EDMONTON – Edmonton’s police chief says the community should be outraged after two convenience store clerks, who were working alone and didn’t fight back when masked robbers walked into their stores early Friday, were shot dead for small amounts of cash.
Three suspects have been arrested, including a 13-year-old boy.
“This was a barbaric and gratuitous act of violence upon two innocent persons resulting in a senseless loss of life,” Chief Rod Knecht said at a late-afternoon news conference.
He went on to describe the crime as “over-the-top violence, absolutely unnecessary, gratuitous — evil.”
All three suspects have criminal records and were prohibited from possessing firearms, he said. He described the youth’s criminal past as violent.
Charges are pending against the three. The other suspects are 26 and 24 years old.
Knecht said the violence started about 3:30 a.m. at a Mac’s store on the city’s south side.
A panic alarm call came from the business. When police couldn’t reach staff by phone, officers were dispatched.
Karanpal Singh Bhangu, 35, had been shot in the stomach and was rushed to hospital, but died of his injuries.
About fifteen minutes after that alarm came in, a 911 call was made from another Mac’s store. A delivery man had found a trail of blood leading to a storage room.
It’s believed the clerk at that store had been shot in the front and dragged to the back area, said Knecht.
The 41-year-old man, whose name is not being released until family can be notified, was pronounced dead at the scene.
In both cases, the culprits made off with cash. Knecht said there would have been small amounts of money in the registers, as convenience stores typically put most of their sales in floor safes and armoured cars pick up the bulk each day.
Using video camera footage from the stores, police next dispatched a description of the masked suspects and their clothing. And because the targeted locations were both Mac’s, officers were tasked with checking in on other stores.
A short time later, officers spotted them in a stolen vehicle near another Mac’s, which led to a brief chase along Whitemud Drive, a major city freeway. It ended underneath an overpass when the suspect vehicle crashed into a guardrail.
Knecht said investigators have made a possible link between the suspects and other recent robberies. It’s unclear why the crimes escalated. Surveillance video shows the two victims were passive and co-operative.
“I would suggest they did not expect to be executed,” he said.
Staff members at a private school where Bhangu’s wife, Kiran, worked as a teacher quickly set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for her and the couple’s six-year-old son, Royce.
David Eifert, principal of Progressive Academy, said the woman emigrated from India four years earlier. Three months ago, her husband and son were permitted to join her.
Eifert said he didn’t know much about Bhangu except that within a short time of arriving in Canada, he got a job.
“I stood beside him at the school Christmas performance last night and I was going to talk to him afterwards and they left,” Eifert said. “He was obviously going to work.”
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said he has asked to meet with the province’s labour minister to discuss the crime and push for tougher legislation to better protect vulnerable, night-shift retail workers, who are often young people and immigrants.
“This is not the first time that retail workers have faced violence and it certainly won’t be the last,” he said.
He wants to see Alberta follow regulations in place in British Columbia, where employers must have more than one night person on duty or keep lone staffers in locked areas and behind barriers. Manitoba also has similar legislation.
McGowan said the Alberta government promised to beef up safety measures in 2000, when 25-year-old Tara McDonald was bludgeoned to death while working at night in a Subway sandwich shop in Calgary.
“Basically all that’s required in Alberta is that … there be a communications system in place for employers to check in on people working late at night.
“In the case of what happened last night in Edmonton, that wouldn’t have saved their lives.”
An Alberta spokeswoman said there are also training requirements related to working alone in the province’s Occupational Heath and Safety Code
Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said in a statement that every worker should be safe. “We will be reviewing the rules that govern employees working alone and would welcome input from stakeholders. We want to ensure safety is top of mind in all Alberta workplaces.”