A small community north of Toronto is in shock Wednesday after police identified an officer who worked with mental health teams and a veteran constable trained in hostage negotiations as the victims of a fatal Tuesday shooting.
The South Simcoe Police Service identified Const. Morgan Russell and Const. Devon Northrup as the officers killed in Innisfil, Ont.
“Words cannot describe our grief,” said acting chief John Van Dyke.
Van Dyke said officers responded to a call at a home near 25th Sideroad and 9th Line shortly before 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Police have not said what the initial call was for.
According to police, two officers were shot while inside the home. A 22-year-old suspect was also shot and killed. Police originally listed the man’s age as 23, but then corrected Thursday to say he was 22.
The province’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), said it will not be releasing the suspect’s identity at this time without permission from his family.
However, the Toronto Star and The Canadian Press are reporting a “source close to the investigation” has identified the suspect as Christopher Doncaster, although CBC News has not independently confirmed that information.
CBC Toronto has learned that Christopher Joseph Doncaster, whose 23rd birthday falls on Oct. 23, was living with his grandparents, Donna Rose Doncaster, 76, and Glen Doncaster, 83, who are the owners of the home where the shooting took place.
Police said Northrup died at a local hospital while Russell died after being airlifted to a Toronto trauma centre in critical condition.
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Northrup, 33, was a six-year member of the service assigned to the community mobilization and engagement unit. He also served as a member of the mental health crisis outreach team and the emergency response unit. He is survived by his partner, parents and close friends in the service, said Van Dyke.
Russell, 54, was a 33-year veteran of the service and a trained crisis negotiator assigned to uniform patrol. He is survived by his wife and two adult children.
Van Dyke said Russell’s death was “personal” for him.
“I went to police college with Morgan 33 years ago,” the acting chief said, his voice faltering.
“This is a heartbreaking time for our police service.”
The service’s immediate focus is to support its members and grieving families, said Van Dyke. A community vigil is being held Wednesday evening at Innisfil Community Church to honour Russell and Northrup.
The service requested that York Regional Police conduct an investigation, adding that Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit has invoked its mandate.
“I am, therefore, very limited in what information we can share,” said Van Dyke.
Details on suspect emerge
CBC Toronto has spoken with Amber Henry, a friend of Christopher Doncaster, who said she hasn’t been able to reach him since last night.
In 2020, Doncaster’s family posted pictures on social media saying how proud they were that he had joined the Canadian Armed Forces. The CAF confirmed that someone with the name Christopher Joseph Doncaster was a member from May to December 2020, noting he was a private with no deployment history.
In addition, CBC Toronto reviewed financial records that show he owed approximately $46,000 on a 2020 GMC Sierra 1500. A silver truck that was the same make and model was towed by police from the shooting scene Wednesday afternoon.
Those records also list him as living at the home where the shootings occurred.
SIU, York Regional Police investigating
The SIU, which is called in whenever someone is killed or injured in an interaction with police in Ontario, said in a news release it has assigned nine investigators to the case.
The SIU said according to preliminary information, officers were called to a home “for a disturbance.” Kristy Denette, a spokesperson for the SIU, said Wednesday police were called by family members at the residence.
They exchanged gunfire with a 22-year-old man who died at the scene, the SIU said. It later said the gun the suspect used was an SKS semi-automatic rifle.
The man’s autopsy is scheduled for Friday, the SIU said, and until then the investigation is ongoing, with York Regional Police conducting a separate investigation into the shooting.
Northrup and Russell are the third and fourth police officers to be killed in the province in the last month.
On Sept. 12, Toronto Police Const. Andrew Hong was killed in what police called an “ambush” during a series of shootings that killed two others and wounded three more.
On Sept. 14, York Regional Police Const. Travis Gillespie died at the scene of a head-on car crash.
- Funeral service held for York police constable killed in head-on crash
- Thousands honour slain Toronto Police Const. Andrew Hong at funeral
Both constables were laid to rest late last month.
Neighbours, town shaken by shooting
Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin said South Simcoe police are “beloved” in small towns like Innisfil. The town is just south of Barrie, and home to more than 43,300 people.
“To say that the community is devastated would be an understatement,” said Dollin.
“It’s a dark day and it’s going to take us a long time to process this, but we will be there to support our South Simcoe Police colleagues and we will be there to support the impacted families and friends.”
Michele Bannister has lived on the street for 26 years. She told CBC News that a couple lived in the home where the shooting occurred with their grandchildren, whom they raised. Bannister described the couple as “very good people.” She said the 22-year-old shot dead by police was their grandson.
“We’re heartbroken,” said Bannister, who was watching TV with her daughter Brelyn when they first heard the sirens.
Both mother and daughter said they saw the man’s older sister — who had previously moved out — on Tuesday night, yelling, “that’s my brother.”
“It was, like, out of a movie,” Brelyn said.
Kevin, a neighbour who CBC News agreed to identify only by his first name due to privacy concerns, said he first thought he was hearing fireworks Tuesday evening before he realized it was actually a half a dozen gunshots.
“I went outside … and it was pandemonium,” he said.
Kevin said he saw police officers attending to injured people and watched as those people were taken off the street in ambulances.
“It was pretty traumatic,” he said, noting that the street is typically “very safe,” and everybody looks after one another.
“It’s going to be hard for our little community here,” he said. “Everybody’s going to be reeling.”
Premier Doug Ford visited the South Simcoe police detachment in Innisfil Wednesday afternoon to show his support.
“It’s very sad. It’s senseless tragedy,” Ford said.
“I come from a policing family and the sacrifices they make: they’re running into danger as everyone else is running out.”
Police services in different jurisdictions, along with the OPP, Toronto Paramedic Services and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police took to social media to extend their condolences.
“I offer our deepest sympathies to the families of these two fallen officers,” wrote Toronto Police Chief James Ramer.