Mystery continues to surround what happened after a large police presence descended on the Strathcona County Community Centre in Sherwood Park, Alta.
At around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Strathcona County RCMP responded to a fire at the complex housing the community centre, county hall and library. What unfolded there remains a mystery Wednesday.
A news conference was held at 11:30 a.m. with Strathcona County Mayor Rod Frank, RCMP Supt. Dave Kalist, and director of Emergency Services and Fire Chief Jeff Hutton. None of them would say what happened, and a large area remained blocked off.
Supt. Kalist said public safety was their main concern. Kalist did not address the blast-like shock people in the building said they felt. He was asked if anyone died, but said he could not speak to that at this time.
WATCH: RCMP Supt. Dave Kalist said the investigation is “very fluid.” Apart from saying the initial call was to a report of a fire, RCMP released few details about the investigation.
Witnesses told Global News people were evacuated from the library after the building shook.
“We heard like an air horn going off — I guess that was an evacuation notice — and everyone was kind of evacuating out of the building,” said Ian Royle, whose son was at the library doing homework while dad was picking up his other kids from the nearby Festival Place theatre.
“The fire department was arriving on scene when I was arriving there, looking for my kid. I called him over and asked him what happened and he said there was a huge bang. He said the whole building vibrated and shook and then the fire alarm went off, so he left the building.”
Royle said they waited around to see if they could get back inside to collect his son’s things, when the mood changed.
“It was kinda business as usual — the cops were standing around just making sure everything was OK. And then all of a sudden, everything changed. The cops were running around with their AR-15s.”
WATCH: Mayor Frank released few details but said the investigation is “fluid and active.”
Mayor Frank said RCMP major crimes unit was investigating and he could not reveal any details about what happened, only saying the situation was contained to the community centre building and there was not any safety risk to the general public.
“What we don’t want in this investigation is for the fact to get clouded, to create uncertainty,” Frank said.
“That would be a bigger tragedy, if we don’t get control of the situation. So it’s for the professionals right now — the fire chief and the police investigation — and the details will come out in good time.”
Frank said another news conference with RCMP would take place Wednesday at 3 p.m.
WATCH: Mayor Frank said the details will come out “in good time.”
Fire Chief Hutton said they were helping RCMP investigate. He said if anyone has a vehicle in the blocked-off parkade, they are asked to call 780-417-7100 to add their names to a registry.
All three asked the public to avoid speculation several times during the news conference, but no one provided any details on what happened or is happening. It’s not known if the situation is still ongoing but they said “it was contained” to the community centre.
Officers from both the RCMP and the Edmonton Police Service’s Emergency Response Team were at the scene Tuesday night and police wearing flak jackets entered the building with large guns drawn. Firefighters could also be seen outside the building.
WATCH: Fire Chief Jeff Hutton said crews are working with the RCMP and once the building is “safe to enter, we plan to determine the condition of the building.”
Residents from a nearby seniors’ centre were evacuated and taken to an adjacent middle school to stay warm. Festival Place was also evacuated.
One Sherwood Park resident isn’t concerned about the lack of information.
“We know there was some kind of explosion, we know there was a fire. You could smell the… you know, as I was going to my grandkid’s school to read this morning, you could smell that something happened,” Shirley Denkhaus said.
Another resident weighed in, saying it was concerning to go all night and well into the next day without any idea of what happened. “That fact that they haven’t said anything makes it a little more concerning,” Greg Taylor said. “I don’t think it’s acceptable.”
“It creates people talking. No one knows what’s going on so you have a lot of rumours going around about what happened.”
RCMP said nearby schools and buildings were closed to give the RCMP room to conduct their investigation.
“Essentially, last night as we were dealing with the unfolding event, we had a decision to make,” Kalist said.
“The schools need a certain amount of time to be able to either shut down for the day or to redirect school busses. At about 10 o’clock last night that decision was made to let them know that we weren’t confident that we would be done police operations at county hall today.”
Salisbury Composite High, located across the street from the library, and both the St. Theresa Catholic School and Elk Island Catholic Schools Central Learning Services buildings — located directly north of the community centre — were all closed to staff and students.
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RCMP stressed they were not releasing any information to maintain the integrity of the investigation.
WATCH: RCMP remained tight lipped about an ongoing investigation at the Sherwood Park community centre and county hall.
Sherwood Park is a large community located directly east of Edmonton.
WATCH: Julia Wong was live at the Strathcona County Community Centre in Sherwood Park Wednesday morning, where a massive police presence remained overnight following a mysterious incident at the library.
— More to come…
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