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Fears of gang war in Edmonton after child slain during targeted attack on criminal father

Click to play video: 'Edmonton police say man, 11-year-old son intentionally shot and killed'
Edmonton police say man, 11-year-old son intentionally shot and killed
Harpreet Uppal, a known gang member who has been targeted before, was tracked down, shot and killed along with his 11-year-old son on while they were in a car parked at a gas station in southeast Edmonton. Sarah Komadina has the latest on the investigation. – Nov 10, 2023

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.

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.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton shooting: Police say father killed in targeted attack was high-level gang member'
Edmonton shooting: Police say father killed in targeted attack was high-level gang member

Derksen told reporters Friday the boy’s death was not an accident.

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“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.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton shooting: Police say death of 11-year-old child in targeted killing was ‘sick, twisted’'
Edmonton shooting: Police say death of 11-year-old child in targeted killing was ‘sick, twisted’

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.”

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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.”

Click to play video: 'Fears of gang retaliation after child slain during targeted attack on criminal father'
Fears of gang retaliation after child slain during targeted attack on criminal father

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.”

Click to play video: 'Father, child killed in ‘serious, targeted’ shooting at shopping complex in southeast Edmonton'
Father, child killed in ‘serious, targeted’ shooting at shopping complex in southeast Edmonton

He’s worried this is the start of more violence in public places like what has been experienced in B.C.’s Lower Mainland.

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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.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton shooting: Police say targeted killing of father, son example of escalating gun violence'
Edmonton shooting: Police say targeted killing of father, son example of escalating gun violence

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.

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“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.

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.”

Edmonton homicide victim Harpreet Singh Uppal, 41, and his 11-year-old son in an undated family photo. Uppal family via Instagram

Derksen said there had been previous attempts on Uppal’s life.

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Two years ago, he was shot at a Royal Pizza restaurant also in southeast Edmonton.

Click to play video: 'Security video of shooting at Royal Pizza in south Edmonton'
Security video of shooting at Royal Pizza in south 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.

A vigil for the son of 41-year-old Harpreet Uppal, the Edmonton man police said was involved in gangs and deliberately killed in southeast Edmonton. Photo taken Friday, November 10, 2023.
A vigil for the son of 41-year-old Harpreet Uppal, the Edmonton man police said was involved in gangs and deliberately killed in southeast Edmonton. Photo taken Friday, November 10, 2023. Global News

Among the flowers and stuffed animals was a basketball with “Rest easy Gavin” and a basketball jersey with “RIP Gavin” written on them.

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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.”

Click to play video: 'Possible escalation of gang violence after father and son gunned down in Alberta'
Possible escalation of gang violence after father and son gunned down in Alberta

Derksen said gang violence in public places has increased in Edmonton in recent years.

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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.

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.

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“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.

A burnt-out SUV on Township Road 510 near 34 Street in rural southeast Edmonton on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023. Global News

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.

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“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

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