Is Edmonton on the precipice of a gang war?
The Edmonton Police Service says the horrific killing of a young boy goes too far and a well-known criminologist said it could trigger revenge attacks.
“This line in the sand with organized crime — it’s just changed,” EPS Acting Supt. Colin Derksen said in a Friday news conference.
“That is sick and twisted and I think most gang members would agree.”
On Thursday, police said a known Edmonton gang member was tracked down, shot and killed along with his 11-year-old son while they were in a car parked outside an A&W and Petro-Canada gas station near 50 Street and Ellerslie Road.
Derksen told reporters Friday the boy’s death was not an accident.
“Once the shooter or the shooters learned that the son was there, they intentionally killed him. Shot and killed him.
“He was not caught in the crossfire or killed by mistake — they intended to kill him.”
Police arrived on scene to find the father and son suffering from gunshot wounds inside their vehicle.
They were pulled out while officers tried to save their lives, but the man and child died. Their bodies were seen covered by blankets in the parking lot of the gas station.
Derksen said even for gangsters, killing a kid is beyond comprehension.
“These reckless actions show all too clearly that the landscape has changed out there.”
He said the lunch-hour shooting in the crowded suburban shopping plaza, with other businesses, including a daycare, is the latest example of escalating gang violence in the city.
“There’s no longer any respect for children, families, innocent citizens amongst our rival organized crime groups, our gangsters when they carry out violence to further their own interests. That’s changed in the wrong way.”
Daniel Jones, a 25-year EPS veteran who is now a criminologist, agreed.
“That’s just another level of evil, right? You’re going after innocent children that have nothing to do with the game, as you will.”
He’s worried this is the start of more violence in public places like what has been experienced in B.C.’s Lower Mainland.
Shootings in broad daylight, vehicles burned beyond recognition, and homes peppered with bullets have been common occurrences in recent years.
“My concern is this creates a gang war where someone else is going after someone else’s family.”
The gang culture until now in Edmonton has been interesting, Jones said, because it’s mostly made up of groups of people dealing drugs and typically, he said there hasn’t been a lot of violence between them.
“It looks like we’re seeing that increase right now, right? We see a lot of violence in the street-level gangs like ASAP and Redd Alert, but you don’t see a lot in the more organized crime groups because this kind of violence brings a lot of attention, right? And that’s bad for business when it comes to the drug business.”
Jones said other parts of Canada saw family homes being shot up during gang wars in the 1990s, but to the best of his knowledge this is the first time Edmonton has seen an incident like this.
“When you start going after families, it’s just another level of violence. And unfortunately, what that does is that old saying, ‘Violence begets violence.’ If you go after someone’s family, I would suggest that there’s a high likelihood they’re going to come after you and yours as well, and you’re going to see this escalate potentially,” Jones said.
“That would be my fear.”
The dead boy’s name was not released by police, but his father was identified as 41-year-old Harpreet Uppal.
“Mr. Uppal was very well known to us, very high up in the gang drug world,” Derksen said.
“We had worked very hard over the years to try to warn and give him opportunities to step out of that lifestyle and keep him and his family safe.”
Derksen said there had been previous attempts on Uppal’s life.
Two years ago, he was shot at a Royal Pizza restaurant also in southeast Edmonton.
A man was arrested in that shooting but charges against him were recently stayed, said Derksen.
The busy corner where Thursday’s shooting took place in the southeast quadrant of the city had returned to normal Friday.
The only sign of the shooting was a growing memorial at a nearby light post.
Among the flowers and stuffed animals was a basketball with “Rest easy Gavin” and a basketball jersey with “RIP Gavin” written on them.
A second boy around the same age, a friend of the dead child, was also in the car.
“Thankfully, he was not harmed — physically, anyway,” Derksen said of the boy who escaped.
He said the two boys had just gone inside the A&W, which shares space with the Petro-Canada gas station, before the shooting.
Police are certain the shooting had to do with drugs and gangs but the exact motivation for the shooting — whether retribution or a turf war — wasn’t immediately clear, said Derksen. The targeted nature of the shooting was.
“We absolutely believe (Uppal) was followed with the intention of finding him and ending his life. With the young boy, we don’t know yet. What we do know already is that once the shooter or shooters learned the son was there, they intentionally killed him.”
Derksen said gang violence in public places has increased in Edmonton in recent years.
Officers have responded to 196 shootings so far this year — a 46-per-cent increase over the same time last year.
While such shootings are almost always gang-related, Derksen said they are incredibly dangerous for public bystanders.
“We’re lucky we’re not reporting on additional deaths or injuries.”
He said no arrests have yet been made. Officers were interviewing many people who witnessed the noon-hour killings.
“We’re going to give it everything we got. Pulling out all the stops. We lost a child here,” Derksen said, his voice becoming heavy with emotion.
Uppal’s family is also “engaged” with police and sharing information, he said.
No one wants to trigger panic or create mass fear but with the possibility of retaliation a reality, Jones said people in Edmonton need to be alert.
“We’re in a situation right now where I would suggest that people pay attention. Keep your faces out of your phones,” he said of being in public.
“If something doesn’t feel right, listen to your instincts. Listen to your gut. That’s why we have it. That’s what has kept us alive all these years.”
Derksen also echoed that message, telling citizens to be vigilant and not put themselves in situations of unnecessary risk.
“Don’t be picking fights at a bar at two in the morning. Those days are over. Don’t be following the guy that cuts you off when you’re driving to and from work to have words with him — because there’s unstable people,” Derksen said.
“There’s people who are very willing to use violence and there’s a lot of weapons out there. Just be smart.”
The suspect vehicle in the shooting was a stolen black 2012 BMW X6 SUV.
Police are investigating a possible link between the shooting and a burned-out SUV found on a rural road between south Edmonton and Beaumont. The vehicle was unoccupied.
“My gut instinct says it’s related,” Jones said, adding torching the getaway vehicle is a common tactic amongst criminals. “I get my stuff, I throw my gun, my clothes — light that on fire. I get rid of all the evidence.
“It’s something that has been done for years and years and years by organized crime.”
— With files from Bob Weber and Jamin Mike, The Canadian Press