December 6, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
A Winnipeg man is slowly recovering after surviving several hellish hours of literally running for his life through swamps and forest in a scene straight out of a Hollywood horror film.
The 23-year-old university student spoke to the Free Press Monday about the random, unprovoked attack that happened near Bissett, about 250 kilometres northeast of the city. The victim doesn't want his name published because of ongoing safety concerns.
RCMP have charged two Manitoba men with various offences, including attempted murder and firearms violations. But the scant details contained in the short news release issued by the Mounties hardly capture the brutality of what happened in the early-morning hours of June 14.
In essence, the pair are accused of going hunting -- for a human.
"I'm just glad I'm alive," said the victim. "I was sitting in that bush thinking I was going to die."
The man recently got a job working at a rock quarry near Bissett while he completes his studies in geology. He would travel from the city, work a few days at a time and then return home. This was just his third rotation, and he was sound asleep in his camper when he awoke to a strange sight just after midnight.
"There were bright lights shining in my camper," the victim recalled. He threw on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and went outside to investigate. He was alone in the campsite, located about 10 kilometres from town.
Two unknown men were sitting inside the running truck, acting strangely.
Their speech was slurred. Their eyes were bloodshot. They began rambling about being lost and being new to the area. And about being up to no good.
-- a Winnipeg man, recounting what two gun-toting strangers said to him in the Manitoba wilderness
"They said they were crystal-meth runners from Saskatoon, that they had gone to Winnipeg and were coming up to Bissett," said the victim.
Their story only got stranger -- and more sadistic -- as they began asking him numerous questions, including whether he was alone on the property.
"They told me that on their way up, they had stopped and killed a hooker by slitting her from ear to ear," said the victim. "They told me she was in the back of their truck."
Those words sent a chill up his spine. He retreated to his camper, grabbed his cellular phone and the only weapon he could find, a small knife. But the two unwanted visitors didn't budge.
The victim checked his phone and confirmed his worst fears -- no reception. So he walked back outside, telling the two men how they could get back on the main road and get into town, hoping they would leave.
But they weren't interested in directions.
"I heard one of them say 'Maybe take the gun out, load it,' " the victim said. "Then they said 'We've told you way too much. There's no way we're leaving here tonight with you alive.' "
He was stunned.
So he did the only thing he could think of.
He ran, as fast as he could.
He was headed for the forest, the only place that could provide cover out in the middle of nowhere.
As he got closer to the treeline -- it was about 80 metres from his camper -- he heard the first bullet graze by his head.
"They were shooting at me," said the victim.
He took cover behind the trees, but his feet didn't stop for long. That's because the men were driving their vehicle towards the forest, their bright lights still beaming, their high-powered rifle still firing.
"I could hear the pop of the gun and then felt the bullet whizzing by me," said the victim. "It's hard to know how close they came, but if you can feel it, then it's pretty damn close."
He kept moving, eventually jumping knee-deep into a swamp. He figures it was around 3 a.m. when the two men finally stopped following him in their vehicle, which slowly crept along the main road as he hid in the nearby woods.
"They kept looking into the bush, shining their lights in, trying to find me. Occasionally they would fire another shot. I kept thinking how all I had on me was a knife," said the victim, who figures at least a dozen shots came close to hitting him.
As the night wore on and morning approached, he was covered with about 150 mosquito bites, dozens of wood-tick bites and was bleeding from numerous cuts and scrapes to his arms and legs. He was also freezing cold, wet from the waist down and battling temperatures that dropped into the low single digits.
He still couldn't get service on his phone. Eventually, the victim emerged from the forest, confident his attackers had left and flagged down a vehicle containing two men on their way to work at the mine in Bissett. It was around 5 a.m.
RCMP were called, the victim was taken to hospital for treatment and an investigation quickly began, which included collecting shell casings and muddy tire-track imprints.
Hours later, police had two men in custody, thanks largely to the description provided by the victim. They weren't Saskatoon drug runners as they claimed, and there was no dead sex-trade worker either. Their story was bogus, but their attempt to kill him was very real.
In their news release about the incident earlier this month, RCMP admitted there was absolutely no rhyme or reason for the attack. Sources told the Free Press drugs and alcohol are likely factors.
The victim said his camper was looted after he fled into the forest, and he has yet to get back his stolen backpack, wallet and personal identification.
Michael Shindruk, 32, and Kelly-Ross Gratton, 43, are now in custody in Winnipeg without bail. Police executed search warrants at their homes in Bissett and seized six firearms, ammunition and a truck.
The victim said he still has many questions about what happened and will be watching the court process closely. He has yet to return to his job in Bissett and is still struggling to deal with the emotional scars, even though the physical ones have mostly healed.
"I've pretty much pushed it aside. I'm not going to let it affect my everyday life," he said. "I'm just glad I'm alive."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2013 A3
Updated on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 6:41 AM CDT: