EDMONTON – A west Edmonton neighbourhood erupted in chaos Monday night as one police officer was killed and another injured in a shooting that one witness said started out as a routine arrest.
Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht held a news conference at midnight to confirm the death of Const. Daniel Woodall, a 35-year-old, eight-year veteran of the force who was recruited from Great Britain and used to serve with the Greater Manchester Police.
A 38-year-old officer, Sgt. Jason Harley, was shot in the lower back but is expected to make a full recovery.
Woodall worked for the hate crimes unit.
“We will forever be in his debt for his actions this evening,” a sombre Knecht told reporters, calling it “a tragedy of unspeakable proportions” and saying Woodall leaves behind a wife and two young children.
A man named Ryan told radio station CHED he is the neighbour of the shooter and was there when everything happened.
“I was on my back deck, saw what I thought was a routine arrest,” he said. “They had six officers come over… they didn’t know if he had any weapons in the house, and when they went to breach the door that’s when the fire started. (The shooter) did fire on two officers, hit one in the back. I helped the one officer, got him out to the side, got him into the car. The bullet was stopped by his vest, but it did pierce through his skin.”
Ryan said the shooter was using a high-powered rifle and set his house on fire while he was still inside.
“He’s a single guy, two kids, wife left him along time ago,” Ryan told CHED. “Sits at home every day, he’s an alcoholic, just snapped. I don’t know what they were arresting him for, but they had a file for him.”
Knecht would not comment on the status of the shooter, except to say they did not have anyone in custody but they also did not believe there was any threat to the public. He would not confirm the shooter died in the house fire, which razed the building, but said the scene was still being processed.
He said the officers had been delivering an arrest warrant for criminal harassment when they came under gunfire.
A massive police presence quickly gathered after the shooting, with dozens of police cars, a police helicopter and three ambulances on scene.
Smoke also started billowing from a house in the neighbourhood and police evacuated several homes.
Fire trucks stood at the ready to move in once the scene was contained and safe enough for them to move in. However, the smell of black smoke hung in the air for hours.
At one point, two ambulances left the scene with a police escort.
Neighbourhood resident Josette Lavigne said her family had been in their backyard when they heard the cacophony or sirens and decided to get out of the area.
Hours later, she was still waiting to be allowed back into her home: “It sure gives you a different perspective on your neighbourhood.”
Throughout the turmoil, police continually urged onlookers to move to a safer area or stay in their homes.
Const. Brendan Power sent out a Tweet pleading with residents in the area of 184 St. and 64 Ave. to move back, telling them they were “not safe to be observing anywhere near there.”
He also caution media and onlookers: “Please don’t post pictures of our officers, other emergency crews or their locations. You’re putting them at risk.”
This is the second police officer to be shot and killed in the Edmonton area this year.
RCMP Const. David Wynn, 42, died in January at a casino in St. Albert, north of Edmonton, while trying to track down the driver of a stolen truck. Auxiliary Constable Derek Bond was seriously injured but survived.
The shooter, Shawn Maxwell Rehn, was out on bail facing 15 charges, including escaping lawful custody, possession of a prohibited firearm and failure to show up to a previous bail hearing on the charges.
On Monday, an Alberta MP introduced a private member’s bill named after Wynn to ensure bail hearings have an accused’s criminal history.
Last month an Edmonton police officer was shot and wounded during an impaired driving stop. The suspect in that shooting was killed.
The last officer to be killed on the job within the city limits was Const. Ezio Faraone, a 33-year-old officer who was gunned down on June 25, 1990, while trying to arrest a suspect who was fleeing from an armed robbery.
“It’s unfortunate and sad,” said Shane Howard, one of those who gathered on a sidewalk in the west Edmonton neighbourhood to watch events unfold.
“You feel bad for the police officer’s friends and family and colleagues. Nobody likes to see a police officer get shot when he’s trying to do good for society.”