Burns Lake residents in shock: 'Nobody knows what to say, nobody knows what to think'

Burns Lake RCMP have said they believe there could be more sexual assault victims after former mayor Luke Strimbold was charged last week with 24 sex-related crimes, some of which involve minors.

B.C. villagers stunned after former mayor charged with 24 sex-related crimes

Luke Strimbold in 2012, during his tenure as mayor of Burns Lake, B.C. Elected at the age of 21, Strimbold was the youngest mayor in B.C. history. (CBC)

The village of Burns Lake in B.C.'s central Interior has been shocked into silence by a series of sex-related charges against former mayor Luke Strimbold, a popular local figure.

Many community leaders are remaining quiet about the 24 charges against Strimbold including sexual assault, sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching and sexual exploitation, some of which involve minors. 

None of the allegations has been proven in court. 

Strimbold, 27, served as mayor from 2011 until he resigned midway through his second term in 2016.

The Village of Burns Lake, B.C., has fewer than 2,000 residents, many of whom don't want to talk about sex-related charges against the community's 27-year-old former mayor. (Andrew Kurjata)

The current mayor has declined to speak about the charges until after meeting with council Tuesday night.

Burns Lake RCMP have said they believe there could be more alleged victims and have encouraged them to reach out to investigators.

The school district sent an email to CBC stating it would offer support should officials become aware of any students who are victims.

One person who did speak was councillor Susan Schienbein, who served alongside Strimbold. She said she believes it's important for leaders to show solidarity with potential victims, while remembering the charges have not been tested in court.

"I guess as a leader, with things that have been going ... on in the world, I'm hoping that people are getting the help that they need and the support that they need and making sure they find somebody safe to talk to," she said.

Burns Lake councillor Susan Schienbein. (Andrew Kurjata)

Schienbein  said she was "shocked" to learn of the allegations, and that it made her reflect on her time working alongside Strimbold.

"I think it probably goes through everybody's mind," she said. "We're wondering."

She says many people are staying silent because they're stunned by the allegations against a well-known and well-respected member of the "tight-knit" community of fewer than 2,000 people.

"Nobody knows what to say, nobody knows what to think," she said.

"I've had Twitter messages, I've had messages on Facebook, I've had people calling me, emailing me, asking me for more information. I have no information."

Meanwhile, B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said Monday he did not have any prior knowledge of Strimbold's arrest and that Strimbold resigned as the party's membership chair soon as allegations against him were made public last Friday.

Wilkinson said he and the rest of his party found out about the Strimbold's arrest and the allegations when it was reported by media.

Wilkinson said the party "indirectly" reached out to Strimbold asking him to resign and that Strimbold did so immediately.

"It was one of those sad and tragic things that you reflect on and think, this is a very unfortunate turn of events," Wilkinson said.

Chief Wilf Adam of the Lake Babine First Nation. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Carrier Sekani Family Services and the Lake Babine First Nation, which serve the region, have said they are working to bring in counsellors and give people a discreet way to meet with them.

Lake Babine Chief Wilf Adam encouraged anyone affected to ask for help and for other victims to reach out to RCMP.

"We will make sure that justice will be served," he said. "And we will make sure they get the help that they need."

Scienbein echoed those remarks.

"I have to be confident that the RCMP and the justice system are going to do what's necessary to resolve this," she said.

With files from Megan Thomas and Angela Sterritt

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

@akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and digital journalist in northern British Columbia, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. Email: andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca | Twitter: @akurjata | Secure PGP: http://www.akurjata.ca