BRITISH COLUMBIA

Peter Degroot Was Harmless, Say Friends

10/15/2014 06:02 EDT | Updated 12/15/2014 05:59 EST
B.C. RCMP
SLOCAN, B.C. - Friends of a fugitive gunman shot to death by police near the village of Slocan, B.C., are expressing their grief and anger over what they consider a tragic end to the man's life.

Peter DeGroot, 45, was killed Monday, five days after an exchange of gunfire with police when Mounties responded to a dispute between two people.

DeGroot fled into the woods, triggering an influx of officers, helicopters and search dogs to the community where residents were told to stay indoors.

RCMP said DeGroot was found by police Monday in a cabin near a gravel pit and shot and killed following an "interaction."

DeGroot's supporters have set up a memorial page on Facebook, saying he was harmless.

Patrik Kapuscinsky said DeGroot suffered from ill health and was doing the best he could under extreme financial stress.

In a posting, he said that police should have waited DeGroot out, handled the situation in a more humane and diplomatic way and given him the help he needed.

The shooting is being investigated by B.C.'s police watchdog, the Independent Investigations Office. Few details have been released about the circumstances surrounding DeGroot's death.

"The IIO investigation is still in its early stages and investigators are expected to be in the area this week," spokesman Owen Court said in a statement.

"IIO resources include a team director, three investigators and a forensic specialist," he said.

"In addition to this, the IIO will provide dedicated services to assist the family of the deceased affected person."

The agency said there is no timeline for when it will complete its report.

"More than a few of us are deeply suspect of the way this all went down," Delaine Hird wrote in a posting on the memorial page.

DeGroot's neighbours described him as a loner who was committed to his animals including cows, pigs, a goat and chickens. His financial troubles meant he was living in a van and having trouble feeding them.

Janni Joy said people want to know the truth about what led to DeGroot's death.

"I suspect the RCMP were concerned about another Moncton initially," she said, referring to the shootings of five Mounties in New Brunswick in June by 24-year-old Justin Bourque, who killed three officers and injured two after they responded to reports of an armed man dressed in camouflage.

Antonia Crossley, who owns a restaurant in Slocan, said she didn't know DeGroot but that diners have had mixed feelings about the police action.

"All we heard was that he died of gunshot wounds. We never heard if he fired first. All they said was they found a firearm. What does that mean?"

"Police had only one thing in mind: to secure the place and protect citizens. But whether it was necessary to end up like this is a big question mark."

Friends who knew DeGroot from Victoria in the 1990s are sorry they didn't keep in touch.

Murray Campbell said he wrote letters to the man he described as a trapper and homesteader.

"You had a true heart and wanted a more just society, a more just world. I knew your mind was troubled and I wish I had been there more for you," Campbell said.

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary.

Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter