A Winnipeg hockey tournament ended in fear and confusion as kids, families and players ran from the arena, saying someone pulled out a gun.
"There was a big commotion over there and then some people ran by screaming, said, 'Get out, there's guys with guns.' I just kept on staying — I thought they were just joking or something," said Albert Sutherland, who was at the Dakota Community Centre, where his 11-year-old grandson had just played in the Southeast Tribal Days tournament at the Jonathan Toews Sportsplex.
"A few seconds later, about 20, 30 people come running around the corner and they said, 'Get out, run, run, there's guys with guns.'"
Shortly after the incident, which happened around 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the arena in St. Vital, people started posting photos and videos online, showing people running and shouting outside the community centre.
One woman posted a Facebook Live video, talking about the incident as it was happening. People can be heard screaming and crying and police can be seen running into the arena.
Police on Sunday said reports of a gun were false and would only refer to the incident as a "disturbance." A spokesperson said none of the individuals had firearms and to their knowledge, no one had any type of weapon.
"At the end of the day, this is not a major incident," he said.
However, those statements changed Monday morning when police said a replica handgun was seen during a fight that broke out inside the arena. No one was seriously hurt in the incident, police added.
Three men charged
According to police, three men went to the arena and started the fight with three other men.
Just as staff and security personnel jumped in and separated the two groups, one of the men was seen holding a handgun, police said at a news conference. The man, who was already being held, was disarmed and the gun was found to be a pellet gun.
Two men from Winnipeg and one from Bloodvein First Nation, 240 kilometres north of Winnipeg, have been charged in connection to the incident.
- The 28-year-old man from Bloodvein is charged with three counts of assault, possession of a weapon, failure to comply with a previous court order.
- The 29-year-old man from Winnipeg is charged with three counts of assault, possession of a weapon, and failure to comply with a previous court order.
- The 23-year-old man from Winnipeg is charged with three counts of assault and failure to comply with a previous court order.
The other three people involved in the fight were spectators at a game when they were attacked but police spokesman Const. Rob Carver doesn't believe the fight had any connection to the tournament.
"I don't think specifically this was a hockey-related issue. There may have been some longstanding issue between the parties," he said.
Carver added that although the gun was a replica, it's extremely difficult to distinguish from a real one at a glance.
"Replica guns are almost exact copies," he said. "No one, in the heat of the moment, could know that [it was a replica]. It must have been terrifying for the people there."
Sutherland, who travelled from Peguis First Nation to Winnipeg with his family, was standing in line with his grandson at the canteen when he heard "loud noises" around the corner.
He and his grandson ran out of the building and into the parking lot, where he found his wife and the rest of his family.
"We split in the parking lot because there was people that I knew, their kids were missing and they were crying. So we tried to help them a bit and talked to them there," Sutherland said, adding that in the moment, the worst thoughts went through his mind, too.
"It's quite scary to be — you hear this on the news, you know, and you see these things happening in Quebec, there, you know, it's really scary," he said.
"When there's a whole bunch of people assembled, some people, they think they can just come shooting innocent people. That's what came across my mind there."
The Southeast Resource Development Council Corp., which runs the hockey tournament, issued a news release on Monday, thanking police and the local security officers for their quick response.
The game being played at the time was cancelled and all players and staff were rushed off the ice, according to SERDC, which is an organization of eight First Nations from southeastern Manitoba.
Counseling through crisis teams is being offered to anyone impacted by the incident, SERDC said.