Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Police may learn a lot in the fallout from Andrew Baryluk's death

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We learned a lot more this week about last week's police siege of a barricaded North End home that left the lone occupant dead.

And about the cause of Andrew Baryluk's death police were agonizingly slow to reveal. Just like they were reluctant to say whether they had even found a firearm inside the dilapidated house Baryluk had rented for years from a brother who had finally sold it.

It took six days after his body was found before police answered both of those questions at a media briefing Wednesday afternoon.

Finally, we learned Baryluk -- who had been on social assistance and facing eviction from the Stella Avenue home he had been born into, never left, and defiantly refused to leave -- had shot himself.

Reporters, the public and most importantly, family, learned that virtually simultaneously at the police media briefing, where police Chief Devon Clunis still couldn't, or wouldn't, answer the most basic of questions.

What kind of weapon did Baryluk use?

Chief Clunis couldn't tell us.

That most basic detail would come two days later from Andy's 62-year-old sister-in-law, Colleen Baryluk.

She had to call the medical examiner's office a day later to find out.

Andy died instantly from a .22-calibre bullet wound to the head, Colleen was told.

"Horribly enough," Colleen told me Friday, "that gives me comfort."

Comfort because Andy didn't lie in the house suffering after he shot himself and before police found his body after a 17-hour siege.

She also was told the bullet entered just below the ear and travelled upward into the brain, where it stopped and fragmented.

"It was clear he shot himself," Colleen said. "There are no other bullets in his body."

It may even have been clear to tactical support team members when they found him lifeless in the living room at 3 a.m. on July 31.

But police would have known for sure Baryluk had killed himself by last Friday, the day after his body was found, when officers attended the autopsy at Health Sciences Centre that started at 10 a.m. and where the obvious preliminary finding was made. It was obvious because the .22-calibre bullet that killed Baryluk didn't match the ammunition police used at the scene -- so I was told by a spokesman for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

At the media briefing, a reporter asked Chief Clunis why police couldn't have released a preliminary result that Friday.

Supt. Danny Smythe, standing to the police chief's left, answered for him.

"Investigators were in touch with the family today," he responded.

The reporter persisted, and Smythe finally answered the question.

"There were details that needed to be corroborated, both with the (medical examiner's) office and through our investigation, that didn't allow that to happen the day after," Smythe said.

Over the phone Friday, I read Smythe's answer to Mark O'Rourke, a former Winnipeg police officer who is now the director of the medical examiner's office and who knows Smythe.

"Huh," he said, in a tone that suggested surprise.

I asked if O'Rourke knew what "needed to be corroborated" with his office.

O'Rourke didn't know.

The delay in releasing the cause of death was frustrating for the media.

But it was much more than that for the family. When I told Colleen police had known the cause of death that long before they released it, she called it "thoughtless." She said police could have saved the family days of anguish.

If police were too distracted on the long weekend to think of the Baryluk family, they could have at least thought of themselves; their public image and the public-relations mess they were creating for themselves by appearing to be hiding something when they wouldn't release a fact as fundamental as Andy Baryluk's cause of death.

And I'm far from the only one who thinks that.

"They're their own worst enemies," a retired senior city police officer told me this week when he learned how Baryluk died.

He said police could have issued a statement saying preliminary autopsy results show Baryluk died as a result of a self-inflicted wound and the weapon was found beside him.

End of speculation, suspicion and controversy.

So what have police learned from all of this?

Well, for police, the most important lesson from the death of Andy Baryluk is what they have learned for the next time an emotionally disturbed, suicidal person barricades himself or herself in his or her home. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. Clearly what the Winnipeg Police Service has yet to learn is the importance of creating trust with the public by being open with the media and hence the people they serve.

Mind you, what can we expect, when they can't even appear to be open with the family of a man who died so tragically and so publicly?

 

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb,ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2014 B1

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