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An attempted bank robbery turned into a shootout on Shelbourne Street on Tuesday afternoon. At least four blocks of Shelbourne Street have been closed to traffic.
Just before 11:30am, the Saanich Police Department posted on Twitter about a “police incident” in the 3600 block of Shelbourne Street, asking people to avoid the area.
By noon, Saanich police confirmed they had been responding to a report of “armed suspects” at a bank, and that “multiple people [were] injured” after an exchange of gunfire. Video footage has since confirmed the bank as the BMO at the corner of Elm Street and Shelbourne Street.
Shortly after, police began evacuating nearby homes and businesses near the bank “due to the presence of a potential explosive device.”
There are unconfirmed reports that six police officers have been shot, and that one officer is fighting for his life.
Saanich Police said two suspects are in custody—though police and paramedic sources tell Capital Daily two suspects are dead—and police are searching the area for a third suspect. They have asked the public not to report locations or activities of officers while they search. Police have also asked nearby residents to shelter in place.
Jackson Grasky was leaving Oregano’s Pizza, across the street from the bank, with Brody Pepper when someone approached them and told them the bank was being held up. They noted officers gathering across the street, heavily armed and with a dog.
“All of a sudden we saw K9 units, ERT units, all running toward the bank—that’s when we pulled out our cameras,” Grasky said.
Grasky’s dramatic video, showing police running down the street and firing weapons, has circulated worldwide since the robbery.
Photographer James MacDonald, reporting for Capital Daily, noted the presence of more than two dozen police vehicles in the area, marked with RCMP and Saanich Police decals. Blood dripped from a white Sprinter van beside the bank. Cell service in the area may have been scrambled, with calls and data not coming through.
Christopher Lee Ford lives in the area. “My wife was working from home,” he told Capital Daily. “My daughter was doing some schoolwork at the table trying to catch up on some math stuff over the summer. And all of a sudden we heard shots… At first I thought it was fireworks, so I ran to the window and looked outside. And it was just a hail of bullets whizzing past everywhere, and the cops had the whole place locked down. Got my wife and daughter underneath the table in the dining room at the furthest corner of the house from where the shooting was happening.”
He watched as officers swarmed the area. “The SWAT team showed up, the tactical team showed up. They had M4’s [carbine rifles]. It was a good five to 10 minute firefight,” he said. “I watched two cops get shot.”
Dr. Kam Brar was working at the Lifeline Animal Clinic down the street from BMO when the shootout began. The clinic’s front windows face out onto Shelbourne and up toward the Pear Street intersection. He told Capital Daily when the shooting started, about “five or six” passersby came in and took shelter. His staff closed the blinds, locked the doors, and ushered people into the back of the clinic.
“We didn’t know what was happening,” he said.
Brar says they waited until about 2:30pm before they could evacuate beyond the police perimeter. As they left, “a whole bunch of police walked past us with guns,” he told Capital Daily.
The BMO is opposite the Shelbourne Plaza between Pear Street and Cedar Hill Cross Road. Calls to neighbouring businesses Tuesday afternoon went unreturned.
Holly Mallari had a two-year old at daycare in the area when the shooting took place. According to her, the daycare called her to pick up her kid, but she was hesitant due to the shelter-in-place orders from Saanich Police.
“They [the daycare] were asking kids to be picked up,” she told Capital Daily via Facebook. “I was hesitant. There were stay put orders—and honestly, most of the injuries during these kind of things (to my knowledge, anyways) are to those who lose their cool and can’t stay down in hiding.”
Brenda Irvine, who owns Simply Fun Childcare on Kingsley Street, a block away from Shelbourne, told Capital Daily that she keeps receiving texts from parents asking how they can pick up their children. Despite the shelter-in-place warnings, many parents have come, she said.
“A lot of parents are panicking,” Irvine said.
“They can’t get to the centre [via] Shelbourne, and they have to go on different routes to get there. They’re asking me what routes are closed. They’ll probably all be picked up early. I’m hoping they can pick them up. We have 45 minutes til’ closing. We aren’t sure what our staff will do.”
Royal Jubilee Hospital and Victoria General Hospital receiving wounded
A paramedic, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media, said six police officers were injured, and that one of them is in critical care.
He said the shooting took a toll on paramedics who attended the scene.
“Our supervisors are asking additional paramedics to come in,” he said, after six paramedics went on leave due to the added stress.
His understanding is that no civilians were seriously hurt.
In a statement to Capital Daily, BC Emergency Health Services said five people were transported to the hospital after paramedics responded to the incident at 11:21 a.m. “BCEHS crews remain on scene on standby,” they said.
At around 11:20 am today, an announcement at the Royal Jubilee Hospital proclaimed “highest access restriction” for the ER. 15 minutes later, they called “all porters to ER.” They cleared restriction access at around 11:50am.
“In order to ensure the safety of all involved, Royal Jubilee Hospital’s emergency department was briefly limited to restricted access,” an Island Health spokesperson told Capital Daily. “In any emergency situation, staff are redeployed, as necessary, to ensure our hospitals are best positioned to respond.” The health authority declined to comment on the nature and severity of people’s injuries after they were hospitalized.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes wrote on Twitter, “Our hearts go out to our officers, bank staff and residents … no words can describe how horrendous this is.”
UVic released an emergency alert to staff and students at 2:10pm, while Camosun College locked down its Lansdowne campus.
Saanich Police have set up a digital evidence collection portal and are asking for anyone with photos or videos of Tuesday’s events to share what they have.
Branch robbed four months ago
The same BMO branch was robbed in February, when a man dressed all in black handed a teller a note demanding money. The suspect was never found.
This file will be updated as more information becomes available.
-With files from Martin Bauman, Brishti Basu, Ryan Hook, Jimmy Thomson, Tori Marlan, Jolene Rudisuela, and Hanna Hett
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