt said. He described him as funny with good conversation skills and an entrepreneurial spirit.
“One day he walks up to us at like 4 a.m. and he had a shopping cart full of bags of dirt. He was trying to sell us bags of potting soil at four in the morning, pitching us a really good idea on how to grow weed,” said Mr. Belcourt, a smile spreading on his face.
Mr. Belcourt described another person who died as a quiet guy. His partner spoke of the victim who survived a shot to the leg. “So many people pass by that area and it seemed so random,” Mr. Belcourt said. “I hope it was an isolated event and that it brings people closer together,” Ms. Mimo said.
Little is known about Mr. Goggin, who has no apparent online presence. The RCMP initially described him as “known to police” but investigators later clarified that this was for non-criminal contacts, such as being a complainant.
Charity Cizek has been a neighbour of Mr. Goggin since December, as one of three tenants in a Surrey home. She said she had few interactions with the man but noticed in recent weeks that he began acting strangely.
“Around two weeks ago, late at night, we heard noises outside and [the dog] was barking,” she said. “We peeked outside and he was standing by his car, saying, ‘I’m so [messed] up.’”
Ms. Cizek said her neighbour had a vacant look in his eyes and was swaying.
Sergeant David Lee with the RCMP-led Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said on Tuesday that police are looking for additional witnesses to assess motive. The unit said the suspect wore two outfits during the shootings, at first a black shirt and board shorts and later brown overalls and a camouflage shirt.
In the Surrey community of Cloverdale on Tuesday, three police vehicles were parked outside the home of Mr. Goggin’s mother.
Leith White, a pastor at Friends Langley Vineyard church, which is steps away from the Langley Bypass where one victim was found dead, said he was well acquainted with the shooting victims.
He said he’s known some of them for as long as 12 years while others were newer within the community. They had attended meal services and utilized other services at the church.
“They’re very respectful individuals. They’re not looking to create any difficulties or cause any problems. They’re just doing their best to try to survive on the streets,” Mr. White said in an interview. The pastor said he found Monday’s mass shooting tragic but not surprising because housing supports are inadequate, forcing people to live on the streets.
The reality is life on the street is a dangerous place, he said, adding it’s a daily occurrence that he hears that people’s tents have been set on fire and people have been beaten up while asleep.
He declined to identify the victims.
Tim Richter, CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, said Canadian studies have concluded homeless men are nine times more likely to be murdered than non-homeless men and large proportions of homeless youth and women have reported being victims of violence.
“There’s this belief that homelessness is a result of some personal failing and we stigmatize people and treat them as subhuman,” Mr. Richter said. “If there’s a belief that they’re not deserving of the same compassion ... the same protection as everybody else, then this is a natural consequence.”
He said much of the violence faced by this community happens in the shadows but a brazen shooting brings the issue into the light. Because so much goes unreported, Mr. Richter said even the best estimates understate the prevalence of violence in this community.
His fear is that as the amount of people unhoused rises, in part due to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, these deadly incidents will become more common. “As long as these people are in this precarious and vulnerable situation, it will be difficult to protect them,” said Mr. Richter.
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