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GVERT officers arrived to armed robbery in white van now riddled with bullets, police confirm

A white van with bullet holes dotting the windshield was carrying members of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team during a deadly armed robbery and shootout in Saanich, police confirmed Thursday.

A white van with bullet holes dotting the windshield was carrying members of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team during a deadly armed robbery and shootout in Saanich, police confirmed during a news conference Thursday.

The van was seen outside the Bank of Montreal branch where an exchange of gunfire took place Tuesday morning, killing two heavily armed suspects and injuring six GVERT officers. Three officers remain in hospital.

In video footage taken by a witness, the white van can be seen driving past a cluster of police officers already outside Fujiya Foods, a restaurant adjacent to the bank. Gunshots can be heard shortly after.

Saanich police Chief Dean Duthie told reporters Thursday that GVERT officers were already in the area Tuesday morning on an “entirely separate and unrelated investigation.”

“Given the high-risk, critical and high-priority nature of this report, GVERT immediately redeployed to the bank,” he said.

“Some GVERT officers arrived on the scene in a white panel van that remains located in the crime scene at the main entrance to the Bank of Montreal.

“Multiple officers confronted the armed suspects. In the exchange of gunfire, both subjects were killed and six police officers were injured.”

Saanich police officers attended to the gunshot wounds of wounded GVERT members before they were taken to hospital, Duthie said. Their quick actions saved the lives of at least three officers, he added.

Police did not take any questions during the Thursday news conference.

Duthie said the two deceased gunmen had not yet been identified. They are linked to a white, four-door 1992 Toyota Camry with black racing stripes over the roof and hood. Duthie did not confirm if the Camry was the vehicle where the explosives were discovered.

Island RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Alex Bérubé said police are working with the B.C. Coroners Service to identify the suspects. Once they do, next of kin will be notified.

“Then we will be moving forward on determining more about them,” Bérubé said. “I mean their backgrounds, who they are, their histories and how that may relate to what took place.”

The investigation is now being handled by the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit, with assistance from Saanich police. As with all police incidents involving death or serious injury, the Independent Investigations Office is investigating police conduct.

Duthie said he was unable to share specific details about the events that unfolded at the bank “in the interest of preserving the integrity” of the VIIMCU and IIO investigations.

On Wednesday, the RCMP bomb disposal unit removed “extremely dangerous” explosives from the suspect vehicle. The explosives were taken to Hartland Landfill and destroyed, Duthie told media.

On Thursday afternoon, the area was still locked down, with Shelbourne Street closed between Cedar Hill Cross Road and Donnelly Street. A large blacked-out fence had been erected on either side of the crime scene.

At 4 p.m. Saanich police announced that Shelbourne Plaza, which had been closed during the investigation, had reopened, although several businesses would remain closed and traffic along Shelbourne Street and the area around the crime scene would remain restricted.

Police are asking anyone with information about the suspects or suspect vehicle to call the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit information line at 250-380-6211.

Anyone with digital evidence related to the incident, in the form of video or photographs, is asked to upload the information to Saanich police through an online site.

ngrossman@timescolonist.com