Windsor residents were stunned Friday after witnessing a daylight shootout in a residential neighbourhood that ended with a veteran plain-clothes police officer lying dead on a sidewalk and two teens in custody.
The victim was 37-year-old Const. John Atkinson, a 14-year veteran of the force and a father of a six-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son.
Atkinson was on duty when he spotted some suspicious men at a Mac's Milk convenience store and went into action, said Windsor Police Chief Glenn Stannard.
He was struck by a bullet but was able to return fire before the suspects ran off. Police later arrested two 18-year-old Windsor men; they have not yet been charged.
Chief Stannard said the community and police are outraged by the shooting, which is like nothing they'd seen before.
"Although we have had in our history three officers killed as a result of car accidents, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first officer in the history of more than 120 years of the Windsor Police Service that an officer has been murdered," he said.
One of Const. Atkinson's close friends informed his wife of the shooting before Chief Stannard, Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis and other members of the police force visited the officer's family.
"What do you say?" Chief Stannard said about speaking with Atkinson's wife and two young children. "You do what your heart leads you with. It's a tragic thing, and I think the best I can do say you share tears and you share hugs.
"The policing community, for those who don't know, is a very close-knit community and police officers were there and they'll share their times with the family. They'll be there."
The shooting unfolded before many witnesses, who were shocked by what they saw.
The owner of the Mac's Milk declined to comment on the shooting, saying she was worried for her life.
A store employee identified as Emma said she saw the two men in the parking lot when suddenly she heard gunfire.
"We heard gunshots and a guy was bleeding from his mouth, and then we were told he was a policeman," she said.
Dennis Rochon said he was sitting on his balcony in a nearby apartment building when he heard three loud shots, which he first thought was a car backfiring. He went outside to investigate and saw the victim covered in blood and lying on the sidewalk.
"There was no movement," he told the Windsor Star. "There was blood all over the place. It looked like he got shot in the throat and the side of the chest. You could tell he was dead."
A man who identified himself only as Terry said after the shooting, the victim stumbled for three or four metres before collapsing.
"He tried to get up, and he fell again."
Lloyd Menard, who was in the store at the time, said onlookers couldn't believe their eyes or their ears.
"At first, a couple of people thought they were just like poppers on the ground, but no, it was actually gunfire," he said. "My truck's got blood all over it, so those kids must have shot him right there."
Police said they are also looking for two other teenagers but wouldn't say if they were considered suspects.
"We're not prepared to say that there are other suspects or that there are not. It's very, very early in the investigation and there's literally dozens and dozens of witness statements that are still being taken and they need to be reviewed," said Insp. Greg Renaud.
One local resident said people in the city will likely be shaken up as they are not used to gun violence, despite their proximity to the United States.
"This is very rare indeed for Windsor," said Patty Handysides of Windsor radio station CKLW. "Even though we are right across the river from Detroit, gun crime is low in Windsor, and certainly death by gun is very, very rare."
At least eight elementary schools and one high school in the area were initially locked down in the shooting's aftermath, keeping as many as 3,400 students indoors. A nearby day-care centre was also put under lockdown.
By 5 p.m., local time, all students were allowed to leave, although they were told not to walk home alone or stop and play, said Supt. Steve Snider of the Greater Essex County District School Board.
Nearby residents were also advised to remain in their homes.
The neighbourhood where the shooting took place is on the other side of the city from the border crossing to Detroit.
Officials at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor said security had not been stepped up as a result of the shooting and that officials were taking no extra precautions.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty released a statement Friday night in praise of Atkinson and the work of all police officers.
"The loss of one of our officers is a tragedy for all of us. I don't know that there are words strong or eloquent enough to capture the courage it takes to put one's self in harm's way, in order to keep others safe," he said.
"Throughout the province, brave police officers work hard, long hours to keep us safe, to serve our communities and to help build a stronger Ontario."