Cause of two Sherwood Park explosions unknown, 21-year-old man dead

Cause of two Sherwood Park explosions unknown, 21-year-old man dead
Everything shaking: Witnesses hear explosion at Sherwood Park community centre fire
RCMP report a fire at Strathcona County Community Centre in the Edmonton-area suburb of Sherwood Park, but witnesses who spoke to CBC News say they heard an explosion at the building.​

As of 7 a.m. Wednesday, all entrances to the community centre remained blocked off with road closure signs. RCMP vehicles with their lights flashing were helping to cordon off the area. 

An RCMP officer on scene told CBC News there are no active evacuations in place. The officer said police are focused on keeping people away from the parkade underneath the library. 

In a Wednesday morning Facebook post, Strathcona County Mayor Rod Frank said  the police matter is contained to the community centre building and there is no safety risk to the general public.

"Along with the community centre and county hall building, nearby schools and buildings have been closed today to give the RCMP room to conduct their investigation," Frank said. 

Sherwood Park resident Brent Oswald said he was on the second floor of the library when he heard a rumble from the parkade below.

"There was a very deep boom," Oswald said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

Oswald said everyone filed out of the library as the fire alarms sounded and emergency vehicles arrived on scene. Oswald said he went to a restaurant across the street to watch the Oilers game.

"Things had completely changed," he said. "This wasn't just a couple of cops directing traffic.

"They were heavily armed and watching something … and they just told me, 'Get out of here.'"

Oswald said he had parked his vehicle in the parkade before the evacuation. He said police haven't told him when he might be able to retrieve it.

"It was a massive explosion. It shook that place," he said. "I was on the second floor, so that's four storeys above the parking garage, and it's a reinforced concrete building.

Chelsea Thoen was at the Strathcona County Library on Tuesday night when she heard a "huge bang." 

"The whole building was shaking and you could barely hear anything except for everything shaking."

Police blocked off the roads in the area to investigate and were asking the public to stay away from the area due to safety concerns. The community centre complex contains the county's council chambers as well as the library, meeting rooms and outdoor plazas.

Chris Cummings's grandmother lives in Bedford Village, which is close to the community centre. He said he arrived around 7 p.m. and shortly after, he was told the building would need to evacuate due to a fire at the library.

"When they first got there, a fire alarm went off in the building," Cummins said. "Two seconds later, an RCMP officer said, 'You guys have to start evacuating to a different door.' And the gentlemen had a very large weapon with him so we knew there was more than just a fire going on.

"It was a pretty quick evacuation from what it looked like. Some of them were just in their housecoats."

Lorne Monaghan, principal at St. Theresa, said there were about 200 seniors at his school during the evacuation and most were in good spirits.  

Staff at Bedford Village were not available to comment but a message on the centre's phone line said that as of Nov. 7, the building's emergency evacuation had ended and it was "now safe" for residents to return to the centre.

"The safety of our community remains the top priority of Strathcona County Council and emergency responders."

In a letter to parents, officials with Salisbury Composite High said the school would be closed to students and teachers the entire day due to an "incident" at the community centre. 

"We anticipate the school will only be closed Wednesday but will advise all families when classes will resume," reads the letter. 

A day after a pair of explosions less than two hours apart rocked a parkade at Strathcona County Community Centre, the heart of Sherwood Park remained on lockdown.

Crime tape, haphazardly strung between trees and street signs along Sherwood Drive near the county hall, along with city barricades and a heavy police presence, barred anyone but RCMP investigators and bomb disposal experts.

Nearby business owners and residents were asking the same question: Just what happened inside the parkade Tuesday night that started with a fire call to 911 and ended in the death of a 21-year-old man?

At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Mounties at Strathcona County RCMP headquarters released bare-boned details of the previous night’s events.

At 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, as some folks were taking part in their weekly square dancing session at Festival Place and students were making up classes at night school at the nearby Salisbury Composite High School, a fire was reported in the parkade.

When officers arrived they located an injured male in a vehicle in the parkade. Police at this stage won’t say what those injures were, but RCMP Supt. Dave Kalist said the man’s death was “not related to police interaction.”

About two hours later, as investigators were trying to piece together what had happened, a second explosion rattled the same parkade.

Residents of the Bedford Seniors Centre were evacuated to nearby St. Theresa school and other neighbouring buildings in the enclave in the city’s southwest were cleared as a precautionary measure.

People like Jim Cochrane and his wife, who were square dancing at Festival Place, were suddenly faced with a police officer carrying a long gun who was sent in to usher them to safety.

While some in the area reported hearing loud bangs, Cochrane said no one heard anything over the music.

Eighteen-year-old student Paige Proskiw was less than 300 metres away taking a night class at Salisbury Composite when the first explosion went off.

She didn’t hear anything but some other students said they did. When the RCMP first arrived, students were initially told to remain in their classrooms but about an hour or so later they were allowed to leave.

“We assume that we live in a bubble here in Sherwood Park and that we are safe all the time, so you just don’t expect something like this to happen.”

Classes at the high school were cancelled Wednesday and the school will remain closed on Thursday. St. Theresa school was also to remain closed on Thursday, as well as the Elk Island Catholic School Central Learning Services Building next door to the school.

Mayor Rod Frank, who was in one of the buildings at the time, said he noticed smoke and fire in the aftermath of the explosions.

“Obviously this could have been far more tragic and I’m grateful for the rapid response,” he said.

Police would not say where the explosions happened in the two-level parkade or what caused them. They did not know if they caused any structural damage.

One media outlet, quoting unnamed security sources, said the explosive was Tannerite but when asked, Kalist said that at this stage of the investigation those reports were simply speculation.

Tannerite is a brand of exploding target and consists of a pair of separated substances that, when combined, cause a loud noise and a cloud of water vapour.

Kalist said the unit will “remain on scene and the area will remain secure until we are able to determine a cause of the explosion and ensure that there are no other potential threats.”