Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Gratitude, Outcomes, and Armed Standoffs
It was fairly early on Saturday and we were just leaving our hotel in Edmonton after having been away from Fort Mac for almost three weeks. I decided to check in on Twitter but didn't expect to find much as it was likely to be a quiet weekend in the city - but instead there were some disquieting tweets appearing. A convergence of police cars in Eagle Ridge. Reports of possible shots being fired. A street locked down. And then news of an armed man inside a house, and neighbours being evacuated.
People, I've been directly involved in neighbourhood lockdowns twice in this city. The first time was when Beacon Hill was locked down (with my child locked down inside their school, a frightening experience for everyone). That one turned out to be a bit of a false alarm as I recall, and ended quite quickly. The second was after a shooting in Abasand when the suspect disappeared into the forest and they locked down my entire neighbourhood to try to find him. I recall that one very well as my house was right on the greenbelt and a helicopter hovered over my house for some time, which was actually my first inkling that something weird was going on. When I went outside and noticed the unnaturally quiet street I turned on the radio and discovered the news of the area search and lockdown. I turned on my security system, grabbed my phones, and hunkered down with my kid and my dog, feeling a bit like a prisoner in my own home. I won't deny it - I found it very, very disturbing.
I followed the news of this recent armed standoff in Eagle Ridge with both interest and alarm. Many years ago - decades, in fact - in the prairie city I grew up in I knew someone who holed up inside a house with some rifles and refused to come out. I'd only met him once or twice, but he was known to have a fascination with guns, and a "difficult" personality. After it all ended I realized that he was actually deeply disturbed, seriously mentally ill, and that the end was perhaps inevitable. You see, people, he exited the house with a rifle, refused to put it down, and then pointed it at the city police. You can imagine the rest. I believe it's been termed "suicide by cop". My memory of that incident many years ago is fuzzy, and I searched for it on the net but of course it happened before the advent of Twitter and Facebook, and even cell phones. I only found out about it at the time when a mutual friend called me and told me what was going on, and the rest appeared in the papers the next day. I suspect parts of my recall of that episode are fuzzy because I don't really want to remember - I was in my late teen years, as was the gunman, and it seemed all a bit too surreal back then.
The recent armed standoff in Eagle Ridge ended when the suspect surrendered peacefully. Those who had been evacuated were able to return home after what must have seemed like an eternity. The RMWB had activated their emergency response and thus the evacuated residents report being well cared for, and the RCMP kept them well informed. Matt, the blogger from My Oilsands, happened to be one of those evacuated, and he tweeted frequently keeping the twitterverse up to date on the incident. I'd love one day to personally thank Matt for sharing his story with us during a time when I'm pretty sure he was feeling some degree of stress and anxiety (I know I would be in similar circumstances - I recall that Abasand lockdown and my stress level during that episode). I felt so badly for him and his fellow evacuees, and I felt great concern for the RCMP officers who were facing a very dangerous situation with no certain outcome.
I can't even quite express how grateful I felt when the standoff ended without injury to anyone, including the suspect. I tweeted my gratitude to the RMWB and the RCMP as I truly feel they handled the situation well. These situations can develop in so many different ways, and can go badly in just as many ways, too. One person on Twitter tweeted their belief that drugs were involved, and while that's possible I also know that in many instances these situations start with our favourite drug (alcohol) combined with life stresses or some degree of mental illness. I think back to the armed standoff from my teen years and I wonder if the outcome would have been different if perhaps anyone had realized earlier how troubled that young man was. Maybe he would be alive today, my age, and perhaps with a family much like mine. Of course, I'll never know that - and nor will anyone else. That troubles me to this day, people.
There may be those who point to this incident, or the other two I mentioned earlier, and say they are evidence that Fort Mac is "dangerous". I know, however, that these things happen in all cities and that they are likely to happen here again, too. I know that they even happened decades ago, and that they aren't a sign of a dangerous city or a troubled community. They are only signs of troubled individuals.
Once again I would like to use this opportunity to thank the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo for caring for my fellow citizens, and the RCMP for ensuring a safe resolution for everyone. I hope they all walked away at the end of the day Saturday knowing that it was a job well done, and that they served our community well. They have my gratitude today, and every day. I went to bed Saturday night relieved and grateful. I am grateful to live in a community with a caring government and police force, and with concerned fellow citizens. I am grateful for a world of Twitter and instant communication, where one doesn't have to wait until tomorrow's newspapers or the next radio report to hear the outcome of a troubling situation. I am grateful that this time an armed standoff ended with no one, including the suspect, hurt. It was the best possible resolution, and I am profoundly grateful for that alone.