WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. — A small town in B.C.’s central Interior is coping with big city drug and gang trouble that culminated Monday with a shooting that forced the closure of the schools in two communities.
Williams Lake, population 11,000, took on the appearance of a major crime scene as a police helicopter hovered overhead, and marked and unmarked police vehicles patrolled downtown streets.
RCMP Cpl. Dave Tyreman said police seized a firearm and took one person into custody after the shooting around 4 a.m. Monday.
Multiple shots were fired, but no one in the house was hurt, Tyreman said.
“The residence there was previously occupied by an individual who claimed to be a gang member,” he said. “This residence now actually has a family living there with no criminal connections or criminal ties whatsoever.”
Mayor Walt Cobb said the shooting was close to three schools in downtown Williams Lake, the satellite campus of Thompson Rivers University and a bus loop.
The only elementary school in 150 Mile House, 15 kilometres east of Williams Lake, was also closed for the day, said School District 27 superintendent Mark Thiessen.
Cobb placed the blame for the shooting on what he called prolific offenders.
“We are dealing with it constantly and we’ve been working with the province trying to get some resolve to it,” he said.
Tyreman wasn’t able to confirm the recent episodes of violence was gang related but acknowledged rivals are operating in the area.
“Is there some kind of conflict going on in the community? Yes,” he said. “Is that between prolific offenders or is that for a turf war over the drug trade? At this time it’s hard to say.”
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Morris said he was in Williams Lake last week to meet with municipal and First Nations leaders, and police about tensions in the area.
He said the government is sending specialized police gang units to Williams Lake.
“The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit is working in there,” said Morris. “We’ve also got the serious crime folks concentrating on this. We need the full co-operation of the folks in Williams Lake and the outlying communities to help quell this, to help us push it down.”
Morris said he believes Williams Lake’s issues are more connected to rivalries than organized criminal gangs. The former RCMP officer said the shootings could be the result of issues beyond drugs and turf, such as a love triangle.
Caribou-Chilcotin Liberal MLA Donna Barnett said two groups from areas outside of Williams Lake have been battling each other for years.
Williams Lake council voted earlier this year to support tracking the movement of criminals 24 hours a day by inserting microchips into their arms.
The proposal came after local RCMP released video of a 14-year-old boy’s bike being stolen at gunpoint in a park.
Williams Lake topped Statistics Canada’s rankings for violent crime severity in cities with more than 10,000 people in 2014.
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