This story has been updated.
Government buildings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, were on lockdown Wednesday as police continued to search for a suspect after a series of shootings in the heart of the capital. One member of the Canadian Armed Forces was killed, as was one gunman. A parliamentary guard was also shot in the leg. Neither of the deceased has so far been identified by police, no one is in custody, and the situation has been deemed an “ongoing joint police operation” and “fluid.”
The incident began after a shooter opened fire just before 10 a.m. EDT, killing one military officer.Reports indicate the Canadian military member was standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, near the National War Memorial. He was taken to the hospital with injuries, where he later died. Two other patients were taken to the hospital and are in stable condition. Major General Christopher Coates noted that while the identity of the military member was known.
Scene of the monument before the incident (@kamakazi19982)
The suspect was later identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a 32-year-old Canadian native.
Police officers arrived quickly to lock down Parliament, asking anyone remaining in the building and surrounding area to lay on the ground as authorities searched the building. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported dozens of soldiers were patrolling the exterior of the building.
An eyewitness told The Globe and Mail that the shooter “got away” after the first shooting at the Memorial, and described the suspect as having long, dark hair. Another eyewitness told the CBC that the shooter was male, tall, thin, wearing a black-and-white headscarf, and carrying a long gun. Police did not confirm whether they were able to retrieve a weapon.
The suspect’s car, which did not have license plates, remained onsite throughout the morning, parked at the entrance of the War Memorial. A third witness reported seeing two suspects, one with black hair and a bandana and dressed in a long, brown coat, and a second who stayed in the car.
At 10:53 a.m., a reporter for the CBC was told that gunmen were on the roof of a building on Parliament Hill with “brandished weapons.” That reporter also noted that there is a heavily wooded area near Parliament Hill, and at least one gunman appeared to be moving east away from the shooting location. At a police briefing later in the day, the Ottawa Police Service did not confirm whether another suspect was still on the loose, noting only that because the investigation was ongoing they could not disclose details regarding the potential additional gunman. Officers urged citizens to call a hotline if they observed anything unusual over the coming days.
“We were standing nearby the monuments, we were waiting there for a city tour and I heard four [rapid] shots,” a witness told the CBC. “Suddenly I saw a small guy with long black hair, looked like a Native American to me, and he ran away after the shots toward Parliament Hill. Then I saw some military running to the monuments then to Parliament Hill chasing the man.” This witness confirmed that the shooter targeted a monument guard and that the gun was quite long.
Others report indicate that there were as many as 30 to 40 shots; however, this could be due to an exchange of gunfire with police. In a video taken from inside the Parliament Hill building obtained byThe Globe and Mail, roughly 24 shots are audible. “The video has too many shots to determine the type of weapon. Not unlikely it is a rifle though,” a member of the Canadian military told me on the condition of anonymity. “You don’t pre-plan an attack like this with only a pistol effective at a range of 50 meters.”
Just before noon, another shooting was reported across the river from Parliament Hill at the Rideau Centre Mall. However, during a police briefing at 2 p.m., police said that a shooting did not occur at this location. An employee at Kiehl’s, a shop within the mall, who answered the phone said they were calm and listening to the news.
At 2:15 p.m., the Ottawa police chief confirmed two shooting locations: the National War Memorial and Parliament Hill. The National War Memorial incident in which the soldier was shot occurred first, followed by the Parliament Hill incident. It was at Parliament Hill that the gunman was shot and killed by authorities. It has been reported that Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers shot the gunman; however, Vickers did not confirm his involvement in taking down the suspect.
Members of Parliament were meeting in their party caucuses when the shooting broke out. Some staff and members of the media inside Parliament Hill were allowed to leave, ducking while running out of the building. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s safety was confirmed early on, and he was taken away from Parliament Hill to an undisclosed, safe location. Harper was set to meet with Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai in Toronto today, but all his public events have been canceled.
The University of Ottawa has been put on lockdown, as have public schools in the area. Military bases across the entire country have been closed to the public. The Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. is also under lockdown as a precaution. An all-clear has not been given as police and military on the scene stress the ongoing danger of the situation.
Authorities in Canada have not yet commented on whether the was an act of terrorism. The CBC reported shouts of “Iraq” throughout the affected buildings; however, police were unable to comment on or confirm this claim. Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, a spokesman for the public safety minister, toldthe Associated Press that the domestic terror threat level was increased from low to medium just hours before the shooting occurred, due to “an increase in general chatter from radical Islamist organizations.” The citizenship of the deceased gunman was not confirmed during the police briefing.
The Canadian military member I spoke to provided more information on the memorial: “A few weeks before November 11 (Veterans Day, known also in Canada as Remembrance Day), we send soldiers to ceremoniously guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War II, the War Memorial. So the soldier that got shot had his rifle with him and was standing at attention, no means for defense at all—rifle obviously unloaded.” He also speculated on the potential motive of the shooter: “The irony that his blood was on the War Memorial is unbelievable. It’s heavily symbolic if it is terrorism related.”
Members of the police department told reporters “it is too early to determine a motive,” noting that they will be investigating over the coming days. They would not disclose whether the gunman had a particular target in mind or if he shot at random.
A hit-and-run accident in Quebec earlier this week, which resulted in the death of one military member and the injury of another, is being investigated as a possible terrorist incident. Police shot and killed the suspect, who authorities believe was “radicalized.”
At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama had been briefed on the incident in the Oval Office on Wednesday and sent the “thoughts and prayers of everyone here at the White House” to those affected in Canada. “The details are still sketchy, which is not unusual in a chaotic situation like this one,” Earnest said. The White House also offered confirmation of the soldier’s death.
Gilles Michaud, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, offered his condolences to the loved ones of those affected during the police briefing. “This is a dynamic and unfolding situation,” he said, “We are committed to providing answers as soon as we are able. Right now, all available and necessary resources were activated and deployed immediately … The Ottawa Police Service is leading investigation for all incidents outside Parliament Hill.”
The mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, told reporters that “origins of the tragedy are not fully known, causes are not yet understood.” Michaud noted that the incident took authorities “by surprise.”