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Bizarre rampage leaves two dead and a small Ontario town shaken

Post office in Tamworth Ontario part of crime scene in double shooting February 27, 2014.

FRED THORNHILL/The Globe and Mail

It was around 5 p.m. when the red pickup truck came barrelling up to the Hannah funeral home in the tiny hamlet of Tamworth, Ont. A man jumped out and came to the screen door yelling incoherently. He pulled at the door, but it was locked. Alarmed, Lindsey Hannah tried to let him in, but couldn't get the door open.

Then Mr. Hannah noticed the blood on the man's face. There was blood on his sweater too. The man had a crazed look in his eye, Mr. Hannah's wife Brenda recalled in an interview Thursday. He decided to keep the door shut.

"Then the guy yelled, 'Call 911. MacLeod has been murdered,'" Ms. Hannah said. He got back into his pickup and drove away.

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The man was Morton Lewis, a local handyman and trapper, and he is believed to be responsible for a series of bizarre, violent incidents in Tamworth and neighbouring Erinsville that left two dead and two injured and local residents struggling to explain how their communities – north of Napanee in rural eastern Ontario – could be the site of six separate crime scenes.

After leaving the funeral home, Mr. Lewis ran a woman off the road and then tried to strangle her, shot a firefighter and threatened a beloved postal worker at gunpoint, local residents said. It ended with a police chase up a county road. As a police officer closed in on Mr. Lewis' truck, a single shot was fired inside the cab. Mr. Lewis, 59, was found dead.

Also found dead Wednesday was Charles MacLeod Thomas, known to locals as MacLeod. He was described as a hermit-like figure who had been living in a barn since his house burned down a few years earlier.

Mr. Lewis told an acquaintance a few days ago that he was in a trapping dispute with Mr. Thomas. Mr. Lewis leased a plot where he trapped beavers and muskrats, said the acquaintance, who spoke with him three or four days ago.

"He told me at the time that he had an issue with trapping rights," the acquaintance said. "He told me about somebody who lived in a barn and that he was part of what he was talking about … he mentioned this fellow who lived in a barn."

A father of two grown children, Mr. Lewis was the town's fix-it man, earning some money repairing cars, tractors and lawnmowers. He lived in the basement of his house, renting the upper floor. He also had a small runway on his property which he used to fly his ultralight aircraft.

"My head is still spinning because it doesn't seem like the Mort that I knew," said the acquaintance. "He seemed a pretty calm and easy-going fellow … I think about it and I can't believe it."

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After Mr. Lewis left the funeral home, Mr. Hannah decided to chase after him in his car to get his licence plate number. On his way out he passed his cousin, Karen Cassidy, who was driving in the other direction. After a few minutes of fruitless searching, Mr. Hannah turned around and looped back. He came across Ms. Cassidy's car, which was smashed up and abandoned at the side of the road. He phoned his wife, who tracked down Ms. Cassidy, who was hiding in a nearby house with her husband.

"What happened is this guy had done a loop and ran her off the road," Ms. Hannah explained. "Got beside her car and rammed her and knocked her off the road, crashed her car. She broke her ankle. And then he got in the car and tried to choke her. I don't know how that played out. There was somebody in a car behind them that stopped to help. I don't know if that scared him off. Anyway he got back in his truck and he drove away."

Ms. Cassidy is recovering at hospital in Kingston, Ont, awaiting surgery on her ankle.

Mr. Lewis also crashed into two garages at homes about half a kilometer from the Hannah funeral home. Colleen Kidd was at home when she heard "an awful crash."

"He just drove into my laneway and into my garage where my van was sitting," Ms. Kidd said. "By the time I got outside he was gone." He also drove into the neighbour's garage, causing damage to the door.

At some point he went to the local post office in Tamworth, where he encountered firefighter Chase Wayte. What happened is unclear, but Mr. Wayte was shot in the arm near the post office, a neighbour said. His injury is not considered life-threatening.

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"Everyone I spoke to is shaken up. I know the family of the firefighter. They are just glad he is okay and God was watching over him," the neighbour said. District fire chief Richard Easterbrook confirmed that a local firefighter had an injury that was not life-threatening.

"No words can describe what happened today in Tamworth," fire captain Tim Kidd wrote on his Facebook page at 3:20 a.m. "I pray I never see this horrible carnage again."

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About the Authors
Demographics Reporter

Joe Friesen writes about immigration, population, culture and politics. He was previously the Globe's Prairie bureau chief. More

National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

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