Aaron Driver's neighbours heard 'scary' bangs, yelling before ISIS sympathizer killed

People in the southern Ontario town where Aaron Driver was killed are in shock as they recall hearing what sounded like gunfire in a police operation that ended the young man's life and thwarted what the RCMP has referred to as a "potential terrorist threat."

'It’s pretty scary to have this in our little town,' says one resident of Strathroy, Ont.

Alecia Campbell Pereira, left, standing with her mother Maria Pereira, said she heard police yelling for someone to drop their weapons and then what sounded like gunfire coming from her neighbour's house. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

Strathroy resident Alecia Campbell Pereira had woken up late Wednesday afternoon after a midnight shift, had some dinner, and went up to her room to relax and watch television when she heard the yelling coming from her neighbour's home.

'Police, put your hands up! Drop your weapons!" she said she heard coming from the house.

"And then I heard noises. Not sure what they were. Sounded like gunshots."

Pereira, weary and still rattled as she recounted what she witnessed, said she looked out her window and was shocked to see several snipers and police officers at the home.

Neighbours forced to evacuate home

"It looked like a setting out of a movie or a Criminal Minds show," said Pereira, who, along with her family was forced by police to evacuate their home. "It was just unbelievable that it could happen in Canada, let alone our tiny town."

The death of 24-year-old Aaron Driver, an ISIS sympathizer killed during a police confrontation after he apparently detonated an improvised explosive device, has certainly rocked the residents of this small southwestern Ontario town.

Under the terms of a peace bond, Aaron Driver, shown here in 2015, was not allowed to associate with any terrorist organization and was prohibited from using a computer or cellphone. (Facebook)

The RCMP had cordoned off a swath of blocks where the police operation took place as investigators continued to comb the area.

At a Thursday afternoon news conference, authorities revealed Driver had made a "martyrdom video" and was planning an attack within 72 hours in an urban centre during rush hour. An FBI tip had alerted them to the "imminent threat," eventually leading police to Strathroy, where Driver was living with his sister.

The takedown of the suspect has certainly overshadowed the town's previous claim to fame as the home of the famous First World War general, Sir Arthur Currie. The last time the area made national news was for a murder-suicide in nearby Lucan, about 15 years ago, said Brad Harness, editor of the local Middlesex Banner.

Harry Denhartog noticed a large increase in police vehicles in town, but thought they were only investigating a store robbery. He heard two loud bangs from his back porch during the police shooting of Aaron Driver on Wednesday. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

Harness said he saw the police in the area on Wednesday but thought, as some other residents did, that officers were just dealing with an armed robbery of a nearby convenience store.

"I thought it was a variety store robbery, but here it's a terrorist in our town," said Harry Denhartog, who had heard two loud bangs from his back porch.

"It's pretty scary to have this in our little town. You would never think this would happen in our town and it's right here."

Brad Harness, editor of the local Middlesex Banner, said the only major crime in Strathroy to make national news headlines was a murder-suicide 15 years ago. (Mark Gollom/CBC)

Driver was intercepted by police as he entered a taxi with a backpack, authorities said, and Driver detonated an explosive device, injuring himself and the taxi driver, before police shot at him. It was unclear whether Driver died as a result of the shrapnel or a police bullet. 

The scene of the takedown is in a quiet residential area, where brick houses dot the street, and located just adjacent to the fairgrounds, site of an aquatic centre visited by kids throughout the day.

'Why would they send him here?

That Driver had been arrested in June 2015 over concerns he could contribute, directly or indirectly, to the activities of a terrorist group, and had been living under a peace bond since February — does not sit well with local homeowners.

"That kind of pisses me off," said Maria Pereira, mother of Alecia. Why would they send him here? When they're a radical, you can't change them."

Police blocked off some roads near the house where Driver was living in Strathroy. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Police inform the public if a sex offender is living among them, added Maria Melo. "But if he's a terrorist, they don't tell nobody."

Melo, whose home is across from where Driver was killed, had exchanged greetings with him from time to time, never having an extensive conversation, but adding that he appeared to be normal.

She, too, watched from her window Wednesday as the events unfolded.

Police kept watch around the Strathroy house on Wednesday night. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press)

She went to investigate after hearing a "big noise" and yelling outside, thinking it was just boys playing.

But when she opened the door, police yelled at her to "Close the door! Be inside," she said.

She closed and locked the door, but through her window saw police speaking to a man in a white vehicle, wearing a white shirt and shorts, being forced to go to his knees. She said she didn't know if this man, who wasn't Driver, had anything to do with the incident.

Joanne Vanderheyden, the mayor of Strathroy-Caradoc, said she was shocked and very angry that Driver could shatter the calm of this community.

"We're going to put this behind us."

She said she had been briefed that a "person of interest" was living in the town, but given very few details about him because of privacy legislation.

Vanderheyden said Driver had been "imported here" from Winnipeg, a fact that angers her.

"You don't send your problems somewhere else. This is small town southwestern Ontario."

Harness said Driver's presence in the area definitely raises a lot of questions.

"What was he doing here? Did the local police know he was living here?

"I hope they knew he was on a watch list. Was he being surveyed more closely than a normal person? You would like to think so. I like to think the local police were aware of it."


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With a file from The Canadian Press