Two police officers did not draw their guns before they were fatally shot inside an Innisfil residence earlier this week, the Special Investigations Unit said Thursday as the small community 70 kilometres north of Toronto reels from the shock of the event.
South Simcoe Police Service Constables Devon Northrup, 33, and Morgan Russell, 54, died after arriving at the home on Somers Boulevard while responding to a domestic disturbance call Tuesday around 8 p.m.
A third, unnamed police officer exchanged gunfire with a 22-year-old man who died at the scene, a spokesperson for the SIU, the police watchdog, confirmed Thursday.
The SIU is not identifying the deceased but the Star has confirmed he is Christopher Doncaster, 22, who lived at the home with his grandparents. The SIU orginally had said Doncaster was 23, but later corrected his age to 22.
Autopsies are scheduled Friday on the two officers and on Doncaster. The autopsy on Doncaster should determine whether he was killed by police bullets or with the SKS semi-automatic rifle he used to kill the two officers.
On Thursday, neighbour Tom Wilson, who knew the grandparents and their grandson, said that around 5 p.m. Tuesday, he was in the Doncasters’ garage cracking jokes and having a cigar.
“I never had a problem with him,” Wilson said Thursday of the grandson. “He never expressed any problems in the time we were talking.”
Northrup and Russell, among the force’s 100 full-time, sworn officers, responsible for policing a 486-square-kilometre area, both had special emergency-response training. The population in the south Lake Simcoe area is about 87,000. Officers responded to more than 25,000 calls for service in 2020, according to the service’s 2021 annual report.
Russell, who friends called “Mo,” was a 33-year veteran of the service assigned to uniform patrol and was a trained crisis negotiator. He is survived by his wife, two teenage children and his parents.
Northrup, who joined the service six years ago, served with the mental health crisis outreach and support team and the emergency response unit. In 2020, he received an internal “excellence in emergency response” award for his handling of a call that averted a man’s attempted suicide inside a vehicle parked in a garage.
“The bottom line is you had the right police officers,” criminology professor Irvin Waller of the University of Ottawa told the Star on Thursday.
There are several key questions investigators need to answer:
- Who made the initial 911 call and what did that person tell the operator?
A gun recovered at the scene was identified as an SKS semi-automatic rifle, a Soviet-designed military-style gun.
“That’s a powerful weapon he had,” Waller said.
- How and when did Doncaster acquire the weapon and was he a lawful gun owner?
The SKS is a nonrestricted weapon that can be purchased by anyone with a firearms licence.
Gun-control advocates have criticized the federal government for leaving it off the list of more than 1,500 semi-automatic under Ottawa’s proposed nationwide ban.
Waller is curious about Doncaster’s brief time in the Canadian Armed Forces, from May to December 2020. He was a private but did not complete basic training. A CAF spokesperson said no further details can be disclosed.
Doncaster had a brush with the law in 2018, when he was charged with mischief under $5,000 and two counts of failing to appear in court. Those charges were all withdrawn.
University of Ottawa criminologist Michael Kempa said a key question is “whether the officers were told they were heading into a situation with an armed person.” In other words: did the first police officer on the scene know what he was walking into, and was this information subsequently relayed to the other officers?
The South Simcoe Police Service declined to answer the Star’s questions on the case. The civilian SIU investigates all incidents where a person dies during or after an interaction with police.
It isn’t clear from police and SIU whether Russell and Northrop arrived at the home at the same time.
Social media accounts belonging to a Chris Doncaster linked to the Innisfil home appear to show a young man who was interested in mixed martial arts and popular first-person shooter video games.
Photos taken this year show him with friends, flashing luxury clothing items. He describes himself as an “entrepreneur.” In one nighttime photo, posted to Instagram in September 2021, Doncaster can be seen smiling as he sits on a South Simcoe police Jet Ski, tied up at a dock.
Details on the funeral arrangements for the officers have not yet been made public.
—with files from Peter Edwards, Toronto Star; Alyshah Hasham, Toronto Star; and Chris Simon, Barrie Advance
Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy