Today marks 50 years since Kelowna residents were frozen in terror, in the wake of the fatal shooting of a Mountie who had attempted to aid a teenage girl in harm’s way.
In a story titled, “Westbank in a State-of-Siege, Residents Told to ‘Stay Indoors,’” Kelowna’s daily newspaper cast light on a situation that clearly had the community on tenterhooks.
“Residents here locked themselves indoors today as heavily armed police, a helicopter and tracking dog combed dense brush for a lone rifleman who shot two people including a police man,” read a newspaper report of the day.
“At press time, officers had not located the suspect and were blockading Highway 97 in the vicinity of Powers Creek, a mile south of here.”
The details, reporters of the time said, were sketchy but they’d learned that a young boy encountered a 16-year-old girl with a suitcase in the area about 7 a.m. April 10, 1965.
She told the boy she had been staying at a cabin in a deep canyon near the highway for three days with an older man.
She wanted to leave but the man refused to let her go. Police were called and the man shot Kelowna detachment Const. Neil Bruce in the chest as he approached the cabin.
“Then witnesses say the man shot the girl, formerly of the Lumby, area in the jaw and fled up the canyon from the highway,” it read.
Four days later, Bruce died in Kelowna General Hospital, leaving behind a young wife and two children under the age of two.
His killer, William Russell Spears, a known rapist, killed himself nine days later, when “trapped by police.”
The end came shortly after Mrs. Maynard Haskell, of Trepanier, 10 miles south of Kelowna—one of the many jittery residents in the area who followed the progress of the manhunt—saw a man run across a clearing,” read the daily, April 19, 1965.
“The dog picked up the scent, went down through a ravine and flushed a man from a clump of trees and attacked him.
“Const. Hawkins, running up shoted ‘surrender or we’ll shoot.’”
The report then says Spears turned the gun on himself and shot himself between the eyes.
The horrific series of events shook the community, and marked the only time a Kelowna RCMP officer was killed on the job.
Despite his violent end, Bruce has become known for being a kind man who dedicated himself to his profession and his community.
He’s known as a hero today, with a Westside Middle school bearing his name.
To honour the 50th anniversary of his passing, both regular and auxiliary members of the RCMP, RCMP vets, students of Constable Neil Bruce Middle School, as well as friends and family of Bruce will be attending a ceremony at Glen Canyon Regional Park on April 14, at 10:30 a.m.
“The ceremony will be to honour him for making the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty,” said Cpl. Joe Duncan.
There will be a number of dignitaries attending the service, including the Commanding Officer of the RCMP in British Columbia, Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens.