Moncton shooting: Witnesses recall search for safety

Some residents of a suburban Moncton, N.B., neighbourhood spent a stressful night in lockdown as RCMP searched for a gunman who killed three RCMP officers and wounded two others Wednesday evening.

New Brunswick RCMP are still searching for the suspect, Justin Borque, 24, who is believed to be holed up in a wooded area nearby where the officers were shot.

Bill Daigle, who lives one block from where the shooting took place, said police presence in his neighbourhood overnight was heavy.

"I've never heard so many sirens in all my life," Daigle said, explaining helicopters circled his house and armoured vehicles drove through the area frequently.

He was working with his wife in his front lawn when he heard what he first believed were fireworks.

"It quickly became apparent that it was gunfight that we were hearing," he said. "It sounded like it was happening in our backyard."

Daigle's teenage daughter was working at a nearby grocery store during the shootings. She did not arrive home until after 5 a.m. Thursday as the store went into lockdown and staff inside were secured in a safe area.

She is "still in shock," but glad to be home, Daigle said.

Daigle, who runs a local pawn shop, said "this sort of thing just doesn't happen in this part of the world."

Will Njoku lives with his wife and three children in Moncton in an area near the shooting.

He spent a "sleepless" night in his basement, he told CBC News on the phone.

He first heard what sounded like firecrackers Wednesday night, he said. But a neighbour soon called to tell him a gunman was on the loose nearby.

"That kind of freaked us out, obviously," he said.

Around 9 p.m., he and his wife woke up their three children and moved them to the basement. While his boys will "never hear anything about it," Njoku said it was a stressful night, with he and his wife exhausted from wondering where the gunman might be.

"It became more and more stressful as the night wore on," he said.

Vanessa Bernatchez was with several other people in the living room of her home in the Pinehurst subdivision of Moncton, watching out the window as an RCMP officer took cover behind a police cruiser and scoped out the area, apparently looking for the shooter.

Bernatchez recorded the scene on her smartphone and later uploaded the video to Facebook.

She told CBC News that at one point, she watched as the gunman came walking down the street, but the RCMP officer ducking behind the vehicle did not see him.

Another person with Bernatchez attempted to tap on the glass window in an effort to warn the officer.

The Mountie was unable to hear their warning.

“It was too late, he went down. We knew it was over,” Bernatchez said.

On the video, she can be heard screaming: “Call 911.”

Bernatchez told CBC News that after shooting the RCMP officer, the gunman casually walked out of view into a nearby wooded area.

Dr. Heidi James — a physician in Moncton who was supposed to be on duty at a local hospital late Wednesday and overnight Thursday — was watching cartoons with her two young children and husband when she heard five loud bangs outside.

James said that neighbourhood kids sometimes play with air rifles in the woods near her home, so at first she thought the sounds may be harmless.

"But these were not like any shots we had heard before," she said.

Shortly after hearing what were now clearly gunshots, James received a call from a friend who lives nearby alerting her to the manhunt unfolding outside her home, she told CBC News.

“Once we got our wits about us we took the kids to a safe place … first to a bathroom, then to a closet and then eventually back to a safe bathroom.”

James said she tried to calm her two children by making a game of hiding out until police clear the area.

Local photographer Daniel St. Louis took some of the earliest photos from the scene. He was at a friend’s house when he saw tweets and received text messages referencing a heavy police presence in the area, so he decided to take what gear he had with him and drive over to where RCMP were reportedly setting up roadblocks.

In just a few blocks, St. Louis came across two vehicles with bullet holes in them or blown-out windows, one of which clearly had blood in and around it, he told CBC News.

The second vehicle, an unmarked RCMP SUV, had "very sharp, small bullet holes in the front windshield," he said. From what he saw, he said he believed "somebody was aiming, clearly aiming, for the driver as a target."

The area was calm, he said, with some pedestrians still walking nearby and cars driving in the neighbourhood.

At one point, St. Louis said, he came across a body on the side of a street. He called police, who told them they knew of the body.

As he called police, an off-duty fireman arrived at the scene and checked the person's pulse.

While St. Louis said he did not take a good look at the body, he did see signs that the person was hit in the face.

That's when he said he thought, "OK, this is a serious reality check and it's more than what I had bargained for."

At that point, he decided it was time to leave the scene and get to safety with his kids.

“We just locked the doors,” St. Louis said.