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24 armed heists

'Good kid' faces multiple charges for robberies

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City police want a suspected serial armed robber -- charged with 24 robberies since 1995 -- designated a dangerous offender so that he faces the possibility of a lifetime behind bars.

Michael David Syrnyk, 32, was hit with numerous charges yesterday, one day after police say they had captured a man involved in a series of armed robberies following an armed standoff that began with the shooting of one of their own officers.

Winnipeg police major crime Staff Sgt. Doug Lofto said yesterday the allegations against Syrnyk are of such a nature that police will ask Crown prosecutors for the special criminal designation of a dangerous offender if he is convicted.

If the designation is approved by the courts, it would mean Syrnyk would be sentenced to an indefinite prison term.

"We think the Crown should seek dangerous offender status," Lofto said. "We think this case deserves that."

New details emerged yesterday of the life of a man described by friends and neighbours as a "good kid" from St. James.

Court documents reveal he recently inherited half of his mother's estate -- his share is approximately $73,000 -- following her death last fall. His brother was left the other half.

Police believe that, unbeknownst to those closest to him, Syrnyk began secretly training for a career of armed robbery several years ago, reading books and watching real-life TV cop shows on The Learning Channel.

They also believe he rehearsed his attacks, carefully picking his targets so he could make a clean getaway.

"This individual was well-prepared," Const. Bob Johnson said yesterday, adding the suspect had no police or military training.

The suspect also outfitted himself with a police scanner, wearing an earpiece so he could constantly monitor police radio calls, police said. They would not comment yesterday on whether the suspect was able to log on to restricted police radio channels.

The offences police believe Syrnyk may have been involved in go back to Aug. 15, 1995, when he's alleged to have held up the Bank of Montreal at 172 Marion St. The last robbery charge against him involves a high-profile April 7 gun fight with Securicor guard Rick Long outside the Maples Safeway, which sent Sunday afternoon shoppers scurrying for safety. Nobody was injured in the exchange of gunfire.

Police allege that over the past seven years, Syrnyk robbed more than 22 other banks, credit unions, armoured cars and one jewelry store. He's also accused of stealing guns and ammunition from local gun stores.

In total, he is charged with 24 counts of armed robbery, 24 counts of wearing a disguise with intent, seven counts of discharging a firearm with intent, possessing weapons dangerous to the public peace, forcible confinement and causing bodily harm with a firearm.

Syrnyk is also facing several charges laid after a 12-hour stand-off in a Chinatown massage parlour, which began with the shooting of a police officer Wednesday evening, but ended peacefully early Thursday.

Police had no inkling the St. James resident was suspected of being the man once dubbed "The Yuletide Bandit" until massage parlour employee Megan Ireland -- allegedly held hostage by a gun-toting Syrnyk -- was released Wednesday night and gave police information about his potential involvement in the armoured car robberies.

"We just met 10 days ago," Ireland said yesterday. "He's a guy who likes an adrenaline rush. When he talked about things like that, I thought it was just an attention thing."

Police admitted yesterday the arrest of Syrnyk was a lucky break. Privately, they say Syrnyk would have never fit the profile of a serial robber.

Looking tired and worn, Syrnyk, flanked by two sheriff's officers, slowly shuffled into courtroom 304 of the downtown Law Courts building for his first court appearance yesterday morning.

Justice sources say Syrnyk fell asleep in the holding area of the courthouse after being driven in by sheriff's officers from Headingley Jail just over 24 hours after his arrest.

Wearing a bright orange prison jumpsuit, Syrnyk sat patiently looking straight ahead while another lawyer finished a bail application.

Crown attorney Brian Bell then took the podium as provincial court Judge Judith Webster asked which defence lawyer was representing Syrnyk.

Syrnyk stood up, his dark hair a tangled mess and large bags clearly visible under both eyes, and mumbled "no" when asked if he had contacted a lawyer.

His case was remanded until Monday. By late afternoon, Syrnyk had hired defence lawyer Mike Cook to represent him.

Yesterday, police displayed a small arsenal of weapons seized early Thursday in a series of raids at Syrnyk's St. James home and other property. They included six sawed-off shotguns, one nine-millimetre semi-automatic Glock handgun, some folding batons, a throwing spear, a knife, a bulletproof vest and more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition

What police were unable to talk about was the suspect's background.

"He was very self-disciplined," Lofto said. "But he changed his lifestyle and it caught up with him."

The bulletproof vest on display yesterday had not been hit by gunfire. In the Maples robbery, armoured car guard Rick Long said he thought he hit a bandit four times.

Sources also say that the suspect has leg scarring. Police reports about the Dec. 12, 2000 robbery outside Polo Park said the robbery suspect may have been shot in the leg.

Lofto added that the investigation is far from over. More charges are anticipated against Syrnyk, and perhaps against others.

Police sources say after keeping a low profile for so long, the suspect developed a taste for cocaine and fell under Ireland's spell.

A friend of the Syrnyk family said yesterday she was shocked when she learned of the arrest.

Shirley Cormack has known the family for most of her life, having attended elementary school with Michael's mother, Virginia, who died of cancer last September.

Cormack, whose husband is a retired police officer, now co-owns a restaurant in Selkirk.

She had heard about the police shooting and subsequent 12-hour standoff in media reports on Thursday, but only learned yesterday the suspect was someone she knew.

"I am absolutely shocked. There is nothing I could tell you that would have led you to believe this could happen," she told the Free Press.

Syrnyk and his brother, Brent, were both fine young men who remained close with their family while growing up in St. James, she said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2002 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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