Residents along a small back road in rural Nova Scotia are reeling after watching a neighbouring home burn to the ground, while another friend lay dead from the weekend’s killing rampage.
Lisa Owen and her husband, Darrol Thurier, live on Hunter Road in West Wentworth, N.S., about 50 kilometres north of Portapique, where a 51-year-old man began a rampage Saturday night that would stretch across the province before ending in Enfield the next day.
RCMP confirmed Monday at least 19 people are dead.
Just after 8 a.m. AT on Sunday, Owen said they heard what sounded like a gunshot.
Thurier drove his ATV down the road, but ran into other neighbours in a truck who told him to turn around because there was a house on fire and there were “bullets flying.”
He returned home, where they locked the door and waited inside for about 10 minutes. Thurier said he then went outside to do some yardwork and heard a “very, very loud” explosion.
Thurier saw flames and black smoke billowing into the air.
He again drove down the road on his ATV, and met a volunteer firefighter standing at the end of the driveway to the home of Alanna Jenkins and Sean McLeod.
Although they called 911, Owen said the dispatcher told them that fire crews were standing down since there was an active shooter in the area and it wasn’t safe for them to respond.
“Basically, their hands were tied. So we just watched it go up in flames,” Owen said.
The couple said the cars belonging to Jenkins and McLeod were parked in the driveway.
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About 30 minutes later, Thurier said their son came to tell them he’d seen another neighbour, Tom Bagley, lying dead near the house fire.
CBC News has confirmed Jenkins, McLeod, and Bagley were among the victims.
Thurier and his son went back to the fire scene, as Owen again called 911.
She said the dispatcher took her information and patched her through to paramedics, who asked Owen to go find out if Bagley needed an ambulance.
“So I had to go over and look at him and tell them, and verify that, you know, there was no signs of life,” Owen said.
“It’s your friend, you know. It’s hard,” Owen added, her voice breaking.
RCMP arrived soon after and the officers got out of the vehicle with their guns drawn since the shooter was still at large. After checking that the surrounding area was safe, Owen said police told them to go back home and stay inside.
‘He helped everybody’
Bagley, who Thurier said was a former firefighter, was the type of guy who would always lend a hand if anything was wrong.
“He helped everybody on the road,” Owen said.
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She added that other neighbours said they spotted the gunman’s mock RCMP cruiser on the road early Sunday morning.
Thurier said Bagley was the type of person who would have come over to see if he could help.
“That’s the only thing that really makes any sense,” Thurier said.
Owen said the people who live along Hunter Road are a “tight” group, and before COVID-19 restrictions, there was usually a get-together at someone’s house every month. She remembered Jenkins and McLeod were both “the life of the party,” while Bagley was the “kindest soul.”
“Everybody on our road right now is grieving very, very hard,” Owen said.
She said they racked their brains trying to figure out why the gunman appeared on their dirt road, but had no clue.
Chief Supt. Chris Leather of the Nova Scotia RCMP said at a news briefing Monday afternoon that officers were at 16 crime scenes spread across Portapique and other nearby communities.
He said there were five structure fires and so far they have been unable to fully examine these crime scenes, as most of them are residences and there may be victims still within the remains of those homes that burned to the ground.
He also said that he expects the death toll to rise as the investigation continues.
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