'We were trapped inside': Eyewitness to police shooting at 7-Eleven warns security measures can backfire
Systems that require customers to be buzzed in through locked doors don't work as deterrent: security expert
An eyewitness to the shooting of a teen by police at a Winnipeg convenience store last week warns the security measures some stores are using to curb thefts may actually put customers in danger.
Edward Fitzgerald says he was at a 7-Eleven store at Arlington Street and Ellice Avenue on Nov. 21 when police responded to a robbery report — an incident that ended with police shooting a 16-year-old.
He says in recent weeks, the convenience store has been locking its doors during the day as well as the evening — requiring customers to be buzzed both in and out by staff.
He said just after 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 21, he and his two children went to the store for a hot chocolate. Shortly after they were buzzed in by staff, Fitzgerald heard his son screaming about someone with a shiny weapon.
"My kids were crying, and I tried to calm them down and get out. But the door was locked. We were trapped inside," says Fitzgerald.
"As the clerk was freaking out, I screamed for her to open the door and let me and my kids out. She opened the till and ran back with another employee, and locked herself in the back room. I was screaming, but we couldn't get out."
He says he didn't dare look the person with the weapon in the eye. His instinct was to protect his children, he said, by holding them tight.
"It was so traumatic for my children. I didn't want us to become hostages. I managed to kick the door open — I don't know how I got it open, but I kicked it out. By then police were outside," he said.
See witness video of the shooting (WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT):
Fitzgerald and his children bolted out, hiding at the side of the building.
"It was like me and my kids were in a movie. I couldn't believe it.… It was nuts. Police telling people to get back. Guns drawn. I heard 'pop, pop, pop.'"
In videos of the incident obtained by CBC News, someone inside the 7-Eleven store can be seen banging an object against the glass doors.
Another eyewitness told CBC News last week the man was trying to break the window to get out because the doors were locked.
In the video, police are seen surrounding the entrance, after which the person walks out holding something above his head.
Moments later he was shot. Nine shots can be heard in the video.
"I didn't look at the man being shot but I could smell the gunpowder," said Fitzgerald.
The teen was taken to hospital in critical condition, police said last week. They have not announced any charges against the 16-year-old, and the province's police watchdog is investigating the shooting.
Fitzgerald says he has contacted victim services to get help for his nine-year-old daughter, who is still having nightmares after the incident and doesn't want to go into stores.
'It becomes a hazard': expert
One security expert says locking people inside a store fuels the "flight or fight" response — and that can be dangerous.
"They are trapped inside and it becomes a hazard. People's lives are at risk," said Ron D'Errico, owner and CEO of Impact Security.
"The first thing they do is [try] desperately to get out. They can get hurt."
Winnipeg police would not confirm any details about the security system in place at the 7-Eleven at the time of the robbery. CBC has requested comment from 7-Eleven's corporate office.
Locked doors with buzzer systems are one measure retailers are using to try to curb thefts and robberies. Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries has also turned to locking its doors to combat a spike in thefts at its stores.
Earlier this week, the province's first Liquor Mart outfitted with a secure entrance opened in the Tyndall Park area. Customers will now have to show identification at a security station before being allowed inside the store, through locked doors.
A gas bar across the street from the 7-Eleven uses a secure window after 10:30 p.m. and does not allow customers inside the store.
"One of the things that I am seeing is that people are definitely trying new ideas. We're in a dark time in our city," said D'Errico.
"Everyone is desperate to try different techniques and different recipes to solve the dilemma at hand."
But he warns the buzz-in, buzz-out system doesn't really work as a deterrent, and may actually create a false sense of security.
As well, it leads to situations in which staff have to decide who to allow into the store.
"It puts us in a dangerous society where we are basically stereotyping, or we're just sending the wrong message to the community, which can lead to consequences with people boycotting the store, or problems for the retailer," he said.
D'Errico said the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries approach of asking for ID before allowing entry won't be foolproof, but it will add a layer of deterrence and prevent repeat offenders flagged by Liquor & Lotteries from getting into the stores.
But asking for ID at smaller convenience stores like his neighbourhood 7-Eleven isn't realistic, said Fitzgerald.
"I don't know what the answer is. I know this area has been getting a bit rougher lately."
With files from Holly Caruk