Recent History – 2000
July 11, 2000
DAWSON CREEK — A group of local provincial government employees were among those to receive public services awards recently.
Ruth Smith, Robert Watts, Chris Keller, Brenda Beaulieu and their co-workers at the Ministry for Children and Families were special recognition award winners for their dedication to community and staff safety in extraordinary and dangerous circumstances.
The award is related to a Sept. 21, 1999 when a man walked into the reception area with a semi-automatic rifle and slammed it down on the counter.
According to an account of the incident printed in the awards program, he told Beaulieu, a receptionist, that the rifle was not loaded but told her not to leave, otherwise he would load it.
First Beaulieu, then Smith, talked to the man. Keller, the acting supervisor of administrative services, called the RCMP and advised them of the emergency.
Meanwhile, some other employees had learned of the situation and were leaving. As this was occurring the alarm button was pushed.
“Your alarm went off,” the man with the rifle told Smith. “Give me a moment,” she replied, “and I’ll turn it off” which she did.
She asked him what his name was and why he was upset.
Then a woman, who turned out to be the man’s wife, came running into the office, very upset and crying. She was saying “don’t…you…can’t…” which increased the level of agitation.
Then another woman came in. She was a friend of the wife and started talking to the man, which seemed to upset him even more.
Smith asked her to go sit down with the wife.
As this was happening, a staff member informed Watts, regional manager of child protection, that a gunman was in the reception area. He immediately proceeded to that location.
When he entered, he noticed Smith, Diana Goulet and Penny Withrow.
A few moments later, after an exchange of words, Goulet and Withrow were able to leave the area, leaving Smith and Watts with the gunman.
Smith told him the gun would not help him get what he wanted and asked him if she could have the ammunition clip as it was out of the rifle.
He emphatically said no and then looked at Watts and asked: “Do you want to be a statistic?”
He repeated the question more loudly, adding: “I’m going to blow you away.”
The man asked Watts to leave the waiting room. When Watts did not immediately do so, the man picked up the rifle and inserted the ammunition clip.
Smith moved toward one of the offices and then to the file room.
The gunman told Watts that the rifle was loaded, that he was ex-military, and he knew how to use it.
When he put the rifle back down on the counter, Watts also moved back into the file room. As he was doing this, Robert noticed that the RCMP had reached the top of the entrance stairs undetected and stepped back out of the file room to distract the gunman.
The RCMP rushed in and took the gunman to the floor without any shots being fired. The gunman was arrested and subsequently pleaded guilty to all charges.
The court accepted his plea but also found him not criminally responsible for his actions due to mental defect.
According to the nominator, association regional executive director Mike Caisley, the incident and its aftermath were “devastating to many of those involved.
“We arranged for critical incident debriefing sessions by qualified practitioners, closed the office for two days, arranged for EFAP counselling, undertook major renovations to our reception area and posted a security guard for the next several months.”
Several staff members directly involved with the incident were severely traumatized, Caisley said, and were unable to work for extended periods.
Caisley said that Smith, Watts, Beaulieu, and Keller showed tremendous courage. “They did not panic or lose their heads…through a very dangerous and critical time, and did so by placing their lives in danger.”
The award was presented on June 16.