Two people are dead, two are in hospital with gunshot wounds and a 47-year-old former mill worker is in police custody facing murder charges after the worst workplace shooting on Vancouver Island in recent memory.
The man opened fire at the Western Forest Products sawmill in downtown Nanaimo, first shooting someone in the parking lot and then shooting three people inside the building in an office.
Nanaimo RCMP said multiple 911 calls came in at 6:58 a.m. Mounties, including an emergency-response team member who was on shift, arrived at the scene within three minutes. The man surrendered peacefully and a shotgun was seized.
Police searched the building for other threats but no other suspects were found.
All four victims were rushed to hospital but two were pronounced dead.
Family have confirmed that one of those killed was 61-year-old Michael Lunn, an employee with Western Forest Products since 1980.
“All they would tell us at the police department, we had to go down there, (was) that he had passed,” Lunn’s sister Linda Bledsoe said. “He died at the scene.
“It’s just… it’s unexplainable.”
Lunn was the only boy in a family of seven sisters and loved his job at the mill, Bledsoe said.
“We were all very close,” she said. “None of us are feeling anything right now.”
Fred McEachern, who lived in Nanaimo, was also killed. A family member answer the phone at his home said: “Us and the other families are grieving and we’d like to have some privacy at this time.”
Police believe the gunman was acting alone, said Nanaimo RCMP detachment commander Supt. Mark Fisher.
The former employee, whose name has not been released, is in custody at the Nanaimo RCMP detachment.
Two people remain in hospital with gunshot wounds. One man was airlifted to Victoria General Hospital in critical condition. One man, Tony Sudar, was taken to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and is in stable condition. Sudar was the company’s vice president of manufacturing. According to his biography on the Western Forest Products website, he was appointed to that position in August 2011.
He has worked for the company since 1979.
"This type of extreme violence is very rare," Fisher said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
He said it's too early to speculate on the motive for the shooting.
Nanaimo RCMP's serious crime investigators and forensic investigators will continue to collect evidence at the sawmill over the coming days, Fisher said. "My sympathies, and that of all of us at the Nanaimo RCMP, go out to the families and loved ones of all the victims," Fisher said. "The families and mill employees will now have to cope with the tragedy that unfolded here today, as does the community of Nanaimo."
Victim services is assisting the victims' families.
About 75 people work at the mill, which is on Port Drive along Nanaimo’s waterfront assembly wharf at the edge of its downtown.
Don Demens, CEO of Western Forest Products, confirmed the man is a former employee but would not say if the man was fired or speculate on why he may be disgruntled.
There was ongoing arbitration between the United Steelworkers Union and Western Forest Products over the company’s alleged refusal to pay severance to laid off employees.
Demens said grief counsellors have been brought in to assist mill workers and family members.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark released a statement this afternoon offering her sympathies to the victims.
"This kind of tragedy is almost unknown in British Columbia. Most of us here today cannot imagine what the victims and their families must be going through," she said in the statement. "They should know they are not alone. The people of British Columbia are standing with them."
NDP Leader Adrian Dix, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Prime Minister Stephen Harper also sent messages of condolences to the victims via social media.
All of Western Forest Products operations on the Island have been shut down out of respect for the victims, Demens said.
With a file from Mike Hager, Vancouver Sun
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