Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Death incites anger

Family says man didn't have to die in standoff

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The Winnipeg man who died during an armed standoff is being described as a virtual shut-in whose mental-health issues demanded more of police than a hail of bullets.

Family members of Andrew Baryluk lashed out at police after the 17-hour ordeal, saying the tragic ending could have been avoided if handled differently.

"He had mental illness and was an alcoholic. He was very much a hermit," an angry relative told the Free Press Thursday.

She was speaking on behalf of the grieving family on the condition her name not be published.

"They could have had him in custody in 15 minutes if they knew what they were doing," she said. "This has torn our family apart."

Baryluk, 52, lived his entire life in the Stella Avenue home, which was about to be taken away from him following a bitter legal battle that had gone on for years. His mother died of Alzheimer's disease. His brother has cancer.

When Baryluk barricaded himself in the home Wednesday morning -- in response to sheriff's officers arriving to change the locks on eviction day -- police were called. Baryluk, who was armed with his father's vintage rifle, refused to budge and threatened to harm himself or anyone who tried to make him leave.

Family members told police tactical-unit members Baryluk was deeply attached to the only home he'd ever known. He had no criminal history or any record of violence but struggled with an undiagnosed mental illness and an addiction to alcohol.

"I thought that if I talked to him, I could convince him to come out," the woman said. Other loved ones, including Baryluk's four siblings, were consulted. Much of the conversation involved the layout of the home.

The idea was to tell Baryluk that plans had changed and he would be allowed to remain inside the home despite the court order.

"The police advised me that it would be OK to lie to him. I would have lied to him, if I had to, had the police given me the opportunity. I would have told him the new owners of the house didn't want it anymore. That was all it would take to calm him down and have him leave the house," the woman said.

"I might not have had to lie to him though, because I had other options I could have offered Andrew. In any case, I was not given the opportunity."

The family said they were told "this was a very sensitive operation" and the tactical-unit negotiator would make the final call as to whether they could talk to Baryluk or record a message that could be played for him.

But the situation escalated Wednesday evening when police lobbed a flash grenade into the home, apparently in an attempt to force Baryluk out. In response, Baryluk fired at least one shot towards police, who returned fire. No officers were injured.

Family members don't know whether Baryluk was struck by police gunfire or if he died by his own hand.

As darkness fell, police cut power to the home and no further contact with Baryluk could be established.

"I don't know if he had any other ammunition, other than that one shot," the relative told the Free Press.

"But that was a whole lot of resources -- police, fire department, ambulance. It was not necessary. It was not necessary to turn the power off, evacuate the neighbourhood, fire shots at the house till the wee hours. The police knew what his trauma was."

Baryluk was never diagnosed or prescribed medication for mental illness.

"No one could get him to a doctor or a dentist, for that matter. His teeth were rotting out of his mouth," the family member said.

Baryluk had been living on welfare. He was to remain in the family home while his father paid the bills. However, money began to run short and Baryluk's brother -- dealing with his own failing health -- made the decision to sell the home. The proceeds would be divided among the five siblings.

"Andrew did not want to move. He believed he had rights to the home. The house was sold twice. The first time, the new owners backed out of the deal when possession day came and Andrew refused to move out. The second time, a neighbour bought the house. He was more sympathetic to Andrew and allowed the court proceedings Andrew had initiated to play out," said his relative.

The issue also divided the family, with some believing he should be allowed to remain and others wanting him out. The legal battle added to the tension.

Baryluk seemed to be planning for the end.

"He put on a hat and his best clothes (Wednesday). The previous day, he told the neighbour who had bought the house that he had nothing against him," his family member told the Free Press.

After police stormed the house in the early hours Thursday and Baryluk's body was found, police contacted his brother.

"He couldn't bring himself to enter the house," she said.

Now the family is planning a funeral while so many questions remain unanswered.

"I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to tell him goodbye," his relative said.

Police confirmed at a news conference Baryluk had been killed Wednesday evening and members of the tactical unit had been placed on administrative leave.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2014 A3


Updated on Friday, August 1, 2014 at 6:35 AM CDT: Replaces photo

6:42 AM: Adds sidebar

6:51 AM: Adds video

7:14 AM: Corrects typo

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