MONCTON, New Brunswick – A man suspected of gunning down three Royal Canadian Mounted Police was caught and charged today, ending a 30-hour manhunt that closed schools and forced residents to hide inside their homes of this eastern Canadian city. “I’m done,” a witness heard him tell police.
Police said at a news conference that they received a tip that led them to a wooded residential part of Moncton, New Brunswick, where they found 24-year-old Justin Bourque, suspected in the deadliest attack on Canada’s national police force in nearly a decade.
Armed with high-powered long firearms, Bourque was spotted three times Thursday as he evaded the manhunt that all but shut down the normally tranquil city about of about 60,000 people east of the Maine border. Nearly 300 police officers searched for Bourque, who was seen going in and out of a wooded area.
RCMP Supt. Marlene Snowman said Bourque was arrested at 12:10 a.m. She said he wasn’t carrying any weapons, but some were found nearby. Prosecutors and police declined to comment when asked if the guns were acquired legally.
Michelle Thibodeau said she saw the man in the front yard of her home and heard him say, “I’m done,” before his arrest by officers with guns drawn.
Bearded and shaggy-haired, Bourque made a brief court appearance this afternoon, where he was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. In aqua-colored jail clothes, he stared ahead intently, clearly paying attention but showing little emotion. He nodded when the judge said his name.
He will be back in court July 3 as he seeks a lawyer. A court appointed legal aid attorney represented him Friday.
Prosecutors say they were not requesting a psychiatric evaluation, seeing no need for one. The defense agreed.
There was a high-level security at the appearance, including officers with drawn weapons outside the courtroom.
Roger Brown, commanding officer of RCMP in New Brunswick, choked back tears as he addressed media earlier Friday.
“Fortunately most people will never have to experience what our officers have gone through in the last two days,” he said. “I can’t dig deep enough to explain the sadness that we all feel.”
Brown identified the dead as Constables David Ross, 32, originally of Victoriaville, Quebec; Fabrice Georges Gevaudan, 45, originally of Boulogne-Billancourt in France; and Douglas James Larche of Saint John, New Brunswick.
“It’s been a very challenging 30 hours for the officers that got this job done,” Snowman said. “It will take some time to heal, but together we will get there.”
Ross’ mother Helene Rousseau said she was sad for her son’s wife, who has a one-year-old and is due to have a second child in September.
“It’s going to be difficult. These children won’t remember of course. They will not have had the opportunity of knowing their father,” Rousseau said.
Snowman and other RCMP officials did not release any more details about Bourque’s arrest or the circumstances of the shooting, citing their ongoing investigation. Details will be made public in court, she said.
Police have not spoken about a possible motive for the shootings. In a photo released earlier by police on Twitter, Bourque was wearing military camouflage and carrying two rifles.
Moncton residents reacted to Bourque’s arrest – and the lift of a lockdown while police scoured the city – with a mix of relief and grief. Families and school groups placed flowers and notes on the steps of a downtown police station, where one person placed a portrait of a solemn Mounty atop a horse. A vigil was planned at the station Friday night.
“It goes from fear to happiness to joy to sadness,” said Lynne Lannigan. “At this point it doesn’t matter if you’re blood related or not.”
Residents of Bourque’s trailer park said he was a quiet, seemingly reclusive man who shared a small, worn trailer with a roommate. Neighbors described him as a withdrawn gun collector and avid hunter of birds, deer and moose.
“He never missed a season,” said Kerry Fitzpatrick, who lives half a block away from Bourque and was at home when he heard the sound of gunfire. When he later heard Bourque might be the shooter, he walked over to his trailer, found an open door and Bourque’s wallet on the table.
“He lost it. The guy lost it,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick said he had stopped by Bourque’s trailer just five days ago. He said Bourque “obviously had things on his mind,” based on a stretch of recent Facebook posts about guns and the police, but did not take it seriously.
During the manhunt, police asked residents of the city’s northwest section to remain indoors with their doors locked and exterior lights on to help the search. Much of Moncton, including its popular downtown area, was completely shut down. Some businesses placed signs in windows saying they were closed because of the manhunt.
The city took its buses off the roads and closed schools and government offices. Mail delivery was suspended.
Police commandeered armored trucks and used air support, tactical teams and canine units. Dozens of officers patrolled the search area with their weapons drawn. Several hundred officers from New Brunswick and across Canada participated.
Two other Mounties who were injured in the shooting were recovering and doing well, police said.
Gun violence is rare in eastern Canada. This was the deadliest attack on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police since four officers were killed by a gunman on a farm in the western Canadian province of Alberta in 2005. That attack remains the deadliest on Canadian police officers in 120 years.