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Inquest hears details about police response to 2015 triple homicide in Ottawa Valley

Basil Borutski leaves in a police vehicle after appearing at the courthouse in Pembroke, Ont. on Sept. 23, 2015. A coroner's inquest into the deaths of three women killed by a man they were in previous relationships with is hearing recommendations for addressing gender-based and intimate partner violence. .THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The police commander steering the response to a murderer’s hour-long rampage in the Ottawa Valley wished he had known that the killer was targeting more than one residence and what vehicle the man had been driving, a coroner’s inquest heard Wednesday.

But given what he did know at the time, Derek Needham of the Ontario Provincial Police said he wouldn’t have changed how the force responded to Basil Bortuski’s killing of three former partners on the same day.

“It would have been nice to know his vehicle. It would have been nice to know the path of travel that (Borutski) took,” Needham told the inquest.

Read more: Borutski never complied with order to attend partner assault response program

“With the information that we had, there’s nothing that I would change.”

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Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam were killed by Bortuski on Sept. 22, 2015. The inquest is exploring the circumstances of the women’s deaths and considering ways to better protect victims of intimate partner violence, particularly in rural communities.

Borutski first strangled 66-year-old Culleton to death at her cottage in Combermere. He then stole her car and drove less than half an hour to 36-year-old Kuzyk’s home in Wilno, where he shot her to death as her sister ran for her life. From there, Borutski drove roughly half an hour to 48-year-old Warmerdam’s home in Bonnechere Valley Township and shot her to death as her son fled.

The inquest heard Wednesday that the OPP received two 911 calls within a matter of minutes on the day of the murders.

In the first call, at 8:52 a.m., Needham, who was the OPP critical incident commander responsible for coordinating the police response to the events that day, said it was reported that a man was in Kuzyk’s residence in Wilno with a firearm.

Needham said he immediately mobilized specialty teams and frontline officers to respond to the incident as he himself began driving from Lanark County to the scene about 130 kilometres away. Their goal was to “set up containment of that residence,” making sure that officers could observe all four sides of it to manage the potential public safety risk, he added.

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“If we have a perpetrator who is displaying a potential high level of violence, we want to make sure that that person does not escape out into the general public,” Needham said.

Read more: Victim services worker tried to warn woman about Borutski on day of murder

Shortly after, at 9:20 a.m., Needham said a second 911 call came from another location — Bonnechere Valley Township — from Warmerdam’s son. At this point, officers were still in the process of containing the residence in Wilno, he said.

Needham said it was after the second call came in that police were able to make the connection that Kuzyk and Warmerdam were both victims of Borutski, a man with past domestic violence offences, and that there was a possibility of more victims.

“So that all transpired within a grand total of only a few minutes,” Needham said.

“It was almost immediate when Det.-Const. (Stacey) Solman verbalized that over the air and was aware of … at least one other victim that needed to be notified.”

Needham said the OPP then divided up the resources available to them that day between the two residences.

Police also shared an alert with local media — including radio stations and print media — and on social media about “a shooter believed to be on the loose,” Needham said. They advised the public to stay inside and report any suspicious activity or people to the OPP and schools in the area were placed in a hold-and-secure situation.

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At that point, Needham said the police’s priorities were to get to Warmerdam’s son safely and to contain their family residence.

Eventually, around noon, Needham said he received a “ping” that notified him of the location of Borutski’s cell phone, which may or may not have been where the perpetrator was located. He said it tracked the cell phone to Pembroke, so additional police resources were sent there.

About 20 minutes later, Needham said a second ping came in that tracked Borutski’s cellphone to Kinburn, which is within the bounds of the City of Ottawa, so he notified the Ottawa Police Service about the perpetrator.

“It was turned over to Ottawa not only because it was their jurisdiction, but because that was the point where it was beyond what one person could control, So when we hit that point where it needed to be turned over, it was,” he said, noting that Ottawa police, an OPP helicopter and the OPP’s tactics and rescue unit officers were all dispatched to the scene.

Borutski was arrested that afternoon, but he had a firearm in his possession “very, very close to the point where the OPP helicopter picked him up.”

Needham said he remained on the scene of the arrest for some time afterwards because the OPP “were so stretched with our resources at that point that we didn’t have enough … of our front line to be able to secure that scene.”

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Read more: Inquest into deaths of 3 women killed in rampage in Ottawa Valley in 2015 begins

When asked again if he was offered the opportunity to repeat that day with all the information he had at the time, if he would have done things the same way, Needham said he would have.

“I understand the optics, especially when it comes to the delay in some of the questions that have had been raised today. And I understand where some of those questions have come from. And I’d likely ask the same questions if the roles were reversed,” he said.

“But based on the information, the environment and the resources that I had on that day, what I knew at that moment, in every moment as that the incidents unfolded, there’s nothing I would change in terms of my response. No.”

The inquiry is set to resume Thursday.

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