KILLAM, Alta. - RCMP were trying to reassure a nervous community in central Alberta on Wednesday as they searched for an armed man who was seen leaving a home where two Mounties were shot and another man was found dead.
Sgt. Patrick Webb said a search was on for Sawyer Clarke Robison, 27, whom a witness saw leaving the property as four officers from the detachment in Killam, about 160 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, arrived on Tuesday afternoon.
The officers were part of an ongoing investigation the small detachment had been involved in for the last week. They were executing a search warrant for an illegal .45-calibre handgun.
Gunfire erupted after they arrived and two of the officers, Const. Sheldon Shah and Const. Sidney Gaudette, were cut down.
Webb said Robison could be armed with long-barrelled weapons and should be considered a high risk. The sergeant warned members of the public not to approach Robison.
"We don't believe he is a danger to the public in general," said Webb. "He is believed to be armed. We're trying to determine what happened in the house last night and his involvement."
The police description contrasted with what a long-time neighbour of Robison's had to say about him and his family.
Vernon Snethun farms across the road from where Robison lives. He was shocked to hear about what happened there.
"Sawyer's a very quiet guy, he has a nice composure, he's a good kid," Snethun said Wednesday.
Snethun said he's known Robison since he was 10. There are two homes on the property — Robison and his uncle live in the bigger bungalow while Robison's mother and father live in a smaller house.
"I was over there a couple weeks ago, had coffee, they are just normal farm people," Snethun said.
"Sawyer is their only child, he was always around them and they did a lot of things together, they rode bikes together, they did a band, so they're very family oriented."
Robison also worked as a professional photographer and had a website called Warthog Photography.
"I am a full-time photographer working throughout Alberta, Canada," he writes on the website. "Oriented towards clothing designers, dance, music, model portfolios, catalog/magazine work and original portraiture."
One photo in his portfolio shows a beautiful woman playing a violin and another wearing ballet slippers. In one vibrantly hued shot, a woman sits in a tree wearing a strapless, black and red leopard dress and black and red makeup drawn across her eyes like a mask.
"I am currently looking for experienced dancers who would be interested in working together, particularly in the Edmonton area," Robison write on the website. "If you study anything along the lines of ballet, don’t hesitate to get ahold of me! I can fill you in on the details."
Police say Robison is not facing charges and is considered a person of interest.
"It is definitely in his best interest to contact the RCMP to speak with our investigators as soon as possible," Webb said at a briefing Wednesday morning at the Killam detachment.
Webb said the dead man had been shot, but it wasn't clear whether it was police gunfire that killed him. The man was not identified.
Several weapons were recovered at the house, Webb said.
He explained why there were so many officers at the site Tuesday afternoon and overnight — and why they didn't enter right away.
"Once we knew who the people involved were, and once we knew there was some very significant weapons involved, we had to be extremely careful that we weren't walking into a situation that would put more members at risk."
He said the primary goal was to find Robison.
"The role of all the RCMP members here is to locate this individual and try to resolve this without any more shots fired or any injury to anybody."
Shah and Gaudette suffered significant injuries to their torsos, but were recovering in Edmonton hospitals after surgery.
Both men come from police families — Gaudette's father is a retired RCMP officer living in Lethbridge, Alta., while Shah's father was a police officer in Ontario.
Gaudette had been on the job for five years and was married just two weeks ago; Shah had been working for two years and is planning on getting married soon.
Both officers were actively involved in the community, said Doug Markwart, who lives near the scene of the shooting.
"They're both outgoing, friendly guys."
He said he often chatted with Gaudette and gave the officer advice on being a new parent. Gaudette and his wife had a baby last year.
Sawyer may be driving a black 2000 Chevrolet Silverado with Alberta licence plate number UZE 545. He is described as being just over six feet tall and weighing 200 pounds. He has brown hair and eyes and is very fit in appearance.
"We are trying to get the word out to him ... to say we would like to talk. We would like to resolve what's happening here," Webb said.
He confirmed the investigation was related to an earlier call RCMP had responded to involving a domestic dispute, but didn't say what the connection was.
There were several emergency response teams, serious crimes investigators and members from other detachments still at the shooting site Wednesday. There were also three armoured vehicles and a tactical team present.
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, more commonly known as ASIRT, was also investigating.
The shooting evoked painful memories of March 2005 when James Roszko cut down four officers while they were staking out his marijuana grow-op near Mayerthorpe, Alta. Roszko then killed himself.
Questions arose in the aftermath about whether the Mounties were equipped for dealing with a self-professed cop-hater. The RCMP did an internal review and a fatality inquiry was held.
In this case, Webb said "hindsight is always better" to determine if the officers who went to the house were properly prepared.
"We had a senior sergeant there, so they had obviously considered all the aspects of it. It will definitely be ASIRT's job and our own members jobs to see whether or not all protocols and risk assessment was done properly."
RCMP have said that every detachment in K-Division has been issued hard body armour — a suggestion that came out of the Mayerthorpe inquiry — but it is not clear if Gaudette and Shah were wearing it.
Killam Mayor Bud James said people in the farming community of 1,000 are definitely concerned.
"This isn't an area of Alberta where we would expect to hear about these kinds of things," James said. "People are concerned for their families. They're concerned for the officers who were injured and they're concerned for the RCMP officers who are still out there trying to do their job."
The mayor said Killam is close-knit and the injured officers are well-known.
"They're integrated into our community. They're our friends and neighbours ... people know each other."
James expressed no dismay over the fact no community alerts were issued Tuesday after the shooting.
"I defer to the RCMP. They're the experts in dealing with this kind of thing. If they felt the appropriate precautions were taken, I take them at their word."