Winnipeg teens plead guilty to shooting plot at schools, church

| September 30, 2009

WINNIPEG — In a case police have described as "almost surreal," two troubled Winnipeg teens have admitted to planning a random shooting rampage inside three Winnipeg-area schools and a church.

The 17-year-old boy and his 18-year-old girlfriend — who can’t be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act because they were both youths at the time — pleaded guilty in a brief court appearance Tuesday to conspiracy to commit murder.

Police arrested the pair in January 2008 and said they planned to "harm a number of persons at random."

"This included students, adults, church parishioners and pretty much anyone that was going to get in their way," said Const. Jacqueline Chaput at the time of the arrests.

"There would have been a large quantity of people harmed at the same time."

The teens had already stockpiled weapons, but police say plans unravelled when the would-be killers made separate suicide bids that landed them in hospital and resulted in admissions to mental health officials and police.

Sentencing was adjourned Tuesday until later this fall. The Crown told court both accused have agreed to be raised to adult court. The maximum sentence is life in prison. There is no mandatory minimum sentence.

Both teens have been in custody without bail for the past 20 months. They have no prior criminal records.

Crown attorney Susan Baragar said Tuesday the murder conspiracy relates to planned attacks at Fort Richmond Collegiate, the University of Manitoba, Lorette Collegiate and the Church of the Rock.

Family members granted exclusive interviews to the Winnipeg Free Press last year.

The mother of the young man said he had been "in a very dark place" for several months and resisting help from his family, school and medical professionals. The boy had been experiencing a wave of emotional problems since his mother separated from his father about a year ago, she said.

He went to live with his dad, while his two siblings stayed with her.

The mother said she took her son to some counselling sessions, but he stopped going. The staff at his high school has also been "top-notch" in working with him on his emotional issues, she said.

The boy’s father described him as a very artistic, polite and well-respected son and student who was prone to emotional outbursts and immaturity as a result of living with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism.

Things reached a crisis point on Jan. 7 when the boy deliberately swallowed laundry detergent after getting into a fight with his girlfriend, his father said. Police came calling two days later in response to a Crime Stoppers tip about four rifles, a pellet gun and bullets the boy had allegedly stolen weeks earlier from a relative’s home in Portage la Prairie, Man., and then hidden inside his father’s house.

Around the same time, the father confronted his son’s girlfriend about the stolen guns. She responded later that night by slashing her wrists in a suicide bid and had to be rushed to hospital. The boy’s father said it was days later that the family, along with police, learned of the alleged intentions for the weapons.

"My son told me, ‘I only wanted to hurt myself, Dad,’ but I don’t know what to believe," the father said.

Mark Hughes, the pastor at Church of the Rock, told the Free Press he was shocked to learn his congregation was being targeted for a massacre.

He knew the young male suspect as a boy who had found solace in the church, only to stop attending the church several months before his arrest.

Hughes described the teen as "a real loner" who used to show up for services by himself. He would listen intently, but speak little to others.

"He’s one of those kind of dark, brooding individuals. He had the dark look, the dress, the music," Hughes said. "We figured he was probably a bit of a troubled kid looking for some help."

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Category: Church Security

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