A convicted murderer who escaped from a New Brunswick prison Wednesday evening is back in custody, according to the RCMP.

Police said in a statement Thursday night Steven Bugden, 45, was arrested at about 8:30 p.m. AT in a wooded area between Dorchester and Sackville.

Bugden, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1997, escaped from the minimum-security unit at Dorchester Penitentiary, which is about 30 kilometres southeast of Moncton and has multiple security levels.

According to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), staff members discovered Bugden was not there during an inmate count around 10 p.m. on Wednesday. He was last accounted for at 4 p.m. when recreation started at the minimum-security sector.

A manhunt was immediately launched. 

Dorchester

Employees at Dorchester Penitentiary, a multi-level security federal institution, discovered that Bugden was not accounted for late Wednesday evening. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh, media relations officer for the New Brunswick RCMP, said Bugden was arrested by RCMP officers alone in a wooded area. She said it's unclear at the moment if he had any contact with the public.

She couldn't say Thursday night if new charges will be laid.

Émile Belliveau, assistant warden with management services at the prison, described Bugden's departure as more of a "walk out" than an escape.

"There's no walls that separate this sector from the community … this is the last step for them to be introduced into the society," he said.

"If an inmate decides he wants to leave, he can do so on his own." Still, he said, "we take this very seriously."

Bugden is serving a life sentence for the murder of Angela Tong, a 22-year-old Carleton University student who was stabbed 19 times at an Ottawa hotel in March 1997. In announcing his escape, CSC said Bugden was serving an indeterminate sentence.

'I think what it shows you is that there's probably darkness in everybody's heart.' — Gerry Brinkman, former roommate

The service said it immediately contacted the RCMP, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

The prison was searched by correctional officers while RCMP, with the help of a police dog, searched the surrounding area, according to the police.

The dog was brought in because Bugden left during a winter storm and police wanted to "find him immediately," said acting Cpl. Dan Hilchie, with the RCMP's Sackville detachment. 

"The weather wasn't very co-operative," Hilchie said.

Although the area outside the prison is well-lit, it was dark when Bugden left, Hilchie said.

Reliving what happened

A man who knew both Tong and Bugden told CBC News he was shocked, saddened and "a little disturbed" when he heard of the escape. Gerry Brinkman, a 50-year-old Baptist student pastor in Ottawa, said it's tough having to relive what happened in 1997.

Brinkman said Tong attended a Bible study group he ran at Carleton and that he lived with Bugden at the time of the murder.

"It's very difficult," Brinkman said. "I think what it shows you is that there's probably darkness in everybody's heart."

Gerry Brinkman

Gerry Brinkman, an Ottawa-based Baptist pastor who once lived with Bugden, urged him to surrender. (CBC)

Denied day parole

The prison's minimum-security sector consists of housing units, which include a shared living area for four to six inmates. Bugden was placed there because he was considered a low risk to the public, Belliveau said. 

"There's all kinds of tools we use here to evaluate the risk [posed by] this individual," he said. 

He was denied both day parole and unescorted temporary absences in 2009, according to the Parole Board of Canada.

The board's decision said police didn't support the request and parole officers believed Bugden "should cascade to a minimum-security institution" as a more gradual release plan while taking psychotherapy sessions before reapplying for conditional release. The CSC also recommended denying the request.

The decision noted Bugden verbalized a willingness to receive therapy, but the risk to the community remained "unmanageable" at that time.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said incorrectly that Steven Bugden escaped late Thursday evening. In fact, he escaped late Wednesday.
    Feb 08, 2018 10:09 AM AT
With files from Kayla Hounsell