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Sault gunman investigated for domestic violence days before rampage: chief

Speaking to local and national reporters at a Wednesday press conference, Chief Hugh Stevenson said he would support an inquest into Monday's tragic murder-suicide
Police Chief Hugh Stevenson speaking to media during a press conference held Wednesday in relation to the intimate partner violence deaths of one adult woman and three children, as well as the injury of another adult woman that occurred Monday. Stevenson said he welcomes the idea of an inquest into the deaths to address the problem of intimate partner violence.

SAULT STE. MARIE - Sault Ste. Marie's police chief says he supports an eventual inquest into the tragic death of four people, including three children, who were killed Monday night by a gunman who then turned the weapon on himself. 

Chief Hugh Stevenson also said he believes the killer’s name will eventually be released to the public.

Speaking at a Wednesday afternoon press conference attended by local and national media at the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service headquarters, Stevenson also shed more light on the 44-year-old killer's previous interactions with police.

He confirmed that the department had investigated previous domestic violence calls related to the gunman, including one call in the days leading up to the shooting rampage that has devastated the city.

“We did have a call in relation to an incident at that time that could be perceived as domestic violence,” he said.

Days later, at around 10:20 p.m. Monday night, the gunman shot and killed a 41-year-old woman at a house on Tancred Street. He then drove to a home on Second Line East, where he shot the children — aged 6, 7 and 12 — and a 45-year-old woman before killing himself. The woman survived.

Because the murder-suicide was a case of intimate partner violence, police are not revealing details that could identify the surviving victim. That includes the name of the killer, the name or genders of the children, and the name of the woman who was killed on Tancred.

At the press conference, Stevenson would also would not confirm whether the killer subscribed to any extremist ideologies, or how he acquired the two firearms police seized at the Second Line property: a long gun and a handgun.

“Detectives are following up on all leads as the investigation continues,” said Stevenson.

Earlier in the day, SooToday independently requested court documents related to a conviction against the gunman for resisting an officer, assault of an officer and mischief in relation to an incident that occurred in December 2019. The man pleaded guilty to the assault charge and received 12 months probation.

Asked about that conviction, Stevenson would not confirm the details. But he did say he believes the name of the killer will eventually be publicized.

It may come to light as a result of a possible inquest, he said, like the Renfrew County Inquiry released last year in relation to three women who were killed as part of intimate partner violence.

“I certainly welcome an inquest into this issue,” said Stevenson. “I can’t give you a specific date but I guarantee in due course you will have his name officially.”

The reason for an inquest is not to find blame, said Stevenson, but to find out how to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

“I think all governments have to look at this situation and in light of what happened here treat it a little bit more seriously," he said. "What that looks like will come out of people a lot smarter than me."

Flowers at the scene of the murder of a woman on Tancred Street. Sault Police said that murder and the murder of three children and injury of another woman on Monday at a second address is the result of intimate partner violence. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

A search warrant executed at the Second Line address resulted in police finding the handgun and long gun.

“Naturally speaking we are wondering how the individual acquired the guns, were they legal, what was the relationship between the shooter and the victims and all of those details come out in due time,” said Stevenson.

Forensic analysis, ballistics analysis and post-mortem reports will determine how the firearms were used.

Responding to a question regarding misinformation circulating in the community, Stevenson said the case is a sensitive situation and the department’s obligation is to the families and the victims.

“We would rather let the investigation undertake its due course and then that information will come out,” he said. “I would ask people to think about the victims and the families involved before falsities are put out on the internet.”

Stevenson said he hopes to see societal change when it comes to intimate partner violence.

“Are we doing enough as a society? Not just in law enforcement, but are we doing enough in the schools to teach respect for others — whether it’s gender, whether it’s sexual orientation, whether it’s race,” said Stevenson. “I have always said we have to get to these situations earlier in life and teach respect for people and my second message is we have to take care of each other.”

He added people need to look around and call out behaviour that is not reasonable.

“Do I see something a little off? There are a number of services in our communities that can deal with this and sometimes you need a relationship with those individuals to say we can help you, but if they go unchecked and unnoticed from the age of five, then we all bear some responsibility for it,” he said. “When we see sickness we can deal with it, but if we avoid it, this will continue.”

Does intimate partner violence have to be declared an epidemic in Ontario?

“I am a firm supporter that something has to be done to raise the awareness of the issue,” said Stevenson. “If it’s a matter of applying a label of epidemic on it, then so be it.”

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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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