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Saanich bank-robbery shootout: Witness describes diving for cover; officers 'extremely professional'

“All hell broke loose … I just took the young lady and said: ‘Get down. Get down’ ”

Saanich resident Paul Arnold was in Shelbourne Plaza to mail a letter at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, about 100 to 150 feet from the Bank of Montreal branch across the street, when he noticed police arriving and grouping together on Shelbourne Street.

He figures there were about 20 to 25 officers to the north of the bank, working their way toward it.

“Police cruisers were kind of coming from every direction and cordoning off the road.”

He was standing with a young woman, who he does not know, watching heavily armed police moving toward the bank.

When police got close, “All hell broke loose … the shooting started. I just took the young lady and said: ‘Get down. Get down. We’re vulnerable here.’

“So we got down on the ground and we crawled ­underneath this bush and we stayed there.”

A break in the shooting sent them rushing to a spot behind a large black truck, where they remained until it was quiet.

Others in the parking lot also dove behind vehicles when the shooting began, he said. “It was quite a scene.”

Arnold figures the suspects were outside the bank near the rear of the parking lot when the shooting started. At least 40 to 50 shots were fired, he said.

The woman he helped was “crying her eyes out,” he said.

Six police officers were taken to hospital after the shooting, in which the two suspects were killed. Three of the officers were later released, while the others remained in hospital.

Arnold said he has been ­struggling to figure out what could have motivated the bank robbers.

“This is Victoria, but people are becoming desperate to the point that they would do ­something like this. I don’t know what the answer is, but an answer has to be found.”

Police at the scene were “extremely professional,” he said. “They were obviously well-trained.”

Along with the 20-plus people in the bank, there were many others in the area and no ­civilians were injured, Arnold said. “There could have been many, because the Shelbourne Plaza parking lot was full of people and they were all ducking behind cars.”

Curtis Poier, assistant ­manager at Wild Birds Unlimited on Shelbourne Street, was in the store with an employee and three customers when he saw five or six police officers heading along the street.

“I knew that something bad was happening, but I had no idea it was going to turn out like that.”

When they heard gunfire, they all hit the ground. “It was pretty crazy.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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