Mounties are at a loss to explain how a man holed up in his home for an eight-day standoff near St. John's slipped unnoticed through police lines and left officers to guard an empty house.
Tactical police were still staked out at Leo Crockwell's home in Bay Bulls Saturday when a tip from the public revealed he was gone. Following up on the lead, police say they arrested him without incident in a community about 20 kilometres from his town.
"For him to get through all this [police presence]is unreal," Bay Bulls resident Angus O'Brien said Sunday. "[My sister]took coffee down to the police [Saturday]morning and they were still guarding - didn't know he was gone," he said. "It kind of leaves a doubt there, with all the forces, for this to happen the way it did."
The standoff began, police say, following an allegation that Mr. Crockwell, 55, had assaulted his sister and threatened her with a gun.
By Friday evening police were flooding the house with water, which RCMP spokesman Sergeant Boyd Merrill said in an e-mail exchange made it harder to monitor Mr. Crockwell's movements. The officer said the suspect probably escaped Saturday morning but that police "may never know" how he got by them.
Mr. Crockwell appeared in a St. John's court Sunday to face 16 charges. These include five counts of attempted murder, the alleged targets being police officers. The Mounties say he had two rifles and a shotgun and had fired at officers and their equipment several times during the long standoff.
Bay Bulls Mayor Harold Mullowney commended police for their restraint during the standoff. He said the peaceful resolution was welcome but that he too was perplexed by how the situation had ended.
"It's certainly going to be a topic of conversation for a time to come," he said. "Hopefully there'll be a postmortem on what was done right and what if anything was done wrong."
Sgt. Merrill said an internal review has been launched. "As much as we would like it to be we are often reminded that police work is not an exact science," he wrote Sunday. "We simply do the best job we can and from the hundreds of responses we have received the public agrees."
Sgt. Merrill defended the initial statement Saturday from police, which made no mention of Mr. Crockwell's escape from the house.
"It was done seconds after the arrest was confirmed and prior to all facts being made available to me," he explained. "We wanted the public to know that the subject was captured and the community was safe as fast as possible and we would release the details later."
Officers in Bay Bulls employed escalating tactics over the eight days, including the use of tear gas and finally flooding.
"The introduction of water into the residence of Leo Crockwell, the turning off of the power and the use of noise has resulted in his safe arrest today at approx 12:00 without incident," police said in a statement issued early afternoon Saturday.
This statement did not mention that he had in fact been arrested in Petty Harbour, a town between Bay Bulls and St. John's. The release specified that there would be no further information until Monday but, amid swirling rumours, a follow-up four hours later painted a more complete picture of what had happened.
"The noise created by the introduction of the water affected our ability to use audio and video assets, which had been engaged to monitor Crockwell's movements in the home," the latter release explained. "As a result he managed to leave the home by a yet unknown exit."