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Attack at B.C. First Nation office leaves community reeling: chief

Credit: CP

LILLOOET, B.C. — A man who died following a rampage in a British Columbia First Nations community went from office to office beating employees with a weapon before he could be stopped, says the chief of the Bridge River Indian Band.

Susan James said her village of less than 400 people is reeling following the attack that left 11 people injured. The unnamed man who died was also a member of the band and is reported to have used a hammer.

"This person entered several offices," James said about Wednesday's attack. "There wasn't an awareness of what was taking place. He just entered three offices, kind of in a row, and inflicted injury in those offices before anybody noticed that something was happening."

RCMP said they were called just before 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to a report of a man with a weapon at the office of the Bridge River Indian Band, also known as the Xwisten, about nine kilometres northwest of the Interior community of Lillooet.

Officers arrived to find the suspect restrained. He was arrested, but police said they were unable to transport him because he was unconscious and unresponsive. He could not be revived.

James said three of the victims with the most serious injuries are women who work for the band. They remain in hospital in Kamloops. She said the band's administrator and another man, who was visiting the office, were also injured and are still in hospital.

James didn't name the man who died, but said he was young.

"I can't say that he had a mental episode," she said. "I just know he's a band member who didn't have a job, wasn't employed, and was living in the community and obviously needed some kind of help that we weren't giving him."

James said poverty, unemployment and mental health troubles are long-standing issues among band members. She said the man wasn't considered dangerous.

"Who can expect that someone can be that violent. I personally can't."

She said she expects the community to do some deeply personal soul-searching to examine what kind of emotional and social support it can offer members.

"Our communities suffer from a lot of intergenerational trauma," James said.

She said issues such as providing help to band members and giving them proper access to such support must be resolved in the wake of the tragedy.

"This is real," James said. "This is not just something that we raise and say, 'Communities need more access to mental health (care) or need more help in addressing the poverty that exists on reserve.'"

The man's death has prompted an investigation by B.C.'s Independent Investigations Office, which is called after serious police-involved incidents.

Coroner Barb McLintock said the BC Coroners Service was also sending a team to launch an investigation.

Michaela Swan of the Interior Health authority said five patients remained in hospital — two in critical condition, two in serious condition and one with non-life-threatening injuries.

""There certainly are some pretty serious injuries involved and we're monitoring the situation closely," Swan said.

Five other patients were released from hospital Wednesday, she said.

-- By Dirk Meissner in Victoria

The Canadian Press

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