A Vancouver-area teen was with his family, heading home to suburban Coquitlam from a Saturday-night outing in the city, when he ran into the deadly crossfire of the region's intermittent gang war.
Police say the 15-year-old boy was shot just after 9 p.m. on one of Vancouver's busiest streets, and died on Monday afternoon after his family took him off of life support.
"They were having a normal Saturday-night evening out with family and now they are grieving for their son," Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer told a news conference on Monday afternoon, before the provincial coroner confirmed the boy's death.
"My message to the family is this: We will not ever be able to fully comprehend your grief, but the Vancouver Police Department will do whatever it takes to seek justice for your son."
Chief Palmer says 50 officers are investigating the shooting, which is being described as targeted – and which follows a recent string of murders that have been linked to gangs or people known to police. Investigators have yet to identify a suspect.
Chief Palmer described the tragedy as an "anomaly" in a safe city, but he also acknowledged the dangerous possibilities when gang conflicts boil over in populated areas and weapons are fired in city streets to settle differences. "There's always a danger every time someone pulls out a gun and fires it off in our streets. What I am saying is that it is very rare that an innocent person is actually hit."
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said he is "deeply saddened" at the death of the 15-year-old.
Offering his condolences to family and friends of the victim at this "dark time," he said in a statement such occurrences are so rare in Vancouver "it's hard to believe it could take place."
Another innocent bystander, an unidentified man in his 30s, was hit while driving by in his vehicle. He was treated at the scene and released. He is not thought to have been a target, police said.
Police said the intended target of the shooting, 23-year-old Kevin Whiteside, also died.
Mr. Whiteside exchanged gunfire with at least one other person during the incident, police said.
Mr. Whiteside has a criminal record stretching back several years, according to court records, including an aggravated-assault conviction in 2016, for which he received an 11-month jail sentence and a lifetime weapons ban. He has previous convictions for drug possession for the purposes of trafficking and breach of probation.
The weekend gunfire was the latest in a string of shootings throughout the Vancouver region, which has a long history of gang violence that has killed bystanders before.
Two months ago, after a double murder, Mr. Palmer told reporters that Vancouver had hit the highest number of annual homicides in nearly a decade at 17, which he largely attributed to allegiances shifting between those vying to control the region's lucrative drug trade.
The nearby city of Surrey, which recorded 25 homicides in 2013, had roughly a dozen homicides last year after recording nine the year before and eight the year prior to that.
Chief Palmer said there were years in the 1990s in which Vancouver had more than 40 homicides.
Criminals now move in and out of various gangs with greater ease than in the past, which inflames tensions and leads to violence, according to Sergeant Brenda Winpenny, a spokesperson for the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C.
The province's integrated gang squad has identified between 1,200 and 1,400 gang members or gang affiliates across the province that pose the highest risk to the public, she said.
"In the grand scheme of the population of B.C., I don't think that that is an alarming number," Sgt. Winpenny said. "It is a significant number and [our] intelligence program allows us to target these people and share our information with other police."
At this point, police said there were other suspects on the scene with weapons, but they are trying to sort that out as part of the investigation. Police are talking to witnesses and reviewing video.
He said investigators have made "significant progress," but did not elaborate.