OTTAWA - The flood of information pouring into 911 during the terrorist crisis here fed the confusion that kept MPs and thousands of others in the dark for many hours while security forces hunted for a second shooter, the Ottawa police chief says.
“When these types of incidents take place, they are very fluid, they are very dynamic and police officials and law enforcement officials receive information from a number of sources,” Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau said Thursday.
“Before we can discount any of that information, we have to verify that,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday’s rampage in Ottawa by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who killed a soldier and then died in a shootout in the Parliament building.
For several hours Wednesday, rumours flew about a shooting at the Chateau Laurier Hotel down the street from Parliament and at the nearby Rideau Centre mall. There was frightened talk of two or three shooters. Armed police and military squads surged around the hotel and the mall, part of a search that would by evening cover most of the three-block area around Parliament Hill.
Bordeleau explained that someone called the 911 call centre and said there was a carjacking and shooting at the Rideau Centre. But “the actual carjacking took place on Parliament Hill.
“There were also reports of other shots being fired from the Parliament buildings in a specific room. There were reports of an individual seen on the roof of Parliament with a gun,” he told the media.
“So those are the reasons why we had to go under the assumption that there was more than one individual involved in this attack,” he said.
Through interviews, searching the Parliament buildings room by room and looking at video of Zehaf-Bibeau’s actions, police determined there was only one shooter and relaxed the lockdown in the Ottawa core by about 8 p.m.
MPs, tens of thousands of government employees and others were in lockdown for up to 10 hours. After enduring the shock of the attack in the hall near the Commons, MPs spent many hours wondering how much danger they were in and trying to find out what was going on from television reports.
“It was a panic everywhere, and nobody knew what to do, really,” Toronto Liberal MP Judy Sgro said.
“I would have thought that there was a way to keep us better informed,” she said. “But it was just chaos and they were too busy trying to get on top of it to give us any information. We were locked down: ‘Stay inside and don’t go out until you hear from us.’ ”
NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison said, “I was one of the people who was in the NDP caucus room where a bullet nearly came through the door. I was in a lockdown for eight hours. I do not know what happened. I am looking forward to the police (and) security reports. Then we can draw conclusions about what ought to be done.”
Garrison, who has worked for non-government organizations in troubled countries, said confusion is normal in a crisis.
“Given my experience previously working in conflict zones — I worked in Afghanistan, I worked in East Timor, I worked in Indonesia, I was subjected to gunfire in the 2010 elections in the Philippines — I know that at the moment you do not know what’s happening,” he said. “You only know what measures you have to take to keep people safe.”