Chris GareauThe Interior News, Smithers
Two people identified by neighbours and relatives as 77-year-old Shirley Williams and her son Jovan are dead after shots were fired involving police on Apr. 21 in Granisle.
The RCMP said officers were called at 12:30 p.m. to a dispute between neighbours involving a handgun in the village north of Topley on Highway 188. They arrived at about 1:20 p.m., established a perimeter around the Morrison Street home and tried to contact the people inside.
“One person exited the residence and confronted police. Shots were fired at about 2:50 p.m.,” said Staff Sgt. Rob Vermeulen, a senior media relations officer with E Division, in an online statement.
“The second person exited the residence, confronted police and shots were fired.”
Paramedics who were waiting nearby rushed to the victims, but both were dead. There were no injuries to police.
The Independent Investigations Office, which handles incidents of serious harm or death involving police in B.C., arrived on Apr. 22 and moved to the scene just before 2:30 p.m. North District Major Crime secured the scene as eight IIO personnel made their way to Granisle. The IIO and RCMP said in statements that they will not provide more information during the investigation.
Lake Babine Nation mental health workers were near the scene Friday afternoon to direct mourners, who had organized a vigil on Facebook, a bit farther from the scene to avoid confrontation with police.
Granisle fire chief and councillor Jim O’Farrell lives a couple houses down from where the shooting occurred. He said he arrived home Thursday to see police vehicles on his street.
“It hadn’t really started yet. They were marshaling on the street coming into town by the church,” said O’Farrell.
“Then I don’t know what happened, but all of a sudden it got very intense very quickly.”
He said six to eight officers armed with long guns approached house by house up the street on their way to surrounding his neighbour’s home. He recognized some as Houston RCMP.
“Then there was a series of shots. Then there was a lull and another series of shots, and I got a call as fire chief to respond with the emergency truck to stay on standby,” said O’Farrell from his front porch, which has a direct view of the home across the street.
He could not see most of what happened because the shootings occurred in the backyard.
O’Farrell came back with the truck and parked with the ambulance close by. He said that is when he heard the third volley of gunfire.
“Then I saw the policeman that was standing in front of the trees [in front of the house] walk over to the far side of their house, and I don’t think he had a rifle or shotgun, he just had a sidearm,” said O’Farrell.
“I figured because he was moving across the road and going to the side, I figured it was over then because a cop wouldn’t do that – going to the open like that unless he was told the scene was contained. Then they all converged on the house and it was basically over.”
O’Farrell believed there were unaddressed mental health issues with the mother and son. Shirley had become withdrawn the last few years after being an active member of the community, according to O’Farrell. That is when the no trespassing signs went up on the property.
“It should’ve been resolved a long time ago, but if a person doesn’t want help, what are you going to do? You can’t force a person to seek help,” said O’Farrell.
He said things only got worse when Jovan returned home last year.
Confrontations with a neighbour across the street escalated over time to the point where a handgun was involved and police were called Thursday, according to O’Farrell.
O’Farrell also said he himself had avoided Jovan after a confrontation last year when Jovan accused O’Farrell of “staring” at him as he walked down the street and Jovan drove by.
“I stare at everybody when they drive down the street because I don’t want to get hit … so I just looked at him as he drove by and he backed up and said ‘you staring at me?’ I said I couldn’t care less. We exchanged other pleasantries and left,” said O’Farrell.
“Ever since then I’ve been very weary. Then when the front door neighbour had some issues with him, I got really weary, to the point where I’d take my dog for a walk the other way as opposed to just going by his house.”
O’Farrell wanted everyone to know that Granisle was a small, quiet town not used to violence.
“You get a dog running at large and it’s a major dilemma,” said O’Farrell.