'We were trapped inside': Eyewitness to police shooting at 7-Eleven warns security measures can backfire

A Winnipeg man is questioning tighter security at a 7-Eleven store after he was locked inside with a person armed with a weapon — moments before police responding to the robbery report shot a 16-year-old.

Systems that require customers to be buzzed in through locked doors don't work as deterrent: security expert

Edward Fitzgerald says he and his two children were trapped inside a 7-Eleven store in Winnipeg's West End on Nov. 21, when police responded to a robbery report. Officers shot a 16-year-old during the incident. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

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.

Customers at the 7-Eleven store on Ellice Avenue and Arlington Street say a buzzer system has been in use in recent weeks as a security measure. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

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."

It's unclear if a buzzer system is still being used at the 7-Eleven store on Ellice Avenue and Arlington Street after an incident last week where Fitzgerald and his children were locked inside the store during an alleged robbery. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

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): 

Winnipeg police shooting at 7-Eleven

CBC News Manitoba

1 year ago
Nine shots ring out in this video shot by witness Clifford Boulanger. It shows Winnipeg police officers confronting a teen at a 7-Eleven near the corner of Arlington Street and Ellice Avenue. 1:15

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.

The new secure entrance at the Tyndall Market Liquor Mart requires people to provide valid photo identification, which will be scanned, before entry. Secure entrances like this will be rolled out to all Winnipeg Liquor Marts, says Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries. (Submitted by Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries)

"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.

A gas bar and convenience store across the street from the 7-Eleven does late-night transactions through a secure window instead of allowing customers in the store. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

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."

'We were trapped inside'

CBC News Manitoba

1 year ago
Eyewitness to police shooting at 7-Eleven warns security measures can backfire. 2:20

About the Author

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Marianne has always had a passion for seeking the truth. She began her career anchoring and reporting at CKX Brandon. From there she worked in both TV news and current affairs at CBC Saskatoon. For the past 25 years Marianne has worked in Winnipeg, both in radio and television. She was formerly a teacher in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

With files from Holly Caruk