Witness recounts ‘horrific’ Saanich shootout, impact and gratitude to police

Witness recounts 'horrific' Saanich shootout, impact and gratitude to police

A year ago yesterday a bank shootout between two young men and police rocked a Saanich neighbourhood.

Two Duncan brothers baited police into a gunfight, wanting to take down as many officers as they could. Their plan, including explosives, cost them their lives, and though no police or civilians were killed the community suffered significant harm that continues to be felt today.

“It was kind of the only day I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it back home,” said Hannah Areshenko, who was at work at Cloud Nine Cannabis right across the street from the Bank of Montreal when the shooting began.

Areshenko says when she heard shots ring out she ran into the back office to look at the cameras and saw the customers and the other staff lying on the floor.

“When I walked outside and saw the aftermath, that’s what kinda gets me the most. There was ripped clothing everywhere and blood on the ground.  I just wasn’t really sure if people were ok or not,” said Areshenko.

They weren’t. Six police officers were injured with some taken to hospital in critical condition. The two gunmen, 22-year-old twins Isaac and Matthew Auchterlonie, were killed by police.

“It was determined the suspect’s primary objective was to shoot and kill police officers,” said Corporal Alex Berube with the Vancouver Island Major Crime Unit (VIIMCU) on January 20th when police presented the results of their investigation.

The bank robbery police first responded to was a trap to lure officers to the scene. The two Duncan brothers had been planning the attack for three years, radicalized in their isolation and deep hatred of authority.

Police say they were intent on inflicting as many police casualties as possible, knowing they wouldn’t survive.

“They were prepared for significant violence, a lot of innocent people could have been injured that day,”  said Supt. Sanjaya Wijayakoom of the BC RCMP Major Crime Section January 20th.

At the scene were six guns, most semi-automatic, and thousands of rounds of ammunition all obtained legally. There were also 30 improvised explosive devices.

“The explosives is really scary in my opinion because it could have been a lot more damaging than it was,” said Areshenko.

What could have been, is all too real for Victoria’s Police Chief.

“There’s no doubt this is one of the most horrific incidents this region has ever seen,” Victoria’s Police Chief Del Manak told CHEK News Wednesday.

Of the six officers suffering gunshot wounds three remain off work (one Victoria and two Saanich PD), who are still facing life-altering injuries and a significant road to recovery.

Then there’s the psychological ramifications, wounds not visible, but just as deep.

“A lot of emotion goes through my head because we go right back to that day. It’s been a difficult year to be there for as many people as I can,” said Saanich Police Chief Duthie. “But we haven’t stopped serving Saanich June 28th 2022, and our officers are just as dedicated, if not more driven, to deliver that service each and every day.”

Dozens from Saanich and Victoria PD still off struggling with PTSD, much like Areshenko.

“I didn’t really realize it would have such an ongoing thing for me,” said Areshenko, who just wants to say thank you to the many police who rushed towards gunfire, to avoid something much worse.

“I don’t know what I would have done without them here,” said Areshenko “I’m grateful to have them still around.”

RELATED: One-year anniversary of Saanich BMO shootout

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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