Neighbours who witnessed a large ground and aerial police pursuit near Naramata, B.C., on Monday are questioning why the public was left in the dark about a double, targeted killing and the hunt for potential suspects for more than 28 hours.
On May 10, at approximately 9:15 a.m., police officers descended on the Arawana Forest Service Road for reports of “a set of suspicious circumstances involving two men,” according to RCMP.
There was no mention in the Monday afternoon press release that two dead bodies were found or that police were searching for potential suspects.
Jack Lewko spotted the police helicopter shortly after witnessing two men darting across vineyards and orchards.
“I saw two individuals just walk down through a vineyard, which I thought was kind of odd because they didn’t look like farm workers,” he said.
“I saw them come through the vineyard and hop the deer fence and then carry on through the gully.”
Lewko said the pair seemed out of place. He described one suspect as a “larger” individual wearing back pants, boots or black shoes, and a black shirt.
The second man was a smaller individual, Lewko said, possibly wearing a green shirt.
Lewko provided a witness description to police, but the officers were tight-lipped about the circumstances, he said.
A rumour began circulating in the community that the search for the suspects was related to a stolen vehicle. Neighbours who spoke to Global News said their guard was down.
RCMP did not reveal that two bodies had been found in the area until Tuesday at 2:30 p.m., more than 28 hours after the initial search.
“That was a bit shocking, for sure,” Lewko said.
“All of a sudden that alarm bells went off, like, ‘Oh my God, like, these guys are bad individuals.'”
Robert van Westen also saw the commotion on Monday but was unaware of the gravity of the situation.
“I was quite surprised,” he said of learning a double killing had taken place.
“The police released a press release saying that, you know, there’s something going, but not like, maybe hunker down or protect yourself.”
Van Westen said area residents were working outside and going about their daily business.
A neighbour said she felt nervous to work in the vineyard, but van Westen reassured her it was ‘just car thieves,’ based on the rumour circulating in the tight-knit community.
“So I felt guilty. ‘Oh, yeah. Go to work, it’s fine.’ Right. And then the next day, you find out that that happened?”
Police later confirmed the B.C. RCMP Major Crime Unit was deployed to the Naramata Creek area after two bodies were discovered on Monday morning.
Hikers had located the two deceased individuals and police said they took “immediate steps” to secure the location.
Despite the extensive search efforts, the pair were not located.
“Early findings suggest that this was a targeted incident. At this time there is nothing to indicate a greater general risk to public safety,” said Supt. Brian Hunter.
RCMP would not say why investigators believe the deaths were isolated and targeted. The sex or ages of the deceased victims have not been released.
RCMP said a vehicle was removed from the area in relation to the investigation. The vehicle will be examined by forensic specialists.
Global News asked RCMP southeast district spokesperson Jesse O’Donaghey why the public was left in the dark about the discovery of two bodies for more than 24 hours.
“We did issue an alert to the public that we were in the area searching for two individuals. But at that time, there was no need to issue a public statement in an effort to solicit tip information,” he said.
“But now we’re at that stage in our investigation where we are turning to the public for any information they may have in relation to this incident.”
O’Donaghey added that police want to ensure the information released publicly is accurate and contextualized without compromising the investigation or potential future prosecution.
“We sympathize with them; we know the impact that a discovery like this has on a community and, of course, the families of the victims,” he said.
“We’re dedicated to determining what has happened here.”
Later Wednesday, police issued an update, stating investigators have tentatively identified one of the two deceased individuals and are actively trying to confirm the identity of the second person.
O’Donaghey said an autopsy has been scheduled for Friday, and that the public can expect to see an increased RCMP presence in Naramata as police continue to secure the scene.
He also said “at this point, there is no evidence that links the two people observed in the area to the deceased people. Officers would still like to identify who they were to eliminate them from the ongoing investigation.”
Anyone with any additional information is asked to contact the B.C. RCMP Major Crime information line at 1-877-987-8477.