A Sheriff is taken to a waiting ambulance after being shot in the Whitecourt Alberta courthouse.
Credits: Johnna Ruocco/Whitecourt Star/QMI Agency
It was around 11:30 a.m. when Whitecourt Star reporter Johnna Ruocco began to hear a ruckus in the back room where the prisoners are held.
"It was like a banging," said Ruocco, one of 25 people inside the courthouse for docket court. "We could hear the commotion and everything quieted in the court."
When a sheriff went into the back room, Ruocco heard more thuds and bangs. Suddenly, five to six gun shots were fired, creating panic throughout the courtroom.
"As soon as the shots rang out everybody started getting up and running," said Ruocco. "One of the Crown prosecutors was yelling, ‘run, run!'"
Ruocco said an ambulance showed up moments later outside the courthouse where the crowd was standing in shock and disbelief.
The sheriff who had responded to the commotion was wheeled into the ambulance on a stretcher, grimacing in pain, his hand covered with blood. His injuries are considered non-life-threatening.
"A lot of people were very freaked out that it happened at a courthouse and it happened in Whitecourt," said Ruocco.
"It was a surreal moment, like, is this really happening?"
The two prisoners were on the run for more than an hour before they were arrested at a rural property south of Whitecourt.
Police set up road blocks around the town and schools were placed on lockdown until the early afternoon.
"We're treating this very seriously and we're engaged in the investigation," said RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Josee Valiquette.
Police will not confirm witness accounts that the sheriff's gun was the weapon used in the escape.
Whitecourt Mayor Trevor Thain said he believes the suspects were from the town arrested and charged with drug trafficking last week. The accused were scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday.
"There's a criminal element in most communities," he said, noting the shooting caused chatter throughout the town.
"It's just an incident that you wish hadn't happened."
The wounded sheriff is employed with the prisoner transport section of the Alberta sheriffs and security operations. As news about the shooting spread, Canada's Public Safety Minister Vic Toews offered his condolences on Twitter.
"My thoughts and prayers are with the Alberta Sheriff and RCMP members involved in the shooting," said Toews in the tweet.
Whitecourt is located about 180 km northwest of Edmonton.