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Shootings leave tiny Southern Ontario town of Tamworth shaken

The province’s Special Investigations Unit is investigating Wednesday’s incident. The OPP said it was not a police shooting.

FRED THORNHILL/The Globe and Mail

The family that found a crazed, bloodied man announcing a murder on their doorstep is now preparing that same man's funeral, just one of the many ripples that ran through the tiny Ontario town of Tamworth in the aftermath of a rampage that left two dead and two injured.

At the Hannah funeral home, Brenda Hannah said she had spoken to the executor of Morton Lewis's estate about the arrangements for Mr. Lewis's burial. She has not yet heard anything about a funeral for Charles MacLeod Thomas, known in the community as MacLeod.

"We will be looking after Mr. Lewis's arrangements. I don't know about the other fellow. We haven't received a call about him," Ms. Hannah said.

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On Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Hannah was sitting in the office when a red pickup truck pulled up outside. Mr. Lewis, a trapper and local handyman, came charging up to their screen door, pulling at the handle and trying to get in. He was shouting incoherently. Ms. Hannah's husband was about to let him in, until he noticed the blood on the man's face and sweater. Then Mr. Lewis said, "MacLeod has been murdered," ran back to his truck and sped away, Ms. Hannah said.

A few minutes later, Mr. Lewis encountered Karen Cassidy on the road and allegedly attacked her – ramming her vehicle, running her off the road, then getting out and smashing her car window. He then apparently climbed into her car and tried to choke her. At one point, her father told The Napanee Guide, Ms. Cassidy said, "Don't kill me, I have children." Mr. Lewis allegedly replied, "So do I – and I've already killed somebody."

Ms. Cassidy suffered a broken ankle and is awaiting surgery at a Kingston hospital. She is currently on leave from her job as a public-school teacher in Deseronto. Her father said she was in good spirits Friday, despite the shock of what she'd been through.

"She's doing excellent," said her father, Ken Kilpatrick.

Local firefighter Chase Wayte, who was shot, allegedly by Mr. Lewis, outside the town's post office, is recovering well, according to his mother. She said he did not wish to speak to the media but that he was now out of hospital. Mr. Wayte was shot in the arm. It's not clear whether he was responding in his capacity as a firefighter or whether it was just a chance encounter with Mr. Lewis.

"My understanding was that he was shot while sitting in his truck in front of the post office," Ms. Hannah said.

Mr. Lewis apparently also threatened post-office employee Kate McDonald, pointing his gun at her but not firing.

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Mr. Lewis, 59, was found dead inside his pickup shortly after. The province's Special Investigations Unit is investigating the circumstances of his death. The OPP said it was not a police shooting.

An acquaintance said that Mr. Lewis was in a dispute over trapping rights with Mr. Thomas, an eccentric man described as a hermit by locals. Mr. Thomas had been living in a barn ever since his home burned down a few years ago. Mr. Lewis trapped beaver and muskrat and fishers in the area, and had recently mentioned he was locked in a fight with a man who lived in a barn, the acquaintance said.

Everyone in town knew Mr. Lewis, a man who lived just west of Tamworth, a town of 500 north of Napanee. Robert Storring, a real estate agent, knew both Mr. Lewis and Mr. Thomas, the man he killed. Mr. Storring described Mr. Thomas as a recluse.

"He didn't like people very much. He would just as soon people leave him alone," he said. "He didn't socialize with a lot of people but he did with Morton Lewis."

Mr. Lewis was also a quiet man, Mr. Storring said.

"If he came in here and sat down and talked to us, you could talk to him. He spoke quietly … but if you said the wrong thing, it was like you set him off. You could literally see him bristle. He was pretty short-fused, I think."

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At the funeral home Ms. Hannah said she was feeling more settled Friday after her brush with danger but still couldn't explain the killing.

"Everybody's just baffled. Shocked. It doesn't make any sense," Ms. Hannah said.

"We've been in touch with lots of people in the community and everybody's sort of commiserating."

Mr. Thomas once lived in a ramshackle house with cracks in the walls you could see daylight through. That house is gone now, and Mr. Thomas had been living in the barn. Mr. Storring said he isn't sure what Mr. Thomas' profession might have been, but the man had been around. "He travelled all over the place," Mr. Storring said. "He had stuff from all over the world."

At the A-1 Corner Store, Terry Allison had served a steady stream of reporters from far and wide.

"I'll be glad when the day is over," she said, "and things get back to normal. You don't expect this sort of stuff in this town. It's Tamworth. That's about all I can say."

Claude Scilley is a freelance writer.

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Demographics Reporter

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

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