June 5 2014
– Wednesday night, the 140-or-so officers of Codiac RCMP had barely received news that three of their own were dead before they needed to mobilize for one of the most nightmare scenarios of any police force: A heavily armed suspect hiding in a large wooded area and itching for a showdown.
“If you’re searching a wooded area for a suspect armed with a rifle, it’s extremely dangerous and extremely challenging,” said Sgt. Bret Pagnucco, an Edmonton-based representative with the National Tactical Officer’s Association. “It becomes basically much like a military operation.”
What would soon become one of Canada’s largest police operations began just after 7:30 p.m. as officers blocked roads and pathways to isolate a section of north Moncton roughly 2000 hectares in size, and laced with forested areas and suburban cul-de-sacs.
After reportedly evacuating what they could, officers instructed residents to lock their doors, leave their exterior lights on and refrain from broadcasting police movements on social media.
“Containment is really important at the onset,” said Tom Hart, president of Canadian Critical Incident Inc. and a retired member of the Durham Regional Police. “Why he hasn’t surfaced yet is surprising: Either he’s setting up for another ambush or he’s committed suicide.”
Canadian murder suspects will regularly melt into the city or countryside without spurring city-wide paramilitary searches, but the case of Justin Bourque was immediately different.
Witnesses described the sickening nonchalance with which he shot his three victims, and a “subject assessment” by RCMP would have soon determined that they were dealing with a man bent on making a statement.
“I would anticipate that this person is looking forward to some type of interaction with the police, as opposed to just trying to blend in with the community,” said Mark Lomax, the Pennsylvania-based director of the National Tactical Officer’s Association.
After analyzing the terrain of the search area, Jim Van Allen, a B.C.-based profiler with Investigative Solutions Network Inc., said, “he can pop in and out at his pleasure when he has an opportunity to do so.”
“He doesn’t appear to be willing to take on a SWAT team; he’ll be looking for a lone officer at a checkpoint or somebody in a patrol car,” he said.
As soon as news as the triple fatality arrived, upper echelons of the RCMP would have immediately begun summoning in personnel and equipment from across the country.
Within hours of the manhunt beginning, Moncton was swarmed with K9 units, police snipers, bomb disposal equipment and dozens of police cruisers, all managed by a team of incident commanders talking across numerous radio frequencies, both encrypted and un-encrypted.
Brinks trucks were commandeered to move officers around the cordoned-off zone, and the streets soon rumbled with a state-of-the-art armoured personnel carrier first rolled out by the RCMP in 2012.
Overhead, residents reported the constant buzzing of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. As night fell, these would have been using infrared scanners to comb the darkness for the warm outlines of human figures.
As of Thursday evening, officers and equipment were still reportedly streaming in from as far away as British Columbia.
Moncton has not had a homicide since 2010, and in 159 years of policing, only one person has ever been killed in Moncton by a police shooting. Nevertheless, the 140,000-strong Greater Moncton area is not immune to nation-stunning acts violence.
In 1974, Moncton was the site of one of the most brutal police murders in Canadian history when two kidnappers drove city police officers Cpl. Aurele Bourgeois and Const. Michael O’Leary to a wooded area, forced them into shallow graves, and shot them in the head.
For now, the sense of trauma may not have fully set in, said Robin S. Cox, head of the Disaster and Emergency Management program at Royal Roads University.
“Because the incident is ongoing, it would be my guess that many if not most of those involved are still in response mode. They will be focused on tracking down the shooter and getting the job done,” she wrote in an email to the National Post. “Being active, and feeling as though one is doing something can mitigate some of the sense of helplessness and loss associated with trauma.”
“For police and other first responders there is often a strong sense of camaraderie and bonding in the face of the dangerous jobs they do and this will be even more evident at times such as this.”
And once the search is over, Mounties will still need to attend to the original crime scene; a section of suburban street splashed with blood and containing at least two bullet-riddled police vehicles.
“This is one of the worst cases I’ve heard of, and I’ve been involved in police shootings,” said Mr. Hart. “The anxiety level of members on the ground is something that will be very difficult to manage, but they’re professionals.”
– Tristin Hopper