Officials confirmed that explosives were found at the scene of a deadly shootout near a Saanich bank and that the devices have been safely destroyed, while the search for a potential third suspect continues.
Saanich Police Chief Dean Duthie confirmed Wednesday that a BC RCMP explosive disposal unit worked overnight to assess the devices, found in a vehicle associated with two armed suspects killed a day earlier, and determined they were in fact explosive devices.
“Early this afternoon, the devices were transported to Hartland Landfill and safely destroyed,” said Duthie. An evacuation order put in place for businesses and homes in the 3600-block of Shelbourne Street has since been rescinded, though some in the area are unable to return as officers continue to process the shooting scene.
Police are continuing to investigate the possibility that a third suspect may have been involved in Tuesday’s shootout at the Bank of Montreal on Shelbourne Street, Duthie said, adding there is no reason to believe the public is at risk.
The Vancouver Island Major Crime Unit has now assumed conduct of the investigation and will be the primary agency responsible for providing information about the case going forward, the police chief announced.
BC RCMP and VIIMCU lead Sgt. Chris Manseau said the agency is still trying to confirm the identities of the two suspects killed in the shootout with police Tuesday.
“If you have that information, please come forward to our investigators to ensure that we have all available information,” said Manseau.
He also said it’s not clear what the suspects intended to do with the explosives, or what the nature of the devices were.
“The types of explosives and what their intentions were, we don’t know,” he said. “That’s exactly what VIIMCU is trying to work through right now. That information may come forward in the future, or that may form part of the investigation, or we may never know, I’m sorry.”
Watch the full Saanich Police Department news conference Wednesday, June 29.
As for the six officers hospitalized with gunshot wounds, Duthie added that three officers have since been released from care and are now recovering at home.
Three other officers suffered what were initially considered life-threatening injuries and underwent “extensive surgeries,” and one officer remains in ICU. Duthie acknowledged the outpouring of support from other police agencies and members of the public after the shooting made national headlines.
“I attended hospitals today and met with officers in there and their families,” he said. “They wanted me to extend their sincere thanks and appreciation to the public for their ongoing support. it means a lot to them.”
Duthie added that the officers have a long recovery process ahead of them, but he declined to elaborate on the extent of their injuries, only saying they were “significant and serious.”
The section of Shelbourne Street that is the focus of two investigations — one by VIIMCU and another by the Independent Investigations Office, B.C.’s police watchdog — will remain closed with no estimated time of reopening, police said.
Duthie confirmed reports that the emergency response team was able to respond swiftly to the incident at the bank because it was already deployed for another undisclosed incident.
He said it was remarkable that no members of the public were injured given the number of gunshots fired.
“Quite frankly, it’s a miracle,” he said.
The chief reiterated Wednesday he has never seen a level of violence like that in Tuesday’s shootout in his career with Saanich Police Department.
“Having six officers of an ERT injured in this violent exchange of gunfire, I’m sorry but it’s an incident that’s off the scales of what we’ve experienced here in the past.”
Anyone with information on the shooting or the possible third suspect is asked to call VIIMCU’s information line at 250-380-6211.
TIMELINE OF TUESDAY’S EVENTS
On Tuesday just after 11 a.m., two robbery suspects believed to be wearing body armour died in a barrage of bullets exchanged with police outside the BMO location on Shelbourne.
Six members of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team, including officers from Saanich and Victoria police departments, were injured in the shootout, with three critically injured and two requiring surgery, according to Saanich Chief Const. Dean Duthie.
The two armed suspects, who were believed to be wearing body armour, were killed. Police also issued a shelter-in-place order for the surrounding area as they searched for a potential third suspect.
The Independent Investigations Office, which probes all police-related incidents of serious injury or death, has launched an investigation into the case. An IIO member and a coroner were present at the scene Wednesday morning.
RELATED: Woman trapped inside Saanich bank with armed men recounts terrifying experience
One woman who spoke with CHEK News Wednesday said she was inside the bank when the armed men burst in with assault rifles and bulletproof vests.
“Frightened to death. There was a poor woman who works there who’s pregnant who had been hiding in a closet,” Shelli Fryer said. “She had no idea, all they heard was gunfire. There was another poor employee who was hiding in another office, and had no idea, and they only heard gunshots.”
Speaking with Shelli Fryer who was in the BMO for an appt when 2 armed robbers with assault rifles & bullet proof vests came in with an huge explosion. She secretly called 911 before being told to gather in the vault before a “hell storm of gunfire” 20 minutes later. @CHEK_News pic.twitter.com/vIBiZkhZvc
— Kori Sidaway (@korisidaway) June 29, 2022
A spokesman for Bank of Montreal said while he couldn’t comment on the investigation, workers have “full access to employee assistance supports and other customized health and wellness resources, including on-site counsellors.”
OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT
The shooting sent shockwaves through the community, Vancouver Island and the rest of the country, with many praising police for putting themselves in harm’s way — rushing toward the shooters in order to stop them.
Duthie said he was overcome with emotion as he reviewed video of police officers rushing toward danger.
“I can’t say how moved I am at the bravery demonstrated by these officers,” he said. “These officers were patrol frontline officers and emergency response team officers. They ran toward live and active gunfire while a human instinct is to run away from such imminent danger.”
In a statement released Wednesday morning, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes issued a joint statement in support of the departments.
“Yesterday in a terrible and violent act, three officers from Saanich and three from Victoria were injured in the line of duty, some with very serious injuries. When these kinds of actions happen, our police departments and our communities that support them are shaken to the core,” they said.
“To the officers who were injured and to their families, our thoughts are with you and we are sending love as you move through the following days, weeks and months in recovery. We are humbled by your service and we offer our heartfelt thanks for your courage as you stood in harm’s way to keep our communities safe.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a post on social media a day earlier that he was “shocked and saddened by the violence.”
“I’m keeping the police officers who were injured in today’s shooting — and their colleagues who also rushed towards danger to keep people safe — in my thoughts,” he said.
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth released a statement saying his thoughts are with the officers, their families, friends and colleagues and he wishes them a quick recovery.
Farnworth said the shooting is a powerful reminder of the crucial role police officers play in keeping neighbourhoods safe.
“As always, first responders and volunteers also stepped up quickly to help, and we truly appreciate their dedication.”