11/13/2011 12:02 EST | Updated 01/13/2012 05:12 EST

Winnipeg Breaks Homicide Record With 35th Death


Winnipeg's 35th homicide of 2011 has set a record for the Manitoba capital.

Firefighters, who were called to a fire around 2 a.m. CT Saturday in a vacant apartment building in the 300-block of Carlton Street, found a man with upper-body injuries inside the building, according to police.

Harry Wellington Gegwetch, 42, was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Police said the case has become a homicide investigation. Gegwetch's injuries do not appear to have been from the fire only, they said.

"They appear to go beyond the type of injuries that one would have should they be subject to a fire," Const. Jason Michalyshen told reporters on Sunday. "We're going to be requiring the assistance of other professionals to provide us with some further information regarding cause of death."

An autopsy is scheduled for later this week.

Noise heard before fire

Michael Gibeault, who lives in the apartment block across the street from the fire, told CBC News he heard loud noises around 12:30 a.m.

"They were arguing [and] screaming, and one of my buddies smelled smoke, so he came out and the place was on fire," Gibeault said on Saturday.

The Winnipeg Police Service's homicide unit and arson strike force are investigating the incident.

"This investigation is complex. We have a fire, we have a deceased person. We're looking at all possibilities here," Michalyshen said. "We have an autopsy that we hope will bring further information forward so that this investigation can progress."

Police say Gegwetch had no fixed address and was known to police. He was charged with assault in connection with an Oct. 11 attack on a man on the corner of Main Street and Higgins Avenue.

The man had been struck with a rock during a dispute over a small amount of cash.

Previous record set in 2004

Two fatal shootings late last month brought Winnipeg's number of homicides this year to 34, matching the previous record high that was set in 2004.

Michael Weinrath, a criminologist with the University of Winnipeg, said it is important to look at the root causes of crime, including homicides.

"Homicide generally is correlated with poverty so if you look in Winnipeg, most of our homicides happen in the poorer areas of the city," Weinrath told CBC News. "They often happen during drinking parties, and the gang involvement does contribute."

Police say they have made arrests in 30 of this year's 35 homicides. Eleven young offenders have been charged in connection with some of the cases.

"These kids are dropping out of school, a lot of them are functionally illiterate and they don't seem to have much very hope except for their membership in a gang and a gang looking after them," Weinrath said.