‘Just feel very fortunate’: VicPD officer describes harrowing Saanich bank shootout, life afterwards

‘Just feel very fortunate’: VicPD officer describes harrowing Saanich bank shootout, life afterwards
VicPD Staff Sgt. John Musicco speaks to reporters on June 27, 2024.

Nearly two years after a harrowing bank shootout rocked the Saanich community, a police officer who helped lead the dramatic response is sharing his account of the day.

On June 28, 2022, twin brothers Isaac and Mathew Auchterlonie, 22, entered the Bank of Montreal branch along Shelbourne Street armed with SKS semi-automatic rifles and wearing body armour and balaclavas.

Minutes later, the pair engaged in a level of violence unheard of for Vancouver Island, shooting six police officers before being fatally shot themselves.

Twenty-two people were inside the bank at the time. Of the six officers that were injured, three suffered catastrophic injuries, but all survived.

Staff Sgt. John Musicco was the team leader of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team (GVERT) when the call came in that two gunmen had taken hostages at the Bank of Montreal.

By chance, the GVERT tactical unit was nearby on an unrelated call, and they were dispatched to the bank, which was just minutes away.

Seven members of the GVERT team, including Musicco, were inside an unmarked police van as they approached the bank. The staff sergeant described the lead-up as tense, with many unknowns.

“So en route what I’m able to do is just listen to the radio and the broadcast from the dispatchers, from the police witnesses, and from some of the complainants that would go through the dispatcher,” he said.

“We get information that there are two suspects that have entered the bank with innocent people inside, that they have balaclavas on, that they’re armed with firearms as well,” he said.

“So that in itself is kind of an outside the norm call for service and that is what then warrants our response.”

With limited information, Musicco decided to drive the unmarked police van around the bank to see if they could look inside.

Within 60 seconds of the drive-by, the GVERT team would be told that the gunmen were leaving the building.

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‘Window of opportunity’

While the situation was still in flux, Musicco knew the team’s first priority was to ensure that all the hostages were safe, followed by the general public.

When he heard the two gunmen were leaving the building, he thought there was a chance to drive a “wedge of police” between the suspects and the hostages in the bank.

“So because they were leaving, I was going to put ourselves between the suspects and the hostages, preventing them from going back in,” he said.

“I saw this as a window of opportunity that, if I capitalize on it, I wouldn’t be risking the lives of the hostages. So that compels me to act and initiate that takedown.”

‘My life basically flashing before my eyes’

What followed was an explosive hail of gunfire, with the brothers firing on police immediately as the van pulled into the bank’s parking lot.

Musicco was behind the wheel of the van and saw one of the suspects turn and lift his gun.

“So his rifle is coming up, the van starts taking fire, and from that point I can see my life basically flashing before my eyes,” he said.

“And so from the front of the van I actually end up drawing out and using my pistol and firing through the windshield of the van to stop the two gunmen from essentially shooting us.”

Of the seven GVERT members in the van, six were injured in the shootout at the Saanich bank, three of whom suffered life-threatening injuries.

Musicco was shot in the foot, and though he suffers from permanent nerve damage and mobility issues, he says he considers himself lucky.

“I have significant nerve damage through my foot and some significant mobility issues, but the work and the injuries that the other members have sustained, this pales in comparison and I just feel very fortunate as a result,” he said.

After police had cleared the scene, some 3,500 rounds of ammunition were found in the brothers’ car, as well as 30 improvised explosive devices, three additional semi-automatic rifles, a shotgun, body armor and other army surplus supplies.

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(CHEK News)

Brothers’ motivation

In an update in January 2023, the RCMP Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit released details on their review of the incident.

Police say the brothers had “strong anti-government and anti-police views,” and that they were planning on carrying out some form of mass violence as early as 2019.

Investigators believe the pair had planned to mount a larger attack sometime in 2023, but that they were in the process of moving homes and decided to speed up their plans.

Mounties said the brothers’ goal was to kill as many police as possible, in what they saw as a “stand against government regulations, especially in relation to firearms ownership.”

A lifetime of healing

Musicco says that recovering from a traumatic incident like the Saanich bank shootout is not something someone does in a month, or a year, but over a lifetime. It becomes part of who you are, he says.

“In response to our healing and what advice I could potentially give to other people is that there’s no real map book on these types of incidents and how you’re going to respond,” he said.

“All I can say is that, take comfort in knowing that if you could’ve done something different, you would have, and also that the emotions and feelings that you’re feeling, that’s OK.”

“That if one day you’re happy, that’s OK, and if one day you’re angry, then that’s OK, and to really just let yourself process those emotions, because it is, it is emotional.”

He says it’s also important not to forget that two people died that day, and that they also had families, and likely people who cared about them.

“I really empathize with people’s perspectives on it and just knowing that we feel the gravity and weight of these experiences,” he said. “We don’t walk away even though, objectively, we had accomplished our mission that day, we had arrested both suspects and saved all the hostages. But there’s a lot more to it after that.”

Response from the community

In the aftermath of the Saanich bank shootout, Musicco says he, his team, and local police as a whole saw an outpouring of support.

He says, of the silver linings to come out of a violent incident like this, community support and education are some of them.

“The community response was unparalleled in the sense that it was so overwhelming with positive support,” he said.

While he was recovering, Musicco says he appreciated all the gestures large and small, from neighbours bringing over gift baskets to community members dropping off cards and letters at the Victoria Police Department.

“When we walk through the doors of the police department and there’s just tables and tables of cards and letters of appreciation – it really solidifies the reason why we get into this job in the first place, which is to help people, and this was just a clear demonstration of the appreciation of that.”

Musicco says, plainly, that he would rather not speak of the shootout in such detail again, but that he felt it was the right thing to do to give back to the community, which may have questions about that day, and that had supported the team so much in the period that followed.

He says he may also speak in settings like police conferences in the future, in case his experience can help other officers who may have to face such incidents as well.

“So I am really grateful and appreciative of the level of support that not only I have received, my family, the other members of the emergency response team, the other members that responded to this call for service. It has been such a positive experience that has helped me continue to show up here and continue this job,” he said.

Musicco has 20 years of police experience under his belt, including 12 on the GVERT tactical team. He’s now working through the critical incident commander program.

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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