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‘Dozens’ of gunshots fired in B.C. hostage stand-off, inquest hears

More ERT officers testify at the inquest into the deaths of Randy Crosson and Nona McEwan in Surrey
Nona McEwan and her boyfriend Randy Crosson, who held her hostage in Whalley on March 29, 2019. (Facebook images)

Randy Crosson had “determined, angry, rage-filled eyes” in his last seconds, using his girlfriend as a shield as police fired more than 30 bullets in their direction.

Bedlam had already erupted in the small bedroom as Const. Brent Wantke followed his fellow Emergency Response Team members in. Crosson, 48, had a gun to Nona McEwan’s chest, she screamed, and the bullets flew. Wantke didn’t fire his, for fear of hitting the other ERT officers before him.

“The hostage was brought to the kitchen,” he said, for medical help. Wantke did a “wet check” on Const. Darcy Rowe, to make sure he wasn’t hit. “It was very crowded.”

“They were in super, super tight,” he said. “I couldn’t see the paint on the wall, that’s how close they were.

“I couldn’t say how many rounds came from who.”

At the four-minute mark into Crosson’s five-minute warning, the six ERT officers were authorized to go in. “We believed that the suspect was going to imminently kill the hostage,” he said. ”My role was to simply save the hostage any way possible.”

Wantke had been with ERT for four months at the time.

Rowe, the second officer to enter the room, fired his gun. He too recalled the terrifying scene, testifying Friday (April 19) during a coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Crosson and McEwan, 45, both killed by police during the March 29, 2019 hostage-taking in the Whalley house she rented.

Coroner Margaret Janzen is presiding over the inquest in Burnaby, at Coroners’ Court. It’s expected to run for two weeks, with a jury of four women and a man hearing testimony.

Urgency and stress were clear in Rowe’s voice as he recounted the horror.

Smoke and debris hung in the air from the strip charge police used to blast the bedroom door open. A stream of light shone through the window onto the bed. Crosson was “seated up” in the darkness at the corner of the bed, with McEwan on top of him, and he was holding her around her neck.

“I could see the movements of Miss McEwan’s hair,” Rowe said. “I knew that I had to get closer.”

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Crosson pointed his gun at Rowe’s partners. “I see his eyes and he has determined, angry, rage-filled, eyes as he starts pointing out towards my partners. I know now that there’s a bunch of debris in the doorway which has started to tangle in my feet. I’m trying to now get to that contact shot as I’ve seen this change. I now realize that I can’t get to that, but I have to do something in order to stop this threat. I believe that Miss McEwan’s on top of him, as the shield, I take this as a chance to twist and shoot under and hit him in such a way that it will change his behaviour. As I fire, I’m starting to go down from all the debris I’ve been caught up in, the weight of my vest and helmet take me down, and in that instant there’s a moment of fabric and everything which becomes in my view which hadn’t been, and I can’t understand what happened. At that point I come to rest on the corner of the bed.”

Multiple rounds are going off. “I’m stuck on that corner of the bed, laying partially down against it.”

The firing stops but “the yelling and screaming and everything continues, I’m grabbed, people believe I’m shot.”

Rowe got pulled out of the room, taken out of the house through the front and to a vehicle. “I don’t see what has happened and transpired within the room, I don’t know the status of Miss McEwan, Mr. Crosson or my teammates at that point.”

Rowe said he fired two rounds. Asked how many gunshots he heard, Rowe told the inquest “dozens, there was probably more than 30 rounds fired” from different firearms.

A Surrey-based police watchdog – the Independent Investigations Office – in 2020 found the ERT blameless in the shooting deaths. The standoff saw roughly two dozen police vehicles, as well as an armoured vehicle, descend on the home in a cul-de-sac near 132A Street and 100A Avenue.

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Both officers were asked if the phenomenon of sympathetic fire occurred, when officers shoot because others are. “No, absolutely not,” Wantke told the jury.

Rowe said he couldn’t speak to what the other officers did. “I know what I saw and what I reacted to, I don’t know what their risk assessment was at that point or what they saw, so I can’t speak to that, no.”

The inquest continues.

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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