Alleged Halifax mass shooting plot 'not culturally based' say police

On Friday, Nova Scotia RCMP and Halifax Regional Police said they had foiled a plot by several people to open fire and kill a "large number of individual citizens" in the Halifax area.

Three suspects in custody, one dead

Nova Scotia RCMP Commanding Officer Brian Brennan said a man and woman planned to go to a public venue in the Halifax region on Feb. 14 "with a goal of opening fire to kill citizens, and then themselves." (CBC)

On Friday, Nova Scotia RCMP and Halifax Regional Police said they had foiled a plot by several people to open fire and kill a "large number of individual citizens" in the Halifax area.

Nova Scotia RCMP Commanding Officer Brian Brennan and Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais held a news conference to update the public on the details.

Brennan read a statement, then he and Blais took questions from the media.

What they said

BRENNAN: Good evening.

We've invited you here to provide an update on an ongoing investigation involving the sudden death of a 19-year-old Timberlea male and the arrest of three individuals.

On Thursday morning, information came forward to police regarding a potential significant weapons-related threat. RCMP and Halifax Regional Police officers from the Criminal Investigations Division began an investigation. We want people to know we became aware, we acted quickly and intercepted a threat.

Information suggested that a 19-year-old Timberlea male and a 23-year-old Geneva, Illinois, female had access to firearms and it was their intention to go to a public venue in the Halifax region on February 14th with a goal of opening fire to kill citizens, and then themselves. Evidence also suggested that two other males, ages 20 and 17, of Halifax and Cole Harbour respectively, were involved. Their role is still to be determined as part of the investigation.

Last evening, investigators located the 19-year-old male suspect at a Tiger Maple Avenue residence and at approximately 1:20 a.m., the Emergency Response Team entered his residence and found him deceased. As we previously issued in media release this matter has been referred to the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team for investigation.

At approximately 2 a.m. this morning, police arrested the 20-year-old male and 23-year-old female suspects without incident at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

Shortly after 11 a.m., police went on to arrest the 17-year-old male suspect without incident at a Cole Harbour residence.  All three suspects remain in police custody at this time and the Integrated Criminal Investigations Division continues to investigate.

We believe we have apprehended all known individuals in this matter and eliminated the threat. We are not seeking any further suspects at this time in relation to this investigation. As always we are asking the public to remain vigilant about anything suspicious they may see or hear in their physical or online communities and to not hesitate to report anything to police. Citizens can also report tips anonymously through Crime Stoppers. 

I also want to take this opportunity to recognize the tireless efforts of all those involved from the RCMP, Halifax Regional Police, Geneva Police Department in Illinois and other policing partners, who over the past 36 hours have been able to divert what had the potential to be an extremely tragic incident. As police, our priority is public and officer safety. As the Commanding Officer for the RCMP in Nova Scotia, I am extremely pleased to report that this threat was averted.

Chief Blais and I will now take a few questions. Please note that any questions in regard to the investigation into the death of the male should be directed to the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team. As well, I want everyone to understand that this matter is ongoing so we will not be answering any questions specific to the continuing investigation.

Thank you.

Media questions

QUESTION: Which area in Halifax was the target?

BRENNAN: Well, again, that's part of an ongoing investigation. I can tell you that one specific location, we've been in contact with that location and have explained the threat to them and they are well prepared. But as that is part of the investigation, at this time we are not prepared to release specifics around that.

QUESTION: Can you confirm it was a shopping mall?

BRENNAN: Again, part of the investigation. Cannot answer that specifically.

QUESTION: Was it on the peninsula or in Dartmouth?

BLAIS: At this point in addition to what the Assistant Commissioner had indicated, at the very beginning outset of this investigation there were several areas that were identified. Further inquiries and investigation have allowed us to determine one specific area in the Halifax area.

QUESTION: Can you give us any details about how you found out this information?

BLAIS: Just through the investigation that is ongoing.

QUESTION: Did you get a tip through Crime Stoppers? Or was this something that the police found in their own investigation?

BRENNAN: I can tell you that it was a tip, a source from the public that initiated the initial investigation and then the investigation by the police officers led us to where we are currently today.

On weapons

QUESTION: What kind of weapons did they have?

BRENNAN: Again, that's part of the ongoing investigation and we won't be giving specifics on that.

QUESTION: Did you work with Homeland Security or the FBI on this?

BRENNAN: Again, that's part of the investigation. I can tell you that we are working directly with the Geneva police department in Illinois in the United States. And they would be reaching out to their partner agencies to fulfil their end of the investigation.

QUESTION: Can you confirm if they were going to use shotguns or bombs?

BRENNAN: No, again, part of the investigation. Not in position right now to give specifics around the weapons or the type of devices that may or may not have been considered to be used.

QUESTION: Would you consider this a terrorism threat? Is it home-grown terrorism?

BRENNAN: I wouldn't characterize it as a terrorist event. I would classify it as a group of individuals that had some beliefs and were willing to carry out violent acts against citizens but there's nothing in the investigation to classify it as a terrorist attack or terroist incident.

QUESTION: What do you mean by "some beliefs"?

BRENNAN: Again, that is part of the investigation and we're not in a position right now to discuss that.

On the suspects

QUESTION: Can you say if they were of a jihadist nature? Evangelical, right-winged nature?

BRENNAN: I can tell you that it's not culturally based.

QUESTION: But you aren't ruling out whether this is terrorism?

BRENNAN: We're not ruling anything out until the investigation is concluded. But our investigation is not leading us down that particular avenue at this time.

QUESTION: Was the 17-year-old a student at Cole Harbour High School?

BRENNAN: I can't confirm that because I don't have that information. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate about where he was arrested?

BLAIS: He was arrested in Cole Harbour.

QUESTION: Can you confirm whether a house on Havelock Crescent is also involved in this investigation?

BLAIS: Honestly, we don't have that information ourselves. We don't have that information.

QUESTION: But it was in Cole Harbour, I'm assuming you had a house under investigation?

BLAIS: The individual was arrested in Cole Harbour.

QUESTION: Can you confirm the name of the person who is now deceased.

BRENNAN: Well again, as I mentioned in my statement, that particular investigation is now being led by the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team so any questions related to that particular case should be directed to them.

On the size of the alleged plot

QUESTION: The house was empty other than this person who died. But there's a family that lives there. Can you confirm where they are or if they've been informed?

BRENNAN: Yes, I can confirm that we've been dealing with the family that resides at that residence where the deceased was located and we are working with them and liasing with them in that regard.

QUESTION: Can you characterize how big this plan was for tomorrow? 

BRENNAN: The evidence to date and the information is that had they been able to carry out their plan, the potential was for there to be a large number of individual citizens put at risk and thus, you know, that relates to the potential for how many potentially could have been killed.

QUESTION: Depending on what sorts of weapons they had, there would be a very different casualty count.

BRENNAN: It would also depend on what type of environment they were in. So we're not going to get into specifics about the investigation but as I stated, had they been able to carry out their intentions, the possibility for a large loss of life was definitely there.

QUESTION: Those two arrests at the airport, were they leaving?

BRENNAN: No, one was entering Nova Scotia. The other one was a resident of Halifax.