The 47-year-old man suspected of opening fire and killing two people at a Nanaimo, B.C. sawmill Wednesday morning is a former employee, but details on his history with the company are sparse.

Work was just beginning at the Western Forest Products mill when a lone gunman walked onto the property carrying a shotgun shortly before 7 a.m.

Four men were shot, two of whom were pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.

As word of the tragedy spread, mill employees’ friends and family members rushed to the site hoping for good news. Some were instead met with heartbreak, including Linda Bledsoe, who identified one of the victims as her 61-year-old brother Michael Lunn.

“He was fun. He was very lovable and very jolly and he loved his family very much,” she told reporters outside the sawmill. “It’s a shock to all of us because he had a lot of great dreams.”

The two survivors remained in hospital Wednesday night, one in critical but stable condition.

According to emerging accounts of the shooting, it could have been even worse if not for a mill manager tackling and disarming the gunman.

Mounties have not confirmed the story, stating only that the suspect was arrested without incident.

Supt. Mark Fisher of the Nanaimo detachment said 911 calls reporting shots started coming in at 6:58 a.m., and the first responding officer arrived within three minutes.

“I want to stress that at this time we have no indication that there are any other suspects involved in this incident,” Fisher said at a press conference Wednesday. “At this time it also appears the suspect, now in custody, acted alone.”

The suspected shooter has been identified as a Nanaimo resident who used to work at the mill, but neither police nor the company would elaborate on his work history, including whether he was terminated.

Images of the scene taken from CTV’s Chopper 9 showed yellow police tape cordoning off the road leading to the mill, as well as surrounding a pickup truck. Spatters of blood were visible on the pavement.

One worker at the scene said the incident has left people in the quiet community stunned.

“You just can’t believe it,” he said. “I mean, I know everyone in that damn mill. It blows me away.”

A terrible tragedy

All Western Forest Products operations on Vancouver Island were shut down for the day out of respect.

“We’ve had a terrible tragedy at our sawmill,” Don Demens, CEO and president, told reporters.

Demens said the company is also making grief counsellors available to its staff.

“We’d like to express our deepest concern… for the lives that were lost, the people that were wounded. Our hearts and minds are with you," he said.

The investigation into the shooting is being led by the Nanaimo major crimes unit, assisted by the BC Coroners Service.

Nanaimo RCMP officials said that family and friends of the victims – and the entire community – will need to come to terms with the tragedy.

“It’s going to be a challenge but as detachment commander, and a long-time resident of Vancouver Island, I can confirm this type of violence is extremely rare,” said Fisher.

High-profile sympathies

Condolences from high-profile Canadian politicians began pouring in after news of the violence broke.

“Tragic news out of Nanaimo – thoughts are with the friends and families of the victims,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a tweet.

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau also tweeted after hearing the “terrible news.”

“My thoughts are with all of the victims,” he said.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark addressed the provincial legislature about the incident, saying this level of tragedy is rare in British Columbia.

“Most of us here today cannot imagine what the victims and their families must be going through,” she said.

“They should know they are not alone. The people of British Columbia are standing with them.”

Jean Crowder, the MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan, said as a local resident she shares the distress of those affected.

“Nanaimo and the surrounding communities are very close-knit and I am comforted by the knowledge that in the midst of this tragedy we will find strength and solace in each other,” she said.

“I would also like to acknowledge the difficult work of first responders in these trying circumstances.”

The mill is expected to remain closed for several days as a complete forensic investigation is completed.