FOUR RCMP OFFICERS KILLED AFTER RAID ON ALTA. MARIJUANA GROW OPERATION
ROCHFORT BRIDGE, Alta. (CP) - His voice tight with grim self-control, Alberta's commanding RCMP officer groped for a way Thursday to describe a catastrophic drug raid that left four young officers lying dead in a quonset hut.
"I'm told you have to go back to about 1885 in RCMP history and the Northwest Rebellion to have a loss of this magnitude," said assistant commissioner Bill Sweeney. "It's devastating. We're all in terrible shock and mourning."
The peace of this gently rolling farm country near the hamlet of Rochfort Bridge in northwestern Alberta was shattered Thursday morning in the tragic culmination of an investigation into stolen property and a marijuana grow-op.
RCMP spokesman Cpl. Wayne Oakes said the operation began Wednesday afternoon, when officers from the local Mayerthorpe detachment placed the farmyard just north of the community under surveillance.
Two officers remained at the farm overnight. Thursday morning they were joined by backup.
Although the occupant of the farm had not been there overnight, at some point he had returned.
At about 10 a.m., four officers walked on to the property and entered a large metal quonset hut. They were wearing soft body armour and carrying handguns.
"They were not going into a potential armed conflict," said Oakes.
"They were guarding a scene."
Suddenly, officers remaining on the road heard gunshots and took cover, at least one of them returning fire. After the shots died down, none of the police on the property responded to their radios.
Emergency response teams from Calgary and Edmonton were called to the scene. The Edmonton Police Service's helicopter was called, as were three armoured vehicles from the Canadian Forces' Edmonton Garrison.
Finally, at about 2:20 p.m., an RCMP team burst into the quonset to confirm their worst fears: four dead officers - "brave, young officers," said Sweeney - and a fifth dead man.
A government source told The Canadian Press the suspect, who was armed with a high-powered rifle, killed himself after shooting the officers.
"He just cut them down," the source said.
It was not immediately clear if the suspect killed himself right away.
The source said he may have shot at other officers on the scene first.
Oakes said the lone occupant of the farm was known to police, although he wouldn't confirm if he had a criminal record.
While police have yet to release the name of the suspect, several Media are reporting the man as Jim Roszko, 46.
His father, William Roszko, 80, said RCMP called him earlier Thursday to ask him questions about his estranged son.
"I don't like this. I hate it. I don't want to have Jim as my son. It is a great shame what he has been doing."
He said Jim got out of jail a year or two ago.
"He was keeping company with bad boys, dope and what not, and ended up in jail," Roszko said.
Roszko said he son was a good man before he became involved in drugs.
"He had the capability to do well when he wasn't on dope. But that crazy dope, it is what spoiled him."
People in Rochfort Bridge also said the shooting happened at the farm of Jim Roszko.
"He's dangerous," said one woman, who didn't want to give her name.
"You don't want to go on his land. He'll shoot you."
"He does what he wants, when he wants, and doesn't care about anybody else," said another. "I was told to stay away from him."
The deaths of the four officers - three from Mayerthorpe, one from nearby Whitecourt, Alta. - rocked law enforcement officials and politicians across the country.
Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan said she will consider tougher penalties for grow operations in the proposed marijuana decriminalization bill.
Prime Minister Paul Martin called it an act of "brutality" and offered his condolences to the families of the slain officers.
RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli called it "an unprecedented and unspeakable loss."
None of the officer's names have been released until family members were notified. Family members are being afforded whatever support the RCMP can provide, said Oakes.
The deaths may be what it finally takes to get the Canadian public to take the dangers of marijuana grow operations seriously, said a Calgary police officer.
"There is some apathy out there, and unfortunately maybe it takes incidents like this to wake people up," said Staff Sgt. Birnie Smith of the Southern Alberta Marijuana Investigative Team.
"It's a danger to everyone."
Alberta Solicitor General Harvey Cenaiko said he and Sweeney were to meet with the families of the dead.
"This issue was senseless in the fact that four officers were killed with regard to a grow operation," he said. "(It) goes to the seriousness of the fact that organized crime, illegal cultivation of marijuana or the illegal production of crystal meth is all around us in the province."
Alberta Premier Ralph Klein said he was surprised and saddened that such a tragedy would occur in the quiet farming community, about 130 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.
What people are saying about the fatal shooting of four RCMP officers in northern Alberta on Thursday:
"This event shocks and horrifies all Canadians. Our sympathies are with the families of those who have lost their lives." - statement from Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson and her husband, John Ralston Saul.
"This terrible event is a reminder of the sacrifice and bravery of the men and women who serve in our national police force." - Prime Minister Paul Martin.
"This incident serves as a poignant reminder of the men and women in law enforcement across our country who risk their lives daily." - federal Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
"This is obviously a tragedy of enormous proportions, but it's probably better described as a new chapter in a book that we already knew about as opposed to a whole new book." - B.C. Attorney General Geoff Plant, saying the danger posed by marijuana grow-ops is serious across the country.
"Too often, police officers lay down their lives in the line of duty .
. . I am devastated." - interim Toronto police Chief Michael Boyd.
"I'm told you have to go back to about 1885 in the RCMP history during the Northwest Rebellion to have a loss of this magnitude." - assistant commissioner Bill Sweeney, commanding officer of the RCMP in Alberta.
"It shocks us that bravery is felled by violence. It disturbs us that courage is silenced by anger." - Alberta Premier Ralph Klein.
"We don't solve anything in society by legalizing things or by pretending they're not harmful to society." - RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, on the issue of decriminalizing marijuana.
"The way we've done it now is marijuana has become the exclusive prerogative of the criminal element because there's such fantastic profit in it. I'm not saying that the four men would be alive if we had legalized marijuana, but I suspect they might be." - Nick Taylor, former senator and one-time leader of the Alberta Liberals.
Some key events in the fatal shooting Thursday of four RCMP officers in northern Alberta:
March 2, mid-day: RCMP in Mayerthorpe, Alta., who are investigating a report of stolen property and a marijuana grow operation, set up a watch at a farm near the village of Rochfort Bridge. Two officers guard the scene overnight.
March 3, morning: Additional officers arrive.
10 a.m.: Gunfire erupts inside a quonset shed on the property. Four officers inside are killed by a suspect with a high-powered rifle. At least two other officers on site are able to take cover. At least one of them returns fire.
In the following hours: RCMP and city police from Edmonton and Calgary flood into the area and set up a secure perimeter. Airspace over the area is closed as a precaution.
12:30 p.m.: RCMP issue a call for assistance from soldiers at Edmonton Garrison. Two armoured personnel carriers, an ambulance and about 20 military personnel are dispatched. The military officials are later told their help is no longer needed.
2:20 p.m.: Emergency responders enter the quonset shed, and find the bodies of four RCMP officers and the male shooter.
Following is a statement released Thursday night by Prime Minister Paul Martin following the deaths of four RCMP offiers in a raid on a marijuana grow operation in Rochfort Bridge, Alta.:
It is with great sorrow that I have learned of the tragic deaths of four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers today in Rochfort Bridge, Alberta.
The Deputy Prime Minister has spoken with the Commissioner of the RCMP and is following the situation closely.
Canadians are shocked by this brutality and join me in condemning the violent acts that brought about these deaths.
This terrible event is a reminder of the sacrifice and bravery of the men and women who serve in our national police force, and of the dangerous circumstances which they often confront, in order to make Canada a safer place.
On behalf of the Government of Canada, I would like to express my condolences to the families of the officers who were killed as they carried out their duty in enforcing the law and protecting the public.
At this moment of difficulty and loss, you are in our thoughts and prayers.
The killing of four RCMP officers Thursday during a raid on a marijuana grow operation in northwestern Alberta appears to be the worst case of police dying in the line of duty in recent memory. A list of some of the other Canadian police officers known to have died on the job since 2000:
Nov. 13, 2004 - Auxiliary RCMP officer Glen Evely, 39, of Vernon, B.C., when a stolen truck ran a red light and struck his cruiser.
May 23, 2004 - Ontario Provincial Police Const. Tyler Boutilier, 32, of the Grenville detachment, killed when his cruiser was struck by an oncoming vehicle in his lane as he answered an emergency call at a campground.
May 15, 2004 - Const. Chris Garrett, 39, of the force in Cobourg, Ont., slashed in the neck with a hunting knife after responding to a
911 call about a robbery in the parking lot of an abandoned hospital.
Feb. 28, 2004 - Cpl. Jim Galloway, 53, an RCMP dog handler stationed in Sherwood Park, Alta., killed during a gunfight after an armed standoff in which the suspect also died.
Sept. 20, 2003 - Ontario Provincial Police Const. John Flagg, 55, killed when his motorcycle collided with a pickup truck during a high-speed pursuit near Almonte, Ont.
May 27, 2003 - Const. Philip Shrive, 49, of the provincial police detachment in Renfrew, died in hospital a week after after his cruiser was struck by an oncoming truck.
Dec. 18, 2002 - RCMP Supt. Dennis Massey, 53, killed in Calgary when a propane tanker truck's trailer toppled over and landed on his car.
Sept. 15, 2002 - Richmond, B.C., RCMP Const. Jimmy Ng died when his police cruiser was broadsided, sending him flying through the rear window.
March 12, 2002 - Banff RCMP Const. Christine
Diotte, 35, killed when a sport utility vehicle slid on an icy patch of road and crashed into her while investigating another accident.
Feb. 28, 2002 - Montreal Const. Benoit L'Ecuyer, 29, shot and killed during a chase with a speeding car.
Feb. 18, 2002 -Toronto Const. Laura Ellis, 31, killed when the police cruiser she was a passenger in collided with another car and then struck a utility pole while responding to an emergency call.
Dec. 23, 2001 - Const. Martin Lefebvre, 22, of
Shawinigan, Que., died after losing control of his patrol vehicle while answering an emergency call.
Dec. 20, 2001 - RCMP Const. Dennis Strongquill, 52, shot after pursuing a stolen car in Russell, Man.
Oct. 17, 2001 - Calgary Const. Darren Beatty, 29, a member of the department's elite tactical unit, died after he was shot by a colleague in a hostage-taking simulation during a training exercise.
March 5, 2001 - RCMP Const. Jurgen Seewald, shot and killed while responding to a domestic dispute in Cape Dorset, Nunavut.
Aug. 28, 2000 - Const. Alain Forget, killed when thieves rammed a police car at a roadblock in St-Hubert, Que.
Aug. 16, 2000 - RCMP Sgt. Ed Mobley and pilot Tim Nicholson died when their plane crashed in northern British Columbia during a training exercise.
June 9, 2000 - Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Marg Eve, died two days after a truck hit three police cars and another vehicle stopped on the side of Highway 401 near London, Ont.