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Young man who died after B.C. attack was overwhelmed, couldn't pay rent: chief

VICTORIA — A 22-year-old man who went on a rampage and injured 11 people at the office of a British Columbia First Nation lashed out when life became too overwhelming, the band's chief says.

Bridge River Indian Band Chief Susan James said band staff were working with the young man to try and find stable housing and a way to pay his rent.

He walked into the band office Wednesday morning and went around attacking people with a weapon. Two of the victims remain in critical condition and two others suffered serious injuries.

On Friday, the BC Coroners Service identified the man as David James, a member of the Bridge River Indian Band, also known as (Xwisten), located near Lillooet in the province's Interior.

James was not related to Chief James.

"He had complex social and health needs that our staff did not have the resources or training to adequately respond to," the chief said in a news release.

James died Wednesday morning inside the band office. Police said that when officers arrived, he was already restrained and had stopped breathing. They attempted CPR, but he could not be revived.  

Investigations are underway by the RCMP, the coroner and the Independent Investigations Office, which looks into police-involved deaths and serious injuries.

Leaders of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, First Nations Summit and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations issued a joint news release Friday, offering sympathies to the families of those injured in the attack.

Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson said the intergenerational trauma from residential schools is a significant and contributing factor in the tragedy.

"We, as First Nations, continue to face unbearable social conditions which directly impact community safety. We are the poorest of the poor and the most disadvantaged," he said in the release.

First Nations Summit Grand Chief Ed John said the attack is a wake-up call that has exposed the fragile state of the social safety net for many First Nations.

Poverty, unemployment and mental health troubles are some of the long-standing issues that band members face, James said in an interview.

She said staff at First Nations administration offices are often tasked with implementing government-funded assistance programs that leave people feeling short-changed and blaming the office workers.

"The staff have to deal with forcing members to live under what was being imposed upon them (by government)," she said of social assistance programs. "These people work hard and they are committed to their jobs, and they are doing it not for the salary, which is poor, but because they believe in their community."

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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