Darrell John was at home in the small community of Bridge River when he heard a commotion coming from the community band office, across the street from his house.
By the time he raced across the street, people had blocked the entryway to the building and employees were outside, Mr. John said, adding he saw one woman who had a bloody scraped hand. In the end, police said a man suspected in the assault was dead and 10 others were hurt, some seriously.
"By the time I got over there, they were saying nobody else was allowed inside," Mr. John said Wednesday in a telephone interview, adding that the events of the morning were a blur.
"The time seemed to go fast between 8 o'clock and 10 o'clock – like time didn't exist any more," he said.
RCMP said they were called just before 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday to a report of a man with a weapon at the Bridge River band office near Lillooet, about a four-hour drive north of Vancouver.
When police arrived, they found the suspect already restrained.
"RCMP members arrested the male but were unable to transport him as he became unconscious and unresponsive," police said in a news release.
The officers started CPR, but the man was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Michaela Swan with the Interior Health Authority said the agency was caring for two patients in critical condition, another two in serious condition, and six others with non-life threatening injuries.
The injured people have been taken to hospitals around the region.
Coroner Barb McLintock confirmed one man died in the incident, but couldn't provide further details. The B.C. Coroners Service was sending a team to investigate, she added.
The Bridge River, or Xwisten, band has about 440 registered members, including about 140 who live on one of three reserves near Lillooet.
The violence left the community reeling. Asked if he knew any of the people working at the band office, Mr. John replied: "All of them."
As of mid-Wednesday afternoon, the body of the attacker was still in the building and police vehicles were outside, he said.
About 20 or 30 people were also on the scene, gathered in a circle and talking to each other.
"They're supporting each other," said Mr. John, adding that he had never heard or seen anything remotely similar in seven years of living in Bridge River.
"It's very extraordinary, very unexpected."
An emergency worker who didn't want to be named said the man apparently attacked one person with the hammer, and when others in the office went to help they were also beaten.
Because the man died while in police custody, the Independent Investigations Office, which investigates deaths or serious injuries involving police officers, is now involved.
The office said in a news release it was notified of the incident about 11:30 a.m. and its investigators were expected to arrive later Wednesday, when they would begin examining the actions of the officers.
The office said it would not provide any details about the man who died, nor release further updates.
The news release said the RCMP will maintain jurisdiction over the investigation into the initial attack by the man.
Bridge River Indian Band Chief Susan James issued a statement, saying her immediate concern was to ensure that the families involved in the tragedy were being helped.
"Our attention now will be on the healing work we need to do. This tragedy has put our community in shock."
With a report from The Canadian Press