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Errors and omissions revealed in RCMP statements after Nova Scotia mass shooting

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HALIFAX — In the days following the mass shooting that left 22 people dead in Nova Scotia, the RCMP’s statements to the public were riddled with mistakes, confusion and omissions, a newly released report reveals.

The document, published Tuesday by the inquiry investigating the 2020 tragedy, also asserts that key information about the case, including the victims’ names and the types of weapons used by the killer, was withheld from the public longer than was needed.

The commission of inquiry does not have a mandate to assign blame, but the 126-page document lays out a long list of miscues and delays, some of which attracted the ire of senior RCMP brass in Ottawa.

The summary of evidence confirms that on the night of April 19, 2020, when the Mounties held their first news conference about the killer’s 13-hour rampage, the RCMP initially chose to understate the number of people who were known to be victims.

The senior Mountie who led the RCMP’s initial news conferences, Chief Supt. Chris Leather, said after being pressed by reporters that “in excess of 10 have been killed.” However, before his 6 p.m. news conference in Halifax, Leather knew that victims were still being found and the official number stood at 17, the document says.

In media interviews later that night, the head of the RCMP, Commissioner Brenda Lucki, told the CBC that 13 people were killed. And just before 8 p.m. that night, Lucki told The Canadian Press that the death toll was 17.

The resulting confusion prompted a flurry of emails among senior RCMP staff. Jolene Bradley, director of strategic communications at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa, sent a message to her counterpart in Nova Scotia, saying, “Doesn’t help that the (commissioner) is giving the number!!!! Am really trying to get that back in the box for you.”

Lia Scanlan, director of strategic communications in Halifax, replied: “Thank you. It looks awful and I’ve had to ask my entire team to turn their phones off …. Lord help me!!”

At 10:21 p.m., Scanlan sent another email to headquarters, saying: “Can I make a request to stop changing number on victims. Please allow us to lead the release of information. It looks fragmented and inconsistent.”

In a followup interview with inquiry investigators, Scanlan said government officials, including Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, were “weighing in on what we could and couldn’t say” during media briefings. She did not provide further details.

Scanlan has told the inquiry that 10 was the number the Nova Scotia RCMP first used “because at a certain point, you have to call your information final.”

By 11 p.m. on April 19, 2020, the RCMP had concluded that up to 22 people had been killed. The next day, Leather said the death toll had climbed to at least 19. The RCMP didn’t reveal the final number until a statement was released on April 21, 2020.

At another point during the first news conference, Leather was asked if the killer was known to police. Leather said: “No, he was not.” But that was not the case.

On the morning of April 19, 2020, the RCMP learned from police records that the killer had threatened to kill his parents in 2010 and had access to long guns. The records also confirmed he had told a police source in 2011 that he “wanted to kill a cop.” And in early 2020, he had a bizarre but non-violent interaction with police who had parked their vehicle in the lot next to his denture-making business in Dartmouth, N.S.

As for the identities of the victims, Leather said on April 20, 2020, that no names would be released until Nova Scotia’s medical examiner had confirmed the identity of certain individuals. The Mounties’ own records, however, show that by 5:25 p.m. that day, all of the victims’ immediate next of kin had been notified of their deaths — and that RCMP headquarters had confirmed its support for releasing the names.

By April 25, media reports confirmed the names of the 22 victims, but the RCMP had yet to provide a list.

The RCMP’s operational manual says the names of deceased persons can be released once next of kin have been notified, but only if the disclosure will further the investigation, or there is a public safety concern or the identities have already been made public through other means.

On another front, Leather was asked at subsequent news conferences about the weapons owned by the gunman. He declined to provide details, saying he couldn’t comment because the province’s police watchdog agency — the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) — was investigating.

But the inquiry’s document makes it clear the Mounties knew a great deal about the killer’s firearms early in their investigation.

The RCMP had recovered multiple firearms from the stolen car the gunman was driving when he was shot dead by two Mounties at a gas station north of Halifax on April 19, 2020. A forensic identification officer had catalogued a list of five weapons, including two semi-automatic rifles, by April 21.

The types of guns used by the shooter, however, were not shared in the five news conferences that took place in the week following the mass shooting.

Internal RCMP documents show that on April 28, 2020, Lucki convened a meeting of senior RCMP officers, during which she said she was disappointed that details about firearms had been omitted. According to notes taken by RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell, Lucki said she felt “disobeyed” when those details were not shared.

Campbell’s notes say Lucki had promised the Prime Minister’s Office that the RCMP would release the descriptions, adding that the information “was tied to pending gun control legislation that would make officers and public safer.”

In response, Campbell told Lucki that he was the one who had asked the strategic communications team not to release the firearms details because doing so could jeopardize the RCMP’s investigation into how the gunman obtained them.

The inquiry’s document also takes issue with Leather’s statement on April 20, 2020, that police did not know about the killer’s replica police vehicle until the morning of April 19 — the second day of the killer’s rampage.

The inquiry has heard the Mounties were first told the gunman was driving a fully marked replica cruiser shortly after 10 p.m. on April 18, 2020, when 911 calls starting coming in from Portapique, N.S., where 13 people were killed. More witnesses came forward at 10:25 p.m. and the next morning at 5:16 a.m.

The document also reveals that RCMP Const. Wayne Tingley had seen the fully marked RCMP replica in Elmsdale, N.S., on April 17, 2020 — a day before the shootings started. He noticed the car had a push bar — uncommon for actual RCMP cruisers — and lacked a licence plate but he didn’t see the driver. Tingley provided a statement to the RCMP about his sighting on April 23, 2020.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2021.

— With files from Lyndsay Armstrong and Keith Doucette

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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Crime

New report details missed chances to stop Uvalde shooting

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A police officer armed with a rifle watched the gunman in the Uvalde elementary school massacre walk toward the campus but did not fire while waiting for permission from a supervisor to shoot, according to a sweeping critique released Wednesday on the tactical response to the May tragedy.

Some of the 21 victims at Robb Elementary School, including 19 children, possibly “could have been saved” on May 24 had they received medical attention sooner while police waited more than an hour before breaching the fourth-grade classroom, a review by a training center at Texas State University for active shooter situations found.

The report is yet another damning assessment of how police failed to act on opportunities that might have saved lives in what became the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. since the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

“A reasonable officer would have considered this an active situation and devised a plan to address the suspect,” read the report published by the university’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program.

Authors of the 26-page report said their findings were based off video taken from the school, police body cameras, testimony from officers on the scene and statements from investigators. Among their findings:

— It appeared that no officer waiting in the hallway during the shooting ever tested to see if the door to the classroom was locked. The head of Texas’ state police agency has also faulted officers on the scene for not checking the doors.

— The officers had “weapons (including rifles), body armor (which may or may not have been rated to stop rifle rounds), training, and backup. The victims in the classrooms had none of these things.”

— When officers finally entered the classroom at 12:50 p.m. — more than an hour after the shooting began — they were no better equipped to confront the gunman than they had been up to that point.

—”Effective incident command” never appears to have been established among the multiple law enforcement agencies that responded to the shooting.

The gunman, an 18-year-old with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, entered the building at 11:33 a.m. Before that a Uvalde police officer, who the report did not identify, saw the gunman carrying a rife toward the west hall entrance. The officer asked a supervisor for permission to open fire, but the supervisor “either did not hear or responded too late,” the report said.

When the officer turned back toward the gunman, he already gone inside “unabated,” according to the report.

The report is one of multiple fact-finding reviews launched in the aftermath of the worst school shooting in Texas history. A committee formed by Texas legislators has also interviewed more than 20 people, including officers who were on the scene, behind closed doors for several weeks. It is unclear when they will release their findings.

It follows testimony last month in which Col. Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told the state Senate that the police response was an “abject failure.” He pinned particular blame on Chief Pete Arredondo, saying that as on-scene commander the Uvalde schools police chief made “terrible decisions” and stopped officers from confronting the gunman earlier.

Arredondo has tried to defend his actions, telling the Texas Tribune that he didn’t consider himself the commander in charge of operations and that he assumed someone else had taken control of the law enforcement response. He said he didn’t have his police and campus radios but that he used his cellphone to call for tactical gear, a sniper and the classroom keys.

According to he report released Wednesday, Arredondo and another Uvalde police officer spent 13 minutes in the school hallway during the shooting discussing tactical options, whether to use snipers and how to get into the classroom windows.

“They also discussed who has the keys, testing keys, the probability of the door being locked, and if kids and teachers are dying or dead,” the report read.

McCraw said police had enough officers and firepower on the scene of the Uvalde school massacre to have stopped the gunman three minutes after he entered the building, and they would have found the door to the classroom where he was holed up unlocked if they had bothered to check it.

A lawyer for Arredondo and a spokeswoman for the Uvalde city police department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Arredondo is on leave from his job with the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District and resigned from his position as a city councilor last week.

Public leaders, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, initially praised the police response in Uvalde. Abbott said officers reacted quickly and ran toward the gunfire with “amazing courage” to take out the killer, thereby saving lives. He later said he was misled. In the days and weeks after the shooting, authorities gave conflicting and incorrect accounts of what happened. The fallout has driven recriminations and rifts between local at state authorities. On Tuesday, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez released a letter asking Abbott to move administration of a victims relief fund from the local prosecutor’s office to the Texas Department of Emergency Management. They wrote that they’ve received numerous complaints about District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee, “including the failure to timely deliver victim’s compensation resources to those in need.″

Busbee’s office declined to comment Wednesday.

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Bleiberg reported from Dallas.

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Find more AP coverage of the Uvalde school shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting

Paul J. Weber And Jake Bleiberg, The Associated Press

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Crime

In the midst of chaotic shooting, strangers save a young boy

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By Martha Irvine in Chicago

CHICAGO (AP) — A woman — stunned and speechless in the chaos of a July 4 parade massacre — walked up to Greg Ring and handed him a 2-year-old boy, covered in blood.

Ring had fled the scene in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park with his wife and three children to an area behind a popular pancake house.

“We kind of met eyes and didn’t say anything…. I put my arms out, and she gave him to me,” Ring said Thursday, when describing the exchange with the unidentified woman, who then laid down in front of their car in shock.

The boy pointed in the direction of the parade route, saying “Mommy, Daddy, Mommy, Daddy.”

Ring’s wish to help the boy carried him back to the scene. He tucked the boy’s face in his chest, so he couldn’t see the carnage. But Ring quickly realized it was too dangerous.

“Active shooter! Get back down!” a police officer shouted. Ring fled again.

He and his family got to their car and took the boy to a Highland Park fire station. “I have a boy. He’s not ours,” he told the department staff, who asked him to keep the boy as authorities searched for the shooter and helped the wounded.

“They were getting ready for war,” Ring said.

The family drove to Ring’s in-laws, where they hunkered down. There, the boy sat with Ring’s 4-year-old, watching a Mickey Mouse show.

“He asked my wife to wipe him off because he had blood on him that wasn’t his,” said Ring, an insurance broker from Highland Park.

They were later able to identify the boy and reunite him with his grandparents.

Aiden McCarthy’s parents, Kevin and Irina, both died in the shooting, which left five others dead and more than two dozen wounded.

Friends of the McCarthys said Irina’s parents would care for the boy going forward.

“Aiden … will have a long road ahead to heal, find stability, and ultimately navigate life as an orphan. He is surrounded by a community of friends and extended family that will embrace him with love, and any means available to ensure he has everything he needs as he grows,” Irina Colon, a family friend, wrote on a GoFundMe account she created for the family and Aiden. The account has raised more than $2 million.

On Thursday, Ring was still trying to process what happened at the July 4 parade. He said he’s not a hero and just did what anyone would have done in the situation.

“I’m just filled with immense gratitude. I’m really sad. I don’t know, I don’t know how I feel. I have not slept for a minute the last two nights,” he said.

“What could’ve happened — it is nothing short of a miracle that the five of us — me, my wife and my three kids — one of us or all of us isn’t dead. I do not understand. Everybody around us was hit or got shot.”

Four of others who were killed were identified Tuesday as Katherine Goldstein, 64; Jacquelyn Sundheim, 63; Stephen Straus, 88; and Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, 78, and Eduardo Uvaldo, 69.

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