Neighbourhood on edge after dispute over squatters escalates to gunshot, arson

Neighbours in a small tourist community in the B.C. Interior say they're feeling increasingly fed up and stressed out after a month of arguing with squatters who've moved into an empty house on their street.

RCMP said there has been an uptick in theft and vandalism since trespassers moved into the home on Hilliam Road in Scotch Creek, east of Kamloops, B.C., sometime in mid-August.

The dispute between squatters and neighbours has so far led to one confrontation that ended in gunshots, a fire that left one wall of the building scorched, and many visits from police.

"My son ... he's scared," said Graem Kalynchuk, who lives across the street from the decaying home with his wife and five-year-old son.

"I'm worried about him. I have to tell him, 'The people across the street are gone,' even though I know they're not. He says, 'Are the bad people gone?' And I have to lie and tell him, 'They're gone, buddy,' because he's worried," said Kalynchuk, 41.

Submitted by Amy Kalynchuk

The ramshackle building, run down with holes and boarded-up windows, is on an acreage with wide fields dotted with evergreen trees. RCMP said the homeowner lives out of town.

Kalynchuk said he started noticing more people coming and going from the property on Aug. 12. Neighbours soon reported belongings going missing from their property and Mounties had an uptick in calls for suspicious activity.

Sgt. Barry Kennedy said the squatters have lengthy criminal histories and have grown so comfortable in the house, they've given its address to their bail supervisors as their place of residence.

"The house kind of became a flophouse," Kennedy said.

On Saturday, the officer said residents who believed they'd been robbed went to the house to search the property for their missing belongings. A man inside the house allegedly came out of the front door with a shotgun and fired. No one was hurt and the neighbours dispersed.

Three days later, local fire crews were called after a wall of the house was found in flames. RCMP have determined the fire was deliberately set, though they have not confirmed who sparked it.

Kennedy said Mounties have identified the squatters and investigators are working to remove them from the home, but cautioned locals against taking the law into their own hands in the meantime.

"We don't want them confronting these people," the officer said. "They just don't know the background so it's best to call the police because we have the tools and equipment and resources to deal with these people in their different crisis situations."

Kalynchuk said he hasn't heard anything about vigilantism. He grew up in Scotch Creek and said it's usually a place where locals keep to themselves.

He said he and his neighbours have started locking doors on their homes and cars for the first time, and some don't let their kids play outside as often.

"Me and my wife, we just want them gone," Kalynchuk said of the squatters.

"It's a real shame [for] people to feel generally unsafe now."