Christopher Beausoleil just went to out to do some Christmas shopping at a central Edmonton mall when he found himself looking down the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun.
“In hindsight, you think… how quickly life can change for you — or even end,” he said Wednesday.
The Fort McMurray man came face-to-face with a gunman in the parking lot of Kingsway Mall Tuesday night, just moments before another man was shot and a truck was carjacked and crashed a few blocks away.
Beausoleil had left the west side of the mall through the Shoppers Drug Mart and was getting into his truck just after 7 p.m. when he noticed a woman who appeared to be trying to get away from a man.
“Something just stood out — something was off about it,” he said.
The frantic woman was trying to flee a masked man with a gun who allegedly trying to rob her, police later revealed. In that moment, Beausoleil didn’t know that, but sensed she needed help.
He made eye contact and gestured for her to get in his truck. As the woman went to do that, the suspect turned his attention to Beausoleil in the driver’s seat.
“He ended producing what, to me, looked to be a sawed-off shotgun, pointed it up towards my face through the window.”
The man then began banging the butt of the gun against his window, so Beausoleil and the upset woman sped away and called 911. He looped back while on the phone with emergency officials, trying to keep an eye on the gunman, when he saw a commotion in front of the Walmart at the mall.
“I just heard a pop,” he said, adding one man took off running while another fell to the ground. He then saw a damaged white truck speeding off and knew it was somehow involved.
Edmonton police said after Beausoleil drove away, the suspect approached another man who was unlocking his bicycle. The shooter confronted and shot the cyclist, who was later taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Beausoleil said it appeared the man was shot in the leg.
The suspect then carjacked the white GMC truck Beausoleil saw speeding away, after pointing the firearm at the lone woman who was driving it. Police said she was able to exit the truck and run into the mall for safety.
Beausoleil said he wasn’t scared in the moment and was just focused on helping the woman get to safety.
“Once the gun came out, you know, I was a little nervous. But again, I didn’t know if it was real or not, so I just left. But after he had shot the individual, then it sunk in.”
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According to EPS, the 28-year-old suspect drove the stolen truck away, hit a parked vehicle, and ended up in an area near 118th Avenue and 101st Street, “where he entered a traffic circle at high speed and collided with a building.”
The suspect ran away but was arrested by police. EPS said they found multiple rounds of ammunition, 27 grams of methamphetamine and a sawed-off shotgun.
Beausoleil said he is no stranger to sketchy situations, having grown up in Toronto and lived and worked in Edmonton’s inner city for years, but said in those places he rarely encountered unexpected violence.
In Toronto, he said gun violence was typically contained between the gang communities and in Edmonton, there was usually a reason for someone’s erratic behaviour — be it addictions, trauma or mental health issues.
“This kind of random act of violence is not something that should be normal. And I know for Edmontonians, it’s probably concerning,” said the Fort McMurray 468 First Nation council member.
“It shouldn’t be acceptable in our society today.”
University of Alberta criminologist Temitope Oriola said there is no one single factor driving crime in Edmonton, but noted it seems to be a mix of socio-economic factors and growing pains.
“We’re beginning to see some big city problems: with population growth comes certain kinds of issues, and a lot of those becoming quite clear,” he said, citing economic hardships from inflation and increased cost of living, addictions, homelessness, access to mental health care as possible drivers of crime. “It’s a confluence of multiple variables.”
“We’re not used to seeing this level of violence.”
While the motivation for Tuesday’s mall violence isn’t known, Oriola said financial strain as a whole when it comes to crime can’t be overlooked — noting even in his academia circles, colleagues are feeling the pinch: having to choose between buying groceries and covering their kids’ activities or attending conferences and other professional opportunities.
“If relatively middle-class people are struggling in that manner, I wonder what is going on amongst those who are not as fortunate socio-economically?”
Poverty can drive people to desperation and more needs to be done to address the underlying reasons people commit crime, he said.
“Whatever governments at all levels can do, especially with respect to low-income individuals, I think that needs to be done.”
Oriola said crime is inevitable in all communities but Edmonton is witnessing something new.
“You cannot eliminate crime — you can only manage it, keep it to a reasonable, manageable proportion so that social life may go on. And this is why police services and all the law enforcement organizations must be careful in what they promise because you cannot deliver an entirely crime-free society.”
Beausoleil feels that he had a guardian angel — or spirit helper, as they’re called in his First Nation culture — looking over him Tuesday night.
“I’m a father of two young girls, I have responsibilities within my community — it wasn’t my time to go.”
Beausoleil said random violence had been on his mind recently, having heard about a friend who was at West Edmonton Mall when a lockdown happened there last weekend.
“It was on my mind, like, the craziness that’s going on in our city. But no one deserves that, especially at the holiday season.
“You’re just out there trying to get something for your loved ones.”
Despite that, Beausoleil said he isn’t deterred from living his life.
“I will go back to Kingsway. I will go to West Edmonton Mall. These are freak incidents that happen within communities.”
Despite having a gun pointed at him and facing the very real risk of dying, Beausoleil — who had a criminal history himself — feels compassion towards the suspect.
“The gentleman who committed this, you know, he’s a family member to somebody and he’s probably gone through some tough times himself. Somehow, people are falling through the cracks and these things occur.
“We need to figure out what those problems are and address them.”
Dakota Jackson Grey, 28, is facing more than 28 criminal charges stemming from the Kingsway crime spree, including two counts of robbery with a firearm, aggravated assault, dangerous driving, failing to remain at the scene of a collision, possession of stolen property and nine other firearms-related charges and two breaches of release order.
According to police, Grey was on a release order for an aggravated assault, and was released with a weapons prohibition. He has a previous lifetime firearms ban.
In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Kingsway said the mall was secured and locked down as a precaution Tuesday evening to ensure “shopper and employee safety, which is our priority.”
The statement went to say mall officials were grateful that Edmonton police responded quickly and apprehended the suspect.
— With files from Jennifer Ivanov and Emily Mertz, Global News