All was quiet on Greyhound bus 1170 as it rolled across the darkening prairie.
Night was closing in and passengers were dozing off as The Legend of Zorro played on the television screen.
An aboriginal man of about 18 or 20, making his way home to Manitoba from Edmonton, was sitting on his own in the back row, headphones covering his ears, sleeping with his cheek resting on the window pane. CTV Winnipeg reported late last night his name was Tim MacLean. He barely acknowledged the 40-year-old man in sunglasses who, having boarded the bus in Brandon, first sat near the front, then walked down the aisle, slid his bags into the overhead bin, and sat down next to him.
The strangers sat together in silence for a half hour or more, said Garnet Caton, a 26-year-old seismic driller who was in the row ahead.
Then the calm of an otherwise unremarkable bus ride was shattered by a sound so chilling it could only be described as somewhere between a dog howling and a baby crying.
"It was a blood-curdling scream," he said. "I turned around and the guy sitting right [behind]me was standing up and stabbing another guy with a big Rambo knife ... Right in the throat. Repeatedly."
Mr. Caton said the attack was utterly unprovoked.
He watched in horror as the man, described as tall and well-built with close-cropped hair, plunged his hunting knife into the victim eight or nine times, sending blood spraying.
The driver pulled to the side of the road and opened the doors, allowing passengers to flee. They scrambled over one another and knocked an elderly woman to the floor. One mother, who was seated near the back, threw her toddler forward several rows to get the child away from danger, a witness said.
Mr. Caton, who served five years in the Canadian Forces and was closest to the attacker, paused before leaving, torn momentarily between concern for his own safety and the thought of abandoning the bleeding victim. He turned to another man nearby and asked for his help.
"I said, 'Give me a hand and let's get this guy.' And the other guy took off," he said.
It was only moments later that the victim's screams went silent. Mr. Caton knew he was too late.
Mr. Caton jumped off the bus, and was met by a trucker who had stopped after seeing the commotion. The trucker grabbed a crowbar and Mr. Caton got a hammer and they tried to contain the attacker on the bus. The attacker swung his knife at them through the partially closed bus door.
Then the incident became even more macabre. The attacker returned to the victim's side and began sawing through his neck. A few moments later, he walked to the front of the bus holding a decapitated human head, displaying it to the 34 passengers and the bus driver standing outside.
"I got sick after I saw the head thing," Mr. Caton said. "Some people were puking, some people were crying, some people were shocked."
The killer, meanwhile, was unfazed.
"He just looked at us and dropped the head on the ground, totally calm," he said.
Reports from the scene indicate the man then ate pieces of the corpse.
It was at that point that the RCMP arrived and a standoff developed, with armed officers surrounding the bus.
For more than three hours the man taunted police, moving around the bus and cutting away at the corpse. Around 1:30 a.m. local time, he broke a window and tried to jump out but was quickly arrested.
The RCMP did not release the man's name yesterday because he has not been formally charged, but said they believe he is not from Manitoba. Staff Sergeant Steve Colwell said the man has not yet been questioned by police, and could not say whether he had been treated by a doctor.
He could offer no explanation for what prompted the attack, and had no information on whether the attacker was known to police or had a history of violence or instability.
Police did not release the victim's name because they had not been able to notify his family.
They praised the reaction of the bus driver and passengers, which they say may have averted further injuries.
"They were very brave. They reacted swiftly and calmly in exiting the bus and as a result nobody else was injured," Staff Sgt. Colwell said. "It's not every day that someone gets stabbed on a bus. I imagine it would be fairly traumatic for the other passengers on the bus and the way they reacted was extraordinary."
The passengers were eventually taken to an RCMP station in Brandon to be questioned, and then put up for the night in a local hotel. Most stayed up late, bleary-eyed strangers gathering in small groups, talking through a horrifying event that defied rational explanation.
"I tried to lay down at 4 o'clock this morning and I was up 10 minutes later, because every time I close my eyes I see this man in the window with some guy's head I just smoked a cigarette with an hour before," said passenger Cody Olmstead, who was on his way home to Nova Scotia.
Mr. Olmstead may have been the last person to speak to the victim before he was killed. He said they exchanged pleasantries, but not much more. The young man, who was about 5 foot 8 and 150 pounds, was dressed in baggy, hip-hop clothing, passengers said.
"He seemed to be all right. I didn't get to know him," he said. "He just told me where he was going. I told him where I was going."
At first, Mr. Olmstead said, he thought it was a regular fistfight. But when somebody yelled "knife," everyone started to run.
"What can you do when a man's got a knife the size of, you know, it's a big knife. So we just tried to stay out of the way," he said.
He said he didn't notice any tension between the two men beforehand, or even a minor incident that could have sparked a confrontation.
"No, there was no tension. The guy got on the bus, sat down beside the fellow. The fellow offered him the seat, woke up, said, 'Yeah, go ahead,' fell back asleep. Next thing you know, he's getting stabbed repetitively," he said. "And then I guess he cuts buddy's head off, and he walks up to the door, holds the head in the door and just looks at him, crazy like, and just drops the head."
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day called yesterday's incident horrific and said his heart goes to the family of the victim. However, he played down the possibility of enacting tough security measures in Canada's bus terminals, similar to what exists in airports.
"People should always be open to looking at precautionary measures. But let's keep in mind that as bizarre and tragic as this is, it is extremely rare," Mr. Day said.
He also dismissed talk by some opposition MPs of a "knife registry," saying that millions of them are bought each year simply for kitchen use. He added that there are already provisions in the Criminal Code against crimes and assaults.
Speaking at a Conservative Party caucus meeting, Mr. Day said he does not want to jeopardize the investigation, but added he wants to see the killer "convicted in court."
Grief counsellors from the Brandon Regional Health Authority were made available to the passengers at the hotel Wednesday night. They were eventually allowed to complete their journey to Winnipeg, even though all their possessions had to be left on the bus while police continued their search of the crime scene.
Greyhound paid for them to buy clothes yesterday, and later transported them into Winnipeg, where some were reunited with anxious family members late in the afternoon.
The bus remained parked at the side of the Trans-Canada Highway yesterday, about 20 kilometres west of Portage La Prairie, as forensic teams sifted through evidence.
Timeline of events
Greyhound bus 1170 departs Edmonton for Winnipeg, heading along the Yellowhead Highway through Saskatchewan. The adult fare is $195.35. Sitting at the back, in the row just ahead of the washroom, is a young aboriginal man heading home to Manitoba.
The bus departs Brandon, Man., population 40,000, with a new passenger: a tall man with close-cropped hair who wears his sunglasses on the bus.
The first call is sent to the RCMP Portage La Prairie detachment about a stabbing on a Greyhound bus west of town. Police cars arrive at the scene to find the sunglasses-wearing suspect contained on the bus by a handful of passengers and a passing truck driver, who armed them with a crowbar and hammer. Other passengers huddle at the roadside. The bus driver, seeing that the suspect might be trying to drive the bus away, hits a button at the back to immobilize the vehicle. Moments later, the suspect walks to the front of the bus carrying the severed head of the young aboriginal man. Reports say he later ate part of the corpse.
Police locked in a standoff with the suspect call in special negotiators and a heavily armed tactical unit. The suspect taunts police, walking back and forth on the bus, cutting and defiling the corpse. Passengers are taken away from the scene to be interviewed at the Brandon RCMP detachment.
1:30 a.m., yesterday
The suspect tries to escape by breaking through a bus window. He is quickly apprehended, handcuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser.
Dazed bus passengers, released by police, gather outside a Brandon motel to discuss the horrific experiences.
Passengers are taken shopping at Wal-Mart, courtesy of Greyhound, to replace clothes still on the bus, which is a sealed crime scene.
Passengers finally arrive in Winnipeg, where some are reunited with anxious family members.
PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, MAN.
Here is a transcript of an interview with Garnet Caton, a passenger aboard a bus in Manitoba who witnessed a man stab and behead a fellow passenger:
"He put his bags in the overhead compartment. He didn't say a word to anybody. He seemed totally normal. He had sunglasses on. He sat down. And then, about a half an hour later, we heard this blood-curdling scream and turned around and the guy was standing up, stabbing this guy repeatedly, repeatedly, like, I dunno, must have been 40, 50 times in the neck and in the chest area. When he was attacking him, he was calm as like, it was like he was at the beach. He [was]totally calm, he didn't say anything. There was no rage or, or anything. He was just like a robot stabbing the guy.
"We exited the bus. Everybody got off the bus. But a few of us, me and the trucker and one of the Greyhound drivers went back on the bus to go see what was going on and that's when we saw ... he had the guy on the ground, he was cutting his head off and pretty much gutting him.
"That trucker ... he had a crowbar and we ran and got a hammer and stuff. Me and the other bus driver, there, tried to guard the door; put our bodies up against the door and, you know, waiting for him to come out and whatnot."
"And he went back and brought the head to the front and pretty much, you know, displayed it to us like that and then dropped it on the ground in front of us. Very calmly, all very calmly, he was wearing sunglasses and like, you know, it was no big deal to him."
The Canadian Press
Wednesday's killing happened about 19 hours after the Greyhound bus left Edmonton for Winnipeg.
EDMONTON: 37 passengers, including the victim, depart just after midnight for the 20-hour trip.
BRANDON: A middle-aged man wearing sunglasses boards the bus around 7 p.m.
PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE: The driver pulls the bus to the roadside and passengers flee as the prolonged stabbing continues.