Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ill will lingers near site of shooting

Stella neighbours were eyewitnesses to tragic events

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On a quiet summer Saturday afternoon, a day after the police identification unit had finished at the scene of a 17-hour house-eviction standoff that ended with the death of the lone resident, the North End neighbourhood appeared quiet and back to normal.

Until the resentment resurfaced when a journalist happened by asking questions. A journalist who was unhappy with how little police have shared about the death of 53-year-old Andrew Baryluk.

"Did you know Andy?"

The journalist was addressing a man wearing a T-shirt with a cautionary "Old Fart Crossing" road sign. The man had been filling a watering can in the neatly kept yard directly across Stella Avenue from Baryluk's now-boarded-up house, where on the outside, bullet holes could still be seen in an upstairs window, and where inside there was an inch of water on the main floor.

Andy had left the taps running; the interior was destroyed, said the new owner.

"Yeah," the neighbour in the age-appropriate T-shirt told the visitor who identified himself from the other side of a white picket fence.

"What was he like?"

"Real nice guy," said the neighbour. "Stayed home. He made beer, homemade beer. And he'd feed the birds."

It was the same way some of his older siblings and others remembered their brother, who never married and spent much of his adult life on social assistance, living for years with his dementia-stricken mother before she died a decade ago. Then remaining alone in the same house he had grown up in as a child and never planned to leave.

The neighbour was still talking about Andy's watching and feeding the birds he knew by their habits and species.

Recently, the neighbour said, Andy had mentioned a hawk he had spotted behind the house.

"It used to sit up on the hydro wire and would swoop in every once and a while," the neighbour recalled.

Then, seemingly without a segue, he started talking about the police and the standoff that ended so tragically.

"Yeah, I think they could have done a better job than they did."

It's the same feeling that would be expressed by the new landlord, who said he saw 24 bullet holes in the house -- all numbered by police -- and most of them in the ceiling.

There's no way of knowing yet whose bullets they were, not that it would affect the neighbour's opinion either way.

"Basically, what I figured, it's sort of like a bully. They bullied him. Pretty much. If they would have left him alone, I think it would have been OK."

 

No doubt the neighbours' view of what happened was shaped by his feelings for Andy and by the front-row-centre view he had of how the shooting started. It was closing in on 8:30 p.m. Wednesday -- more than nine hours into the standoff -- after police lost phone contact with Baryluk -- and the neighbour across the street had a direct view from his living-room window. Police hadn't evacuated them, and wouldn't until after gunfire erupted.

So he watched that initial police assault as a group of tactical support team officers -- four, maybe five -- moved towards the house from a neighbouring yard. In their news release Thursday, police didn't mention officers had approached the house, only that "shortly after 8:20 p.m. shots were fired from within the residence, resulting in officers discharging their firearms."

"Did you hear a shot coming from the house?" the journalist asked.

"No," the neighbour said.

He said a detective asked him the same question later, when it was all over. So what did the neighbour see and hear on the first attempt to enter the house while there was daylight?

"Initially I heard five shots. One big, loud bang" -- which he took to be what police call a "flash-bang," which is lobbed inside to disorient the barricaded person while officers enter.

Whatever it was, Baryluk's front window simultaneously blew out, sending the curtains and shards of glass flying outward.

"Then I heard four lower bangs after that," the neighbour said.

And he watched as the tactical officers quickly retreated. The neighbour couldn't tell from where the shots were coming.

"It all happened so fast."

Actually, the situation that led to police being summoned to the home developed over months, if not years.

It culminated with the decision by the legal owner, his 77-year-old brother, John, to sell the property because the $243 Andy paid through social assistance wasn't enough to manage the upkeep.

The new owner lives in another house on the same block.

"I feel guilty," the new owner said Saturday, "because I could have done something, you know. Stay, we'll figure something out."

-- -- --

A few hours before the standoff ended, the neighbour across the street and his wife were gathered nearby with other evacuees when they met a man who introduced himself as the incident negotiator. He wanted to know what Andy was like.

"What makes him tick?" he asked. The neighbour's wife offered an answer.

"What made Andy tick is his house," she said.

There was something else that defined who Andy Baryluk was, she told the negotiator.

"Feeding the birds."

gordon.sinclair@freepres.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 5, 2014 B1

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