By Tina Comeau
A former Yarmouth resident now living in Moncton says the city had an “eerie” feeling to it all day Thursday, in edition to being a city on edge.
“It’s kind of like a like a ghost town,” said Mike Mercier, the former owner of the Canadian Tire in Yarmouth who now owns a Canada Tire store in Moncton. “It’s really eerie to see a city that is so busy all the time, but now there’s nobody. There’s nobody on the streets.”
Moncton has been virtually shutdown due a massive manhunt for shooting suspect Justin Bourque. The 24-year-old is said to be responsible for the deaths of three RCMP members and the wounding of two others. The shootings occurred Wednesday evening.
Mercier said in an interview on Thursday afternoon that in areas where you’d normally have 30,000 vehicles driving by in a day there is only a scant trickle of traffic. He estimated a very large percentage of the businesses in Moncton were closed on Thursday.
“Everyone is on edge,” Mercier said.
The area where his family’s home is located is not part of the area where the RCMP had mandated a lockdown and set up barricades. But in saying that, the activity that unfolded Wednesday evening was still close to their neighbourhood – less than a 10-minute drive away.
Mercier’s son Braden, who used to play with the Yarmouth Mariners, was playing hockey Wednesday evening at the Red Ball Internet Centre, a four-ice-surface arena in Moncton, which is very close to the Moncton Coliseum. Wednesday night’s media reports were that the shootings had taken place in an area near the coliseum.
Braden Mercier says he was aware of what was taking place when he left the rink to head home. He describes what he saw as he tried to head for home.
“To get home I usually pass the coliseum to get onto the highway. When I got to the intersection it was completely blocked off with police with rifles. One of them said you’re probably best to book a hotel tonight, you’re probably not going to get home,” he says, although Mercier did find another route to take him home.
He wasn’t venturing outside on Thursday.
“On the news they’re saying to stay inside. Everything is shut down anyway,” he said, adding what taking place was almost unbelievable. “It’s surreal. You wouldn’t think that would happen in a place like this, or even in Canada.”
The manhunt for the shooting suspect continued in Moncton throughout the day on Thursday. Residents in a certain area of the city remained under lockdown inside their homes.
People were being told by the RCMP to remain vigilant and to call 911 immediately if they saw the suspect. During a 4:30 p.m. news briefing the RCMP said a considerable number of specialized police resources had been mobilized and deployed in support of this operation, including from beyond New Brunswick’s borders. The RCMP were saying it was vital that people not disclose on social media police locations or share photos of police movements.
The New Brunswick RCMP have been, however, providing updates and cautions to the public through their Twitter page.
There had been a few sightings, reportedly, of the suspect earlier in the day on Thursday. The RCMP also surrounded a building where it was believed the suspect might be located. There was a huge police and armoured vehicle presence. It was later reported that the suspect was still at large. The police said they were doing everything they could to bring the situation to resolution.
Mike Mercier said it is evident that like the citizens, the police are also on edge.
“It seems like he’s targeting police officers. They’re crouched by cars or when they get out of a car they seem very nervous,” he said.
Mercier said while the part of Moncton he lives in is not under a lockdown, you do have to go through an armed checkpoint not far from his home.
“You’ll have an officer with a shotgun opening your truck,” he said. “Anyone that is venturing out you’re going to be stopped with a police officer telling you to open your truck.”
Social media has been very active as this situation has continued to unfold. Mercier’s youngest son Brett is attending school in Ontario. He quickly learned about what was happening back home through texts from a friend and was the first one to tell his father about the situation that was unfolding, even though he was a couple of provinces away.
“His buddy was hearing the gunshots and his mother was screaming to get into the house, he was texting Brett about this,” says Mercier.
Condolences continue to pour in from across the country, and from other parts of the world, for the slain and wounded police officers.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown described the situation in an early morning press conference, saying, “It has been perhaps the darkest day in the history of the New Brunswick RCMP.”
READ ALSO: Former Yarmouth County resident Audrey Vaughan talks about what the lockdown has been like for her family in Moncton. Click here.