ST. ALBERT, Alta. - An Alberta couple who witnessed the shooting of two Mounties say they didn't get enough help to deal with what they experienced.
Rodney and Irene Codner say they're speaking out so the system won't let down other witnesses to violent crime.
The Codners had been playing slots at the Apex Casino in St. Albert on Jan. 17, when a pair of RCMP officers started running after a man suspected of stealing a truck.
They say they were within arm's-reach of the chase when the man took out a gun, shot one officer in the head, the other in the arm and torso, and then fled.
Rodney Codner got on the floor with the gravely wounded officer, Const. David Wynn. He placed a hand on the man's head to stop the bleeding until a security guard came to help and paramedics arrived. Wynn died later in hospital.
Seven weeks later, the Codners say they've had little help from victim services, have struggled with red tape to get counselling and ended up with a perplexing ambulance bill.
"There's cracks in the system and we fell through," says Rodney Codner. "It felt like were abandoned and left on our own to try and make our own way."
Their lives were stressful enough already. Rodney was laid off from his oilpatch job just before Christmas and they have four children.
After the shooting, an officer gave the couple a phone number for the local victim services office. They called and were told to come in and get some pamphlets and were given more numbers for counselling.
They say it took many frustrating calls for them to find a counsellor without a wait list that would take them on for free.
After sleepless nights and emotional mood swings — Irene Codner says she sees blood in her house — their family doctor diagnosed them with post-traumatic stress disorder and prescribed anti-anxiety pills.
They also got a $250 bill for an ambulance that had been called when Rodney Codner felt chest pains while being interviewed immediately after the shooting. He didn't ask for the ambulance and didn't end up using it.
Rodney Codner says he and his wife went to a provincial government office to apply for financial assistance for crime victims, but were told it would take about a year.
They were then directed to the victim services unit with Edmonton police.
They say a worker told them he was surprised no one had yet visited them. He reached out to his counterparts in St. Albert and learned the wife of Const. Derek Bond, the auxiliary officer who survived the shooting, wanted to speak with the couple.
"She said, 'I never thought I'd actually get a chance to thank the person that was there to help,'" Rodney Codner recalls.
The couple initially wanted to keep quiet about their struggle, but recently gave some media interviews.
After that, Rodney Codner says, the province waived the ambulance fee and other people reached out, including a former Mountie who helps people with PTSD. Codner says staff with St. Albert victim services have also called.
There are about 80 victim services units operating out of RCMP detachments and municipal police stations in Alberta. They are independent, non-profits and mostly staffed by volunteers.
Cpl. Lauren Kading with the St. Albert RCMP says it's important to remember victim services provides referrals, not actual counselling.
She notes that sometimes workers meet with victims at crime scenes, but after the casino shooting, investigators wouldn't allow anyone into the building. Staff contacted all witnesses by phone.
The 24-member victim services unit was stretched, she says. With assistance of workers in other area offices, they offered help to about 150 people affected by the shooting.
The system isn't perfect, says Kading, and she feels for the Codners.
"They are struggling and it was a terrible thing that they had to witness ... We'll continue to try to make sure their needs are looked at.
"Sometimes, unfortunately, there may be needs that there's no real answer for."