Grieving family members of the two people that were killed in Granisle on April 21, 2016, say they want answers.
Shirley Williams, 73, and her son Jovan Williams, 39, were both killed in the police involved-shooting.
Pearl Williams Garcia was Jovan’s aunt and Shirley’s sister-in-law. She said what happened in Granisle on April 21 was an “act of injustice.”
“It’s a tragic event; it’s an act of injustice on all sides and the immediate family has taken it very hard,” she said. “They are in disbelief and I think the shock is coming in now.”
Shirley moved to Burns Lake from Nashville, Tennessee, and made Granisle her home about 12 years ago. Garcia said her sister-in-law was an avid gardener and had a “heart of gold.”
“We’ve got many stories of her helping out people,” said Garcia.
Garcia explained that Shirley was 73 years old and couldn’t move properly, so her son Jovan quit his job at Lake Babine Nation to be closer to his mother.
Both Shirley and Jovan had dual citizenship – American and Canadian.
Jovan was a part of the American military for about two years, according to Garcia. He received basic training, but was never sent out to a mission.
Last week, Granisle fire chief and councillor Jim O’Farrell, who lives a couple houses down from where the shooting occurred, told Black press that Shirley had become withdrawn.
Garcia said she didn’t think Shirley’s behaviour was anything out of the ordinary.
“Everybody else is withdrawn,” said Garcia. “You walk up and down the avenue in any city, and people stay in their houses.”
However, Garcia said Shirley’s house was getting “vandalized” when she wasn’t at home.
“They couldn’t leave their house because it would always be vandalized when they left home,” said Garcia. “They were really picked on.”
Jovan’s sister, Shonte Williams, told Lakes District News a similar story.
Shonte said Shirley’s home was being vandalized whenever she wasn’t there.
“I do know that they [Shirley and Jovan] were having a lot of problems at that house and my mother was doing the best she could to document everything that was happening,” said Shonte. “I know the last few years they were becoming more and more scared living there because of the amount of things that were happening to them, and they were getting no help.”
Shonte said her mother made an effort to search for help and that she contacted the RCMP about the alleged vandalism that was taking place in her home.
“She went to the police about it, but she would get no help; after a while, when you don’t receive help, you start to look after yourself,” she said.
“I would like to know why my mom didn’t get helped out when she first tried to get help; nobody wanted to deal with it; they just ignored it and they allowed it to continue happening.”
Lakes District News attempted to confirm if the RCMP had been notified of vandalism taking place on Shirley’s property. However, the RCMP did not confirm whether or not vandalism had taken place on her property.
Staff Sgt. Rob Vermeulen, a senior media relations officer with E Division, said the RCMP was not able to discuss any aspects of the Granisle shooting at this point because the Independent Investigations Office has the lead on the investigation.
Shonte said her mother didn’t know why she was allegedly being picked on.
“My mom had theories, but she couldn’t understand it either.”
Shonte also said that although Shirley and Jovan had “never been too social,” there was nothing out of the ordinary with their behaviour.
“They always kept to themselves, they didn’t go out and socialize because they had things at home that they liked to do; she liked gardening; she had more fun doing her own thing at home.”
Shonte said she wants answers like everyone else.
“I really want to know what happened; what happened that caused this situation to become so extreme?” said Shonte.
“My mom couldn’t hurt anybody and my brother, I don’t believe he could hurt anybody either,” she added. “I feel that my mom and my brother should not be dead.”
What the RCMP and a neighbour say
The RCMP said officers were called at 12:30 p.m. to a dispute between neighbours involving a handgun in Granisle on April 21, 2016.
They arrived at about 1:20 p.m., established a perimeter around the Morrison Street home and tried to contact the people inside.
“One person exited the residence and confronted police. Shots were fired at about 2:50 p.m.,” said Staff Sgt. Rob Vermeulen, a senior media relations officer with E Division. “The second person exited the residence, confronted police and shots were fired.”
Paramedics who were waiting nearby rushed to the victims, but both were dead. There were no injuries to police.
The Independent Investigations Office (IIO) is now taking the lead on investigations and is not releasing any further information until the investigation is completed.
Granisle fire chief and councillor Jim O’Farrell, who lives a couple houses down from where the shooting occurred, told Black press he believed there were unaddressed mental health issues with the mother and son.
“Shirley had become withdrawn the last few years after being an active member of the community,” according to O’Farrell. “That is when the no trespassing signs went up on the property.”
He said things only got worse when Jovan returned home last year.
O’Farrell said he himself had avoided Jovan after a confrontation last year when Jovan accused O’Farrell of “staring” at him as he walked down the street and Jovan drove by.
“Ever since then I’ve been very weary. Then when the front door neighbour had some issues with him, I got really weary, to the point where I’d take my dog for a walk the other way as opposed to just going by his house.”
Any potential witnesses are asked to call the IIO toll-free witness line at 1-855-446-8477.
First Nations leaders pledge to follow investigations closely
Two First Nations Chiefs in the Burns Lake area have pledged to watch closely the investigations by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO).
Lake Babine Nation (LBN) Chief Wilf Adam said he has spoken with RCMP officers in both the Burns Lake and Houston detachments, as well as with the chief investigator of the IIO. He said leaders of the First Nations Summit are also closely watching the outcome of this investigation.
“I have talked to them [leaders of the First Nations Summit] and they will stand back to see what comes out of the investigation and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Chief Adam added that, depending on the outcome of the investigation, First Nations leaders could possibly push for an inquiry.
“There are still lots of questions lingering,” he said. “I don’t know how many officers were there [in Granisle]; we still don’t know what happened; the truth needs to come out.”
Chief Adam said he knew Jovan Williams, one of the people killed on April 21, personally.
“He was just like any other young fellow,” said Chief Adam. “He had hopes and dreams; he was a shy guy, but he did really well at what he was doing.”
Although Jovan was a member of Cheslatta Carrier Nation for a number of years, he applied to become a member of LBN in late 2015. Jovan worked as a janitor for LBN.
“He did a good job,” said Chief Adam. “He was a hard worker.”
Chief Adam said he was shocked to hear about the shooting on April 21. He urged community members to be careful with how they express their opinions and not to make any derogatory statements.
“Rushing to judgement at this time is not helpful, especially when two people lost their lives,” he said. “We will be monitoring this very closely,” added Chief Adam. “We will find out what happened and ensure that there is closure for the family.”
Lake Babine Nation and Cheslatta Carrier Nation helped cover the costs of the funeral of Jovan and Shirley Williams.
Chief Leween said she also knew Jovan personally. She described him as a “quiet and polite gentleman.” Chief Leween said she is also wondering what happened on April 21.
“Was there the ability to resolve it [the conflict] in a different manner other than gunning the two down?” she said.
“We’re concentrating right now on the funeral, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t be watching the investigation very closely,” she added.