Police have arrested 11 people after St. Patrick's Day celebrations took an ugly turn in London, Ont., and are urging others involved in the riot to "do the right thing" and step forward.
Seven of those arrested after parties spilled into the street and became violent have been identified as students of the city's Fanshawe College, London police Chief Brad Duncan said Sunday. He said they face charges including unlawful assembly, assaulting police and resisting arrest.
After personally reviewing many video clips showing vandalism and violence that left several people injured, Duncan called the incident a "dynamic, dangerous and highly charged situation" that continued into early Sunday.
"There were a number of individuals burned last night. The severity of this mob mentality could easily have resulted in death," Duncan said, vowing investigators will track down more of those involved.
Firefighters were the first emergency responders, arriving to deal with a reported brush fire on Fleming Drive, just east of the college, at 10 p.m. Saturday, Duncan told reporters. However, they had to call for police backup after they came under attack by flying bottles and bricks.
About 50 police officers responded and the crowd continued to grow to about 1,000 people, many of them students, who surrounded a TV news truck that had been tipped over and set on fire.
Some in the crowd kept both police and firefighters away from the vehicle by smashing beer bottles and throwing other debris. At Sunday's news conference, Duncan praised officers for remaining at the scene and preventing nearby houses from being vandalized.
"Every one of our members in attendance on Fleming Drive was assaulted last night," he said. "They were literally attacked with full bottles of beer and liquor, bricks, wood planks, two-by-fours, debris, tires, rims and other various items. In addition, members of the crowd used laser pointers aimed at our officers' eyes to try to disrupt our response."
Rioters tried to 'egg on the police'
It was clear the rioters wanted to provoke police, said Karlie Rogerson, a Fanshawe College student who witnessed the mayhem and was struck in the face by a flying bottle. Rogerson said she was working at a local pub Saturday night, but arrived at the centre of the riot about 11 p.m. to see a car already in flames.
"[The fire] was still being fuelled by students. They were throwing in lawn chairs and fences and whatever they could find," she told CBC News, calling the behaviour "ridiculous."
"One girl took off her shirt and put her shirt in it … to keep the fire going," she added.
Rogerson said the crowd "wanted to egg on the police. They wanted the police to react, and they wanted the riot," but she also defended fellow Fanshawe students, saying they weren't responsible for all the damage.
"There were a lot of high-school kids and people from out of town," she said. "Yes, there was people from Fanshawe there, but that doesn't speak for all of us. I would never set something on fire for fun. I don't see the point of that."
An unspecified number of people suffered minor injuries during the riot, mostly due to broken glass. The police chief said officers donned helmets and other riot gear for protection. Some officers suffered soft tissue injuries from being struck by various objects, he said.
Students continued to form a circle around the TV vehicle even after the fuel tank exploded.
'I hope those people are happy with themselves'
Platoon Chief Paul Carew with the London Fire Department told CBC News rioters threw "whatever they had on hand on the fire, including mattresses and fence posts."
He said the fire department sent two trucks to the scene, but firefighters had to back away and let police control the crowd.
"In any city it's unacceptable," Carew said in an interview Sunday. "Watching the video made me sick. I hope those people are happy with themselves."
Carew said he had heard that some people had suffered burns and cuts, but didn't have any information regarding any serious injuries.
Duncan said 17 police cars were vandalized, some when rioters hit them with planks of wood. He said the cost to provide police and fire department services, to clean up the mess left behind, and repair damage to vehicles, light standards and pavement will cost the city an estimated $100,000.
WARNING: Video contains graphic language