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Manhunt for Moncton shooting suspect continues

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police posted this picture on their Facebook site on Wednesday, June 4, 2014, with a warning that they are searching in north Moncton for 24-year-old Justin Bourque.

Viktor Pivovarov/Moncton Times & Transcript

An RCMP manhunt for a gunman suspected of killing three Mounties and wounding two others passed the 12-hour mark today in Moncton as a large section of the New Brunswick city was under a virtual siege.

Follow the Globe's live coverage here.

The Mounties who were killed were gunned down in an ambush, police sources tell The Globe and Mail.

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Heavily armed RCMP officers patrolled the small city overnight in the search for 24-year-old Justin Bourque, a Moncton man who was wearing military camouflage and carrying two rifles in a picture of him released by police on Twitter. The RCMP released a map of a large portion of the northwest section of the city, including a heavily wooded area, where they wanted people to remain inside with their doors locked.

Late Wednesday, the RCMP in New Brunswick tweeted a photo of the suspect, who they said was armed and dangerous. They urged anyone with information on his whereabouts to call 911.

The two injured officers were being treated for wounds that the RCMP described as non life-threatening.

They warned people to expect roadblocks and traffic disruptions.

Schools and government offices were closed, and the city pulled its buses off the roads.

Constable Damien Theriault broke down in tears at a media briefing as he spoke of the deaths of his three colleagues late Wednesday night.

"We are professionals," Theriault said. "We will ensure the security of the public. We are going to do that."

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Vanessa Bernatchez was enjoying a few drinks in her family's backyard when a neighbour yelled at them to get inside.

"There's a man outside," she recalls the neighbour saying. "He's shooting cops."

Moments later they heard gunshots and ran inside, locking the doors behind them. From inside the house they peeked out the front windows and noticed other neighbours milling around.

"We yelled at them 'get in the house, get in the house,'" she said.

She decided she had to alert friends in the area about the man with the guns, so she started recording a short video that she intended to send out through social media as a warning to stay away.  She had no idea it would eventually get replayed by news outlets around the world.

That's when an unmarked police car rolled up and a plainclothes police officer stepped out. He was wearing a flak vest. Ms. Bernatchez said he kept turning around because he didn't know the direction of the shooter. That's when family members noticed a shadow growing larger between two houses next door.

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"We knew it was the shooter right away," she said. "We banged on the windows to let the officer know. We yelled 'turnaround.' Then there was a shot. The officer went down. He got shot in the neck."

Despite his mortal wound, the officer managed to squeeze off two shots from his handgun as he fell to the ground, according to Ms. Bernatchez.

"He was still trying to get that shooter, but as soon as he hit the ground, he stopped moving."

For Ms. Bernatchez, the most chilling part was still to come. They saw the shooter clearly. He was wearing a hat and had dark smudges beneath his eyes. The family watched through the front window as the shooter calmly raised his rifle and walked away slowly.

"He just walked away as if it was no big deal," she said. "That's what made me sick to my stomach."

Ms. Bernatchez ran to the phone and called 911. She gave her location and the officer's condition. The operator suggested the officer could be playing dead.

"I said 'No, there's too much blood. He's not moving.'"

Within 10 minutes, her street was flooded with police.

"We told them he went toward the woods and the highway. We've been in the house ever since. I haven't slept."

Danny Leblanc, 42, said he saw the shooter in the distance Wednesday evening, wearing a camouflage outfit and standing in the middle of the street with a gun pointed at police cars.

The construction worker said he believed it was an RCMP officer until he heard a burst of automatic gunfire coming from the man's gun.

"That guy was standing on the road afterwards and he was looking towards us," he said.

He said he quickly retreated into his home with his family, adding a neighbour posted on social media that a kitchen window was shattered by gunfire.

Leblanc said few people on his normally quiet street were sleeping as they awaited word at midnight on whether arrests had been made.

"It's just crazy. We're chatting with our friends on Facebook and we're not going to bed until this guy is caught. I'm sure nobody in Moncton is sleeping because he seems to be all over the place," he said. The deaths of the three officers has shocked the city, he said.

"It's devastating. I don't know if he was on a hunt for them, or what," said Leblanc.

Helicopters whirred overhead overnight, the sound of police sirens and the light from passing armoured vehicles streamed into homes like that of Bill Daigle, who was outside doing lawn work with his wife when he heard what he first thought were fireworks but later proved gunfire just one block from his home.

He and his wife hardly slept since the lockdown set in Wednesday evening, their teenaged daughter returning home around 5 a.m. Thursday morning after staying the night at the local Superstore, where she works.

"We're nervous," Mr. Daigle said Thursday morning. "We'd be really happy to see this all resolved ... We know there's a very large police presence, so we trust that if we wait it out and stay inside, we'll probably be safe."

Mr. Daigle runs the city's Parlour Pawn Shop, and has worked closely with local RCMP for years to try to limit crime related to pawn sales. He said it's likely he knows the dead and wounded by first name; the names haven't yet been released.

He said it's likely the shooter traveled by foot from his Hildegard neighbourhood to the Pinehurst subdivision, where the search, playing out on his television, appears to be centred. It'd have been roughly a half-mile walk through a wooded area and across a major artery that runs through the small city, he said.

Mr. Daigle said he knew nothing of the subject of the manhunt, calling Wednesday night's reports citing Justin Bourque as the suspect the "first I'd heard of him."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is attending the G7 summit in Brussels, extended sympathies to the victims' families.

"I'd just like to express all of our sorrow at the deaths of the three members of the RCMP killed last night in New Brunswick in the performance of their duties," he told reporters. "This should obviously remind us that our men and women in law enforcement put their lives on the line every day to serve and protect us as Canadians and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and also the others wounded in this terrible incident."

NDP leader Tom Mulcair spoke in Toronto Thursday morning to offer his condolences to the friends and family of the officers killed in New Brunswick.

"It's a tragedy unfolding before our eyes," Mr. Mulcair said.

He paid tribute to the slain RCMP members and spoke of the anxiety that families of police officers across the country feel as their loved ones put their lives at risk to protect the public. Mr. Mulcair's own son is a sergeant in the Sûreté du Québec.

"As the father of a police officer I know families of police officers are reacting the same way: with grieving," Mr. Mulcair said. "These brave women and men deserve our full support and admiration."

Mr. Mulcair said he spoke to his son by telephone this morning as he was heading out the door to work.

"I gave him a hug over the phone," he said. "We all know that could be any police officer in Canada."

Mayor George LeBlanc also offered his condolences to the families of the police officers who were killed and those who were injured. "It is a terrible tragedy," he said. "We as a city must pull together as a family to support those who have suffered losses."

Sean Gallacher, who lives near the area where police were concentrating their search, said he heard what he now believes were gunshots but initially thought his daughter had dropped some toys on the floor above him.

"I was downstairs and heard a few bangs," said Gallacher, 35.

"I went to check but she hadn't dropped anything. Then I heard the news and realized what it actually was."

The RCMP confirmed the deaths of the three officers on Twitter at about 11 p.m.

Based on information from the RCMP's Honour Roll page on its website, the last Mountie to die from a gunshot was Const. Douglas Scott on Nov. 5, 2007. He was shot while responding to a call for help involving an impaired driver at Kimmirut, Nunavut.

The most recent police officer killed in the line of duty was Const. Steve Dery of the Kativik police force in northern Quebec. Dery, 27, was shot and killed after he and another constable responded to a domestic violence call on March 2, 2013.

The shootings in Moncton also brought back memories of an RCMP tragedy in Mayerthorpe, Alta., on March 3, 2005, when Constables Anthony Fitzgerald Orion Gordon, Lionide (Leo) Nicholas Johnston, Brock Warren Myrol and Peter Christopher Schiemann were shot and killed.

Officials with the Horizon Health Network said the Moncton Hospital was treating two people who were listed in stable condition. The hospital was placed on Code Orange after the shootings to prepare it to handle multiple casualties as extra staff were brought in.

With a report from Jill Mahoney, Kathryn Blaze Carlson, Joe Friesen and Patrick White

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