Ryan McCracken photo
Emergency response teams work to free an RCMP member trapped inside her vehicle following a multiple vehicle collision and shootout on Main Street at around 6 p.m. on Friday evening. The gunman, identified as John Carlos Quadros, died on scene.
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Witnesses describe 'surreal' Main Street shootout
The sound of shots rang out everywhere.
In the rectory for the Catholic Diocese of St. Paul, a lone priest was struck in the chest by gunfire. In the skate park, a group of teenagers looked up as they heard a separate round of gunfire. In the schoolyard, children playing stopped short.
And in downtown St. Paul on Friday evening, violence erupted and sent people scattering for cover in stores and behind vehicles in what even seasoned RCMP members would later describe as a scene more “horrific” than a movie.
Trenten Pentelichuk, a Regional High School student, was hanging out at the skateboard park with friends just before 6 p.m. when he heard four or five shots fired.
“That's just out of town,” they started saying to each other. “That couldn't be in town – no one would do that.”
In fact, the shots were fired near the St. Paul RCMP detachment, where members came out to investigate and saw a black Dodge pickup truck leaving the parking lot. RCMP officers were immediately in pursuit of the truck, as the driver sped into downtown.
Journal staff member Debbie Joly reported swerving to avoid a black truck aggressively backing out of the RCMP station as she was leaving town. She suspected the vehicle's dangerous maneuver was suspicious and realized later that it was the same black Dodge truck involved in the shootout.
Just minutes after those members set off in pursuit, another group of officers were dispatched to a call of distress coming from the rectory of the Diocese of St. Paul. There, officers would find Fr. Gilbert Dasna, lying in the doorway struck down by bullets. He was taken to hospital, but later succumbed to his injuries – the first victim in an evening of violence.
RCMP continues to investigate if and how Fr. Dasna's death was related to the shootout that would unfold in downtown St. Paul over the next minutes.
Sarah Herperger-Goulet was parked on Main Street next to the former Liquidation World building at 48th street, when she noticed a police vehicle at the set of lights near her.
“I looked away for two seconds and I hear a huge bang and the cop truck is gone, and in (its) place is this big, black, tinted-out, wrecked to the nines Dodge, smoking from the front.”
In those two seconds, another witness would describe what she called a lifesaving moment. Tammy Roeder-Renauld was driving home in her van, passing the ATB bank when a police officer passed her and another truck. The police vehicle swerved sideways at the lights to stop the oncoming black Dodge in what Roeder-Renauld described as an act of bravery.
“I am sure that if she had not put her life on the line that it would have been me and the gentleman in front of me that would have been hurt or killed,” she said, adding that she wanted to thank the officer for her “amazing courage.”
The speed with which the truck would hit the police vehicle left bits and pieces of vehicle strewn across the street half a block away. It was an indication of just how fast the truck was going, RCMP Chief Superintendent and District Commander Eastern Alberta District Randy McGinnis would later say at a midnight press conference in St. Paul to the first wave of reporters that would descend on the town over the next couple of days.
The impact of the collision trapped the RCMP member inside the vehicle, where she would later have to be extracted using the Jaws of Life and airlifted to the University of Alberta hospital for treatment of serious, but not life-threatening, injuries.
Seconds from that crash, Herperger-Goulet was just about to get out of her vehicle when she heard a “pop pop pop” sound that she couldn't immediately place. Witnesses reported thinking the noise was part of the accident, with their first instinct to get help – that is, until they heard the screams.
“Get inside! Get inside!” Someone shouted, as chaos erupted and people ran for cover. “They got a gun.”
Bystanders began warning oncoming vehicles of the danger ahead by stepping into the street and directing traffic in the opposite direction.
Police then began pulling into the block from different directions with one pulling directly in front of Herperger-Goulet's vehicle. She recognized the driver of the smoking black Dodge as 55-year-old John Carlos Quadros, the owner of Health Mart 2000. She watched as he drew a gun out the driver's window at the police to the east of him. Police would later say multiple weapons were found inside the vehicle.
Herperger-Goulet jumped out of her van to run around to the opposite side between the building and van.
A RCMP member shouted at her, “Stay down!” and she began vibrating with fear. She took out her phone to call her husband and parents, but could barely dial as her hands shook.
Roeder-Renauld also was immediately on the phone with her husband, telling him she was in the middle of what had become a shootout between the RCMP and Quadros.
“The guy pointed his gun at the man in front of me and then looked at me on the phone, so I ducked down further, but he never fired in our direction,” she recalled.
One RCMP member took a shot to the hand, while a spray of glass hit another member's face in the gunfight. Both were later taken to hospital, with the one suffering from the wound to his hand released later that same night.
As the RCMP and Quadros exchanged gunfire, Herperger-Goulet said she heard an officer cry out, “He's down, he's down,” and she looked up and saw him slumped over.
In the seconds following the shootings, police members crept closer and flung the back doors of the Dodge truck and found no one else inside, Herperger-Goulet said. She watched as another officer reached into the front and threw the suspect's gun down.
“It was all surreal and unbelievable,” she said.
She watched as they drew Quadros to the ground, handcuffed him and checked his pulse, only to shake their heads.
About half a block away, staff members at the St. Paul Boys and Girls Club were waiting for the violence to end, while taking care of the children still there.
“We had the heads-up by a dad before the crash and we were in lockdown after,” confirmed Sylvie Proteau, executive director at the club. “Thank God it was the end of the day and very few children were at the club at the time.”
Parents and staff rushed to the back of the building with the children when they heard the gunshots nearby. They kept the children calm by playing and talking with them, “and I kept watch until we knew it was safe to leave,” said Proteau.
“The whole time after, all I could think of were the police and rescue teams and how they could be feeling, their devastation, as they were taking their truck apart to get one of their own to get medical help. How they all grouped and worked together to protect her and keep her safe. Like a family of superheroes saving the city and then their own. Like a movie way too close for comfort.”
McGinnis would later tell the reporters at the press conference that night, “I've spoken to all the members, and I have to admit that this is a horrific crime scene. I was shaken by it to the point where I couldn't properly text a message to get to my commanding officer to let them know what was going on.”
Roeder-Renauld only later heard that it was Quadros who was the suspect in the case. It took her aback, as she had been into his store and talked to him a number of times.
“I was shocked.”
Across town, those who witnessed the night's events were shaken up, with Herperger-Goulet saying she still had trouble sleeping days later.
She expressed her disbelief that such explosive violence could take place in the place she calls home.
“It just doesn't happen in small town Alberta,” she said. “This is movies, this is CSI. You think it would be interesting to see. But when it actually happens, you never want to see it happen again.”