Edmonton police believe shocking Pizza Hut shooting in Westmount area was a random attack

Click to play video: 'Employee gunned down at Edmonton Pizza Hut, police believe attack was random'
Employee gunned down at Edmonton Pizza Hut, police believe attack was random
Surveillance video shows an employee waiting at a Pizza Hut in central Edmonton just seconds before a suspect walked in and shot him in the head in what the Edmonton Police Service said appeared to be a random attack in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 12, 2023 – Mar 13, 2023

A man was left in critical condition after he was shot just after midnight Sunday at central Edmonton’s Westmount Village Pizza Hut — an act of violence both police and a criminologist said was concerning.

Surveillance video from a Pizza Hut to go, sent to Global News, shows the 55-year-old male employee leaning against the front counter, looking at his phone, when someone opens the front door.

The man takes a step inside the door, lifts a rifle, shoots and walks out. The bleeding man falls to the ground and the video ends.

The entire interaction at the takeout restaurant just off Groat Road, north of Westmount Mall in the Woodcroft neighbourhood, took place over the course of just six seconds.

EMS arrived on scene at the store near 133 Street and 114 Avenue and took the victim to hospital in serious, life-threatening conditions.

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On Monday, police said the suspect was described as wearing a black, bulky coat with a hooded sweater underneath, black pants/jeans that are tight around the calf, black shoes or boots and a multi-coloured face covering.

The suspect in a shooting at a Pizza Hut near 133 Street and 114 Avenue in central Edmonton on Sunday, March 12, 2023. Edmonton Police Service

While the case is not a murder investigation, EPS homicide section Det. Jared Buhler spoke to it on Monday while holding a news conference to update the investigation into another shooting — the unsolved 2022 fatal hit on notorious inner city landlord Abdullah Shah.

Read more: Police reveal more details one year after ‘well-organized hit’ of notorious Edmonton landlord

Buhler couldn’t speak to the specifics of the case, but said the situation is troublesome.

“I’ve said it before… obviously the level of gun violence that we’re seeing as a police service — and the service has spoken to this before — is concerning to us,” Buhler said.

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“It would seem that there is more than there was in the past, certainly more than when I started 20-something years ago. So, yes, it’s concerning.”

Buhler said while the volume of cases his homicide unit is dealing with isn’t necessarily increasing year-over-year, it’s a steady number that’s higher than in the past and the cases are more complicated.

“Investigations are, I think, becoming a little bit more difficult in some respects because of the amount of video evidence that’s available that we have to process — telecommunications are far more complicated than they’ve been even five, 10 years ago.

“So, you know, combined with volume and the complexity, the amount of data that we have to deal with, it’s challenging.”

Read more: 4 deaths among rash of violent crimes over New Year’s weekend in Edmonton

Police did not inform the public of the shooting until Global News found out about it via a tip.

Temitope Oriola is professor of criminology and sociology at the University of Alberta and said law enforcement has to walk a fine line between the public’s right to know and ensuring they are not creating fear.

“What I think is not particularly helpful is just silence on the matter,” he said, adding police have to have clear strategies on how information is communicated.

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“It has to be done in a way that these (news) releases do not feed into increasing concerns or exacerbate existing concerns in the larger society.”

Edmonton police have spoken several times in the past year about the increase in gun violence and number of firearms being seized by investigators — a situation Oriola said is concerning.

“We are seeing more and more firearms being seized by police officers on the streets, some of these firearms are of the high-calibre type. A lot of these weapons do not belong in the hands of civilians, you don’t need such weapons for hunting or to protect your family — a lot of these weapons are weapons of war.”

He added police are also being hindered by the rise in homemade guns.

“Ghost firearms, for instance— those that are 3D-printed — have no identification of serial number whatsoever, so they are literally untraceable.”

Police called it a random act of violence and as of Monday, the suspect is still at large.

“Now, while the police have described this as a random act — and I have no doubt that it was — that in fact makes it more troubling because it makes the average citizen feel a bit more susceptible,” Oriola said.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton police believe Pizza Hut shooting was a random attack'
Edmonton police believe Pizza Hut shooting was a random attack

Residents of the Woodcroft neighbourhood say they are not surprised by this type of violence.

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Read more: Police release images of suspect wanted for north Edmonton shooting in September

“That doesn’t surprise me around here ’cause there’s a lot of people … bad activity around here,” said Kim Granger. She said she’s also noticed nearby stores having been broken into “quite a few times.”

It’s mostly fighting in the area, she said, but she’s heard a few gunshots over the years.

Oriola said the area to the northwest of the city’s core is the kind of space that criminologists call “neighbourhoods with concentrated disadvantage.”

“Typically you find high levels of unemployment, high school graduation rates is usually very low and therefore job prospects are low. Income levels tend to be very low as well. And then over time, these issues become mutually reinforcing and synergistic, producing, in some cases, intergenerational social disadvantage.

He also noted lower-income areas outside the city’s core are also communities where social services are either “very poor or nonexistent.”

“There has been a degree of social issues in that neighbourhood that had gone unaddressed for many years.”

He added it’s important that the the public see the Pizza Hut shooting as indicative of a much larger social problem.

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“Such incidents are about much more than that single one-off,” Oriola said.

Click to play video: 'Shooting at Edmonton Westmount Village Pizza Hut'
Shooting at Edmonton Westmount Village Pizza Hut

Aaron Clark, who has lived in the area for seven years, said it’s always been a rough neighbourhood, but he’s noticed it “going downhill” recently, with a visible increase in open-air drug use and not enough police presence.

Read more: 10 brazen shootings in just over a week stretching investigative resources: Edmonton police

“Keep to yourself. Don’t go walking at night by yourself,” he advised. “Not all of them are bad, but you get the odd one.”

He said he was a victim of a crime when he was thrown into a vehicle off the street just two blocks from the Pizza Hut, beat up and robbed.

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“Messed me up, took my ID, my wallet, my watch, my cap, my shirt, my shoes,” Clark recalled.

He was able to escape but was unable to work for two months.

Read more: Province, EPS announce pilot program to increase officer presence in Edmonton’s downtown

“I think, when it comes to these particularly violent crimes, what it comes down to is working with police to make sure they are addressing this,” said city Coun. Andrew Knack.

The police commission oversees police function in the city, not city council, he said, so the city needs to find ways to support police and work with them — as well as with other organizations — on bringing in effective programs to help address violence.

“There’s not one solution that you say, ‘If you just do this, you fix it all,’” said Knack. “It’s a culmination of things that you have to work on together.”

— With files from Sarah Komadina, Global News

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