Police searching for suspect after chainsaw incident at Vancouver homeless encampment
VANCOUVER -- A man has been released from custody after an incident at a Vancouver homeless encampment where police say several people were chased by a man with a chainsaw.
The incident happened around 6 p.m. Sunday night at Strathcona Park.
“We got multiple callers calling us in reports of a man threatening people and chasing people with a chainsaw. This man was doing that outside Strathcona Park. He was then witnessed running into the washroom area,” Const. Tania Visintin with the Vancouver Police Department told CTV News Monday morning.
She says when officers arrived at the park they arrested a man with a similar description to the suspect in the park — however, his clothing was different and he was not carrying a chainsaw.
“With that lack of evidence we weren’t able to hold him into custody. We did speak to three witnesses and victims who weren’t able to say exactly if the person we had was the suspect,” Visintin said. “He was released.”
The investigation is ongoing, and the VPD is urging any witnesses or people with video to contact investigators.
Vancouver police are not sure if the chainsaw was running during the chase, but neighbourhood resident Kim Allen who took video of the incident says she heard it.
“Literally someone was saying ‘help me, help me please,’” said Allen, who grabbed her phone and started recording.
“I was flabbergasted that somebody had a chainsaw. And I heard it running, I saw exhaust come off it,” she told CTV News.
“It’s concerning for us, the police — and it’s concerning for residents,” Visintin said.
Nobody was injured in the incident.
Katie Lewis with the Strathcona Residents' Association says she ran to the area Sunday evening after being alerted to the incident by a neighbour.
While police are still investigating a possible motive, they are looking at the possibility it may have been a case of mistaken identity involving drugs.
However, Lewis says one of the victims who was chased gave her some details on how it may have started.
“He was taking some GoPro footage and it turns out someone was very upset with that. And someone pulled a live chainsaw on him, chased him out," Lewis told CTV News. "He and his partner were absolutely traumatized."
She says the man and his partner, who do not live in the neighbourhood, managed to get into a stranger's car on Prior Street in an attempt to get to safety.
"They literally just jumped into a car to be safe," Lewis said. "No one intervened. They were basically on their own. It was an extremely traumatizing experience."
“I believe they got into a bystander's vehicle just to get to safety and call us,” Visintin confirmed.
There have been several serious safety issues at and near the park since the encampment popped up in the spring.
Two weeks ago, a loaded semi-automatic weapon was found near the park. And just last week, Vancouver police appealed for information after a badly injured man spent hours injured in the park after being assaulted.
Lewis says Strathcona residents are surprised every week as incidents add up.
"This is abnormal for a neighbourhood and it's unacceptable. We are encouraging our political leaders to step up and do their jobs," Lewis said.
She hopes the encampment will become an issue in the provincial election, noting she hasn’t been satisfied with the response from any level of government.
Strathcona residents are having a rally along Prior Street between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. Tuesday as they push for government action to house and help people at the encampment.
"I also really encourage political leaders to show up and show us that they care," Lewis said. "It's been 15 weeks of silence. We're done."