MONCTON, New Brunswick (AP) — Royal Canadian Mounted Police combed the streets and woods of this normally tranquil city Thursday in search of a man suspected of killing three officers in the deadliest attack on their ranks in nearly a decade.
The suspect, 24-year-old Justin Bourque, was armed with high-powered long firearms. He was spotted three times while eluding the massive manhunt that emptied roads and kept families hunkered in their homes in Moncton, an east coast city where gun violence is rare.
Dozens of police officers could be seen in a part of the search perimeter with their weapons drawn, some glancing around buildings. Others, including members of a tactical unit, were patrolling streets within the cordoned off area. Armored security trucks were also visible.
“Our search for the suspect is still ongoing,” RCMP Cpl. Chantal Farrah told a news conference Thursday afternoon. “Our focus remains in the mountain north area.”
Police urged residents to keep their doors locked and to turn on exterior lights to help the search.
“Stay at home, bar your doors and be vigilant,” Farrah said. “I know it’s hard for families. You are in your house, you are locked, you have your kids, you want to go outside. But the police are saying to stay in.”
Police were using air support, tactical teams and canine units, she said. Several hundred officers from New Brunswick and elsewhere from across Canada were involved.
“We have deployed a large amount of resources from here and elsewhere, and we are well-equipped to face this situation,” Farrah said.
Bourque was spotted three times around the search area Thursday morning, said Commander Marlene Snowman.
Bourque was wearing military camouflage and carrying two rifles in a picture released by police on Twitter.
At one point, he was seen coming in and out of a wooded area, Snowman said. “He’s capable of moving into the wooded area and out,” she said.
Investigators have not determined a motive for the shooting Wednesday evening, in which three officers were killed while responding to a call about an armed man. Two other officers were wounded.
Police did not identify the dead or injured officers.
Canada’s Parliament observed a moment of silence and the flag on Parliament Hill flew at half-mast.
It was the deadliest attack on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police since four officers were killed by a gunman on a farm in the western Canadian province of Alberta in 2005. That attack remains the deadliest on Canadian police officers in 120 years.
Snowman said Bourque was not known to police.
Schools and government offices were closed, and the city pulled its buses off the roads. Mail delivery was suspended.
Police commandeered armored trucks and told residents to stay indoors.
Commanding Officer Roger Brown said the two wounded officers underwent surgery for non-life-threatening injuries Thursday and he met with their families. One was later released from hospital.
“The RCMP family is hurting. As is Moncton, New Brunswick and our country,” Brown said.
The homicides were the first this year in this city of 69,000 people about 180 miles (290 kilometers) east of the Maine border. RCMP Constable Damien Theriault said Moncton had no homicides last year.
Police released a map of a large portion of the northwest section of the city, including a heavily wooded area, where they wanted people to remain indoors with their doors locked. Families hunkered down in their basements.
Tim Holt said he and his daughter had been locked down in their home for hours. Holt’s wife worked late Wednesday and wasn’t allowed to join her family.
“I’ve just been locked in with my baby girl,” Holt said by telephone as his 1-year-old daughter Leigha babbled in the background.
A few blocks away, Conrad Gagnon, 53, said he was playing a video game in his living room when he spotted a man through a window.
“It was like he was meditating on something and talking … like somebody on drugs and living in his own world,” he said. “He was talking to himself. I saw his lips moving.”
Shortly afterward, Gagnon said he heard gunfire.
“I heard five or six shots, and after that another five or six shots,” he said.
Kerry Fitzpatrick, who lives half a block away from Bourque and heard gunfire ring out on Wednesday, said he met Bourque in 2010 when they were both working at the same warehouse. Fitzpatrick hadn’t seen him much since he quit that job two years later, but stopped by Bourque’s place five days ago after hearing he had gotten a new job at a food depot. Bourque lived in a trailer home with a male roommate, Fitzpatrick said.
“He seemed fine, it was a normal conversation,” Fitzpatrick told The Associated Press on Thursday by phone from his home, where he was on lockdown. Fitzpatrick said Bourque “obviously had things on his mind,” based on a stretch of recent Facebook posts about guns and the police.
“It was never something that we took serious because we actually know him, as friends,” he said. “He lost it. The guy lost it.”
Fitzpatrick said he heard Wednesday’s shooting from inside his home and then walked to Bourque’s place when he heard it might be him. The door was open and Bourque’s wallet was on the table, he said.
Fitzpatrick said Bourque had a collection of guns and was “an avid hunter” of birds, deer and moose.
“He never missed a season,” Fitzpatrick said.
Such violence is rare in Canada, particularly on the east coast.
The three officers were the first Canadian police killed in the line of duty since March 2013, when a police officer in northern Quebec was shot after responding to a domestic violence call.
According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police website, the last officer to die from a gunshot wound was on Nov. 5, 2007.
In 1974, two Moncton officers were kidnapped, shot and killed after making a traffic stop.
Gillies reported from Toronto. Associated Press Writer Benjamin Shingler in Montreal also contributed.