RCMP say they are still working to locate one “person of interest” as their operation following a suspicious death in Fort Smith continues.
Police said the risk is now “low enough that the public can go out and about” but added residents should “be vigilant” and the threat level was being continually assessed. The suspect in question has not been publicly identified.
Earlier, the Town of Fort Smith said an instruction to shelter in place had been lifted. Residents were told to seek shelter for almost all of Friday after RCMP that morning said at least one “armed and dangerous” suspect was at large. The town said municipal facilities would remain closed on Saturday.
Insp Barry LaRocque told Cabin Radio only one person is being actively sought but that could change.
“It’s still early in the investigation. We are right now looking for one person,” Insp LaRocque said. “We are continuing to comprehensively investigate the entire incident. Should other persons of interest come to light, we’ll certainly be following up with them.”
A white Ford Explorer identified as a suspect vehicle on Friday is now in police custody and being forensically examined, LaRocque said.
He told Cabin Radio the current focus of the police operation is “looking at various ways to find and speak to the one person of interest on the file.”
“We’re conducting neighbourhood enquiries, doing a follow-up investigation and checking different tips that are coming in from the community,” LaRocque said.
There is so far no plan to install any checkpoints on NWT highways, LaRocque added.
Officers from various communities have been brought in to augment the police operation.
By 9pm, the situation remained unchanged. The Town of Fort Smith, which is sharing regular updates from RCMP, told residents the next update will come on Sunday morning.
Surveillance of house
Pauline Heron, who lives on Field Street, described an atmosphere “like reality TV” on Friday as police used her home to carry out surveillance on a nearby property outside which the white Ford Explorer had been parked.
Heron said police used a robot to inspect the vehicle. Police have made no further comment regarding the vehicle or whether anything useful to the investigation was acquired from the house.
“I really admire them,” Heron said of the officers working outside the suspect property on Friday.
One officer, she said, “stood outside at the corner of our house for I don’t know how many hours. There were others in the bush at the back.”
So far, authorities have chosen not to confirm the names of anyone involved in the incident, including the person who passed away, whose death is considered suspicious and is being investigated by an RCMP major crimes unit. LaRocque would not confirm the death was a shooting, saying only: “We are investigating a sudden death and firearms offences.”
Cabin Radio understands the suspects are believed by police to have guns stolen from a Department of Lands facility in their possession. On Friday, the department referred questions from the CBC back to RCMP. LaRocque had no comment on Saturday other than to say police “believe the person of interest may have access to weapons.”
The police operation began on Friday morning after multiple reports of gunfire and confirmation that one person was dead. Residents report a series of thefts from local buildings appeared to begin at around midnight between Thursday and Friday, while Heron said her family members heard gunshots shortly after 2am.
Fort Smith spent much of Friday in a form of lockdown, with stores, schools and health facilities closing their doors as residents were urged to shelter in place. Much of Field Street was blocked off and residents were told to avoid the area.
Shortly after 11pm on Friday, police said reinforcements from elsewhere in the NWT had arrived. By Saturday morning, the Field Street roadblock had been removed.