MONCTON - "This is not even close to a typical day in Moncton.
No truer words could have been spoken than those by RCMP Const. Damien Theriault during a press conference Thursday morning over the manhunt for the alleged 24-year old shooter believed responsible for killing three RCMP officers and wounding two more Wednesday evening.
Traffic downtown was sparse and the parking lot at Champlain Mall was literally vacant. Inside, only a few businesses with their own entrances were open while the rest of the mall was closed to the public.
"I don't think we'll be too busy today," one Wal-Mart employee said.
Like any city, Moncton is a centre that draws residents from rural communities and neighbouring towns and cities. Here, you can find people from Springhill, Charlottetown, Sydney and the world over living and making a living in the Hub City.
And they are shocked with what's happening.
"It's crazy," Omar Al-Wardian, formerly of Springhill, said. "Last night we drove right by the area where it happened two minutes after. It’s just like a ghost town now. We can’t go outside.
Al-Wardian is in the cordoned area where RCMP are focusing on for the shooter that brought the city's north end to a standstill. Early in the morning RCMP believe they saw the suspect, 24 year-old Justin Bourque, around 7 a.m. in the north end, and then again near Costco.
Moncton is not a big city when compared to Toronto or Montreal, where it can take hours to drive from one end to another. Here, you can drive from the downtown to the north end in minutes.
“It’s like Springhill, where everyone knows everyone,” Ryan Reynolds said.
Reynolds works in Dieppe but lives in Springhill. When he learned Wednesday of the shooting, he immediately started to wonder if knew any of the victims. Atomik Nutrition where he works has a lot of police officers as customers.
“That’s what’s scary about it. We’re either going to know, or know someone who knows who has been killed,” Reynolds said.
Atomik Nutrition was one of the few businesses open Thursday in the wake of the shootings, but just because its one town over from Moncton – minutes away, really – doesn’t mean its not feeling the impact of the developing event. Customers were far and few in between and when they do come there’s an uneasy silence.
“It’s weird. You’re both thinking about it, but don’t want to bring it up.”
By Thursday afternoon, police – including emergency response teams, tactical armoured vehicles, air support, major crime units, police dog services and officers from all parts of the province and elsewhere – descended on a building near the corner of Mountain Road and Killam Drive believing the suspect was inside. The prospect of the manhunt coming to tan end drew over one hundred onlookers, but as police began to leave the scene and traffic was allowed to start flowing again the nervous tension returned to anxiety.
“It’s scary,” as one resident left the scene. “If he’s not there, then where is he?”
RCMP are convinced the suspect is still in the north end of the city.
Late Thursday afternoon Cpl. Chantal Farrah, Media Relations Officer for New Brunswick RCMP, said the focus of the manhunt will remain in Moncton-North, advising those residents to remain inside with the doors locked and to not disclose details about police operations on social media in case the suspect is using social media to counter police efforts.
“Our number one priority is to locate and apprehend the suspect and resolve this situation as soon as possible,” Farrah said. “We are extremely mindful of the safety of the public, as well as our officers who are involved in this operation.”
Farrah reported one of the two officers shot Wednesday was released from hospital Thursday, but the identities of the three officers slain by the gunman were not disclosed.
As the manhunt continues, Farrah has asked anyone who sees the suspect to call 911 immediately, and any other information related to the investigation can be directed to 1-506-857-2400.
To see more pictures from our coverage in Moncton on Thursday click here.