Two suspects are dead and six police officers suffered gunshot wounds in a shootout at the Bank of Montreal on Shelbourne Street Tuesday morning.
Late Tuesday afternoon, police continued to advise anyone in the area of North Dairy Road to Cedar Hill Cross Road and Richmond Road to Cedar Hill Road to stay indoors as officers looked for a potential third suspect.
Homes and businesses near the bank were evacuated due to the presence of a potential explosive device in a vehicle associated with the suspects, police said.
It began at 11 a.m. Tuesday when officers with Saanich police, the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team and VicPD responded to a report that two armed men had entered the bank in the 3600-block of Shelbourne Street in Saanich.
Multiple officers responded to the scene and encountered the armed suspects, who fired at police. Two suspects were shot by police and died at the scene.
Six emergency response team officers suffered gunshot wounds and were transported to hospital, some with serious injuries requiring surgery, a Victoria Police Department statement said. It said updates will be provided when available.
Three of the officers are members of Saanich police, while the other three are VicPD members.
Police said they don’t believe any bank employees, customers or members of the public were injured in the exchange of gunfire.
A man with dark hair in a camouflage jacket and black boots was seen lying motionless in the parking lot outside the bank Tuesday afternoon.
Residents and workers in the area were hunkered down in their homes and offices with blinds down and doors locked while the hunt for a potential third suspect continued.
Just after 12:30 p.m., about 25 people who had been in the bank during the robbery were escorted by armed Saanich officers to a waiting bus. Some were crying.
Dozens of officers from the Saanich and Victoria police departments and the RCMP remained outside the bank early Tuesday afternoon, along with at least four ambulances.
Shelbourne Street was blocked from Cedar Hill Road past Pear Street, with several marked and unmarked police vehicles filling the street.
Officers with weapons and dog teams were outside the bank.
The public was asked to avoid the area.
A helicopter was flying over the area about 1:40 p.m.
Charlotte Priest, an assistant at Lifeline Animal Clinic across Shelbourne Street from the bank, said a few of the clinic’s clients heard the shooting and took shelter in the building. “That’s when we realized there’s something going on. So we just closed our blinds and just took cover and are staying away from the windows.”
A passerby also took shelter in the waiting area, said Priest, noting a police van was parked at the clinic’s driveway.
“There’s a lot of businesses in the area. It is kind of shocking for it to happen here.
“Everybody is a little bit shaken up.”
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes posted on Twitter: “Our hearts go out to our officers, bank staff and residents … No words can describe how horrendous this is.”
At nearby St. Michael’s University School, a woman said the school was in “hold and secure” mode, with all external doors locked and everyone inside.
The Megson FitzPatrick Insurance Services office on Shelbourne Street had about 20 staff indoors behind locked exterior doors.
Jacqueline Niemann, who was managing the office on Tuesday, said she heard noises but did not immediately recognize the sound as gunfire. Police cars arriving at the scene alerted their office to the situation.
Everyone is safe, she said. “It is pretty scary.”
Hannah Young, a pharmacy assistant at Heart Pharmacy in Shelbourne Plaza, across the street from the bank, said she heard “what was definitely gunfire.” “And it kept going. I looked out and I could see people ducking by their cars in the parking lot.”
Young said she wasn’t afraid but was concerned for the safety of people in the area.
“Do we need to close the door? Pull the customers inside? Shut down? It was more of a fight or flight response,” said Young.
“We saw they were elderly people sitting outside and we told them they needed to come inside.” They brought everyone inside away from the windows into the back half of the pharmacy.
Saanich police are asking people who took photos and shot video to submit them as evidence through their online evidence submission portal.
Jeff Roman, BMO spokesman in Canada, said in a statement that the company was “deeply saddened” by the incident. “The safety and security of our customers and employees is our priority and our thoughts are with every person impacted by today’s events.”
Roman thanked emergency responders for their fast assistance and for helping to keep the public safe.
Saanich police are leading the investigation, with assistance from the RCMP and an emergency response team from the Lower Mainland, among others. Sgt. Chris Garneau did not immediately have numbers of RMCP officers from the capital region who were called in.
A police helicopter was also sent to help.
An Island Health official said health-care teams at Royal Jubilee and Victoria General hospitals stepped up to respond to the incident. No details were released about specific patients.
The Jubilee’s emergency department was briefly under restricted access to ensure safety, but neither hospital was under a code orange, which refers to mass casualties, the official said.
“In situations like this, we quickly redeploy staff as necessary and implement contingency plans to ensure our hospitals and staff are best positioned to respond,” Island Health said.
As with all officer-involved shootings in British Columbia, the Independent Investigations Office is investigating the incident.