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Former gang member Greg Robson at Stella Walk: 'These guys will go out and randomly do stuff to prove their loyalty to the gang.'

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Former gang member Greg Robson at Stella Walk: 'These guys will go out and randomly do stuff to prove their loyalty to the gang.'

One year after a brazen triple shooting that put North End residents on edge and the city's crime problem in the national spotlight, police now say they believe the rampage involved targeted killings within the drug trade.

For the first time, police elaborated Friday on links between the three shootings that killed two men on Oct. 23, 2010.

They think two of the shootings, those which happened on Dufferin Avenue and Boyd Avenue, were tied to the "drug sub-culture in the North End of the city."

"We believe those residences were specifically targeted," but that doesn't mean the people who were killed were the intended targets, Sgt. Ross Read said.

The mayhem began about 8:30 p.m. when a masked man on a bicycle shot a 13-year-old girl who was walking in the Lord Selkirk Park Housing Development. Read said it's difficult to pinpoint why she was targeted.

A second shooting came about 10 minutes later, when Thomas Beardy, 35, was shot and killed near the back door of a home he was visiting on Dufferin Avenue.

A third shooting came about 35 minutes later when Ian MacDonald, 52, was killed after answering a knock at the door of a white bungalow where he lived on Boyd Avenue.

Ian MacDonald

Ian MacDonald

One year later, no arrests have been made. But on Friday, near the anniversary of the shootings, police released more details about a man they're looking for -- although they haven't confined their investigation to a lone killer.

"What we're looking for is additional information. We've given some of the specifics and the descriptions out so that we can get more detailed witness accounts coming out so that the investigators can go out and hopefully be successful with the investigation," said Read.

The shooting spree initially drew national and local media attention that focused on violence in Winnipeg's inner city. Attention included a political debate in the mayoral election over fighting crime, but that debate ended when Sam Katz beat challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis and returned to office.

The investigation hasn't kept its initial high profile in the North End.

One eyewitness who glimpsed the shooter said he hasn't spoke to police in months.

A mobile command police vehicle that had been dispatched to Selkirk Avenue after the shootings is long gone.

The shootings may be easy to ignore for those who don't live in the North End, said Greg Robson, a community justice worker and cultural adviser for the aboriginal non-profit organization Onashowewin. The longtime North End resident and former gang member now counsels others on issues such as mental health or drug addiction.

"I think that it really sparked a lot of fear, but for the areas where there's no gang violence and shootings, I don't think that they lost a lot of sleep over it."

Samantha Stevenson

Samantha Stevenson

He said he was struck by the randomness of the shootings, and his hunch is they were gang-related.

"They'll look at the younger guys and they'll often look and tell them, 'You gotta go do a mission,' " he said.

"These guys will go out and randomly do stuff to prove their loyalty to the gang."

People who approach police with information could face backlash, he said.

"It's pretty simple; you don't ever want to be labelled a rat. Once you're a rat, bad things start to happen to you," he said.

"If you see somebody getting beat down in the street, and you were seen going up to that police car and (talking) and you're pointing across the street, you're going to have a lot of problems after that in the community, whether it's gang members, drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, undesirables..."

Police will eventually get a break on the case, believes Nancy Flett, assistant executive director of Robinson Street's Indian Métis Friendship Centre (IMFC). The first shooting, in the 200 block of Stella Walk, was only metres from the IMFC, prompting the group to hold a Safe Halloween event where children and their families could celebrate indoors.

Flett said the Safe Halloween event will continue this year because memories of the shootings linger.

"There are a lot of people (who) worry about it," she said. "It's just unfortunate people are still feeling afraid to go out and parents are fearing for their children's safety."

Flett said she hopes arrests will eventually be made.

"It's a shame that they haven't caught anybody because there are two people who died and the families are still grieving, and no one's been caught for it and punished for what they've done," she said.

"Someone will get caught eventually... people do talk and you've got to think that everyone's not going to stay quiet forever. Eventually something's going to happen, someone's going to come out and say something."

That might mean trying new ways of teasing out information, according to one retired police officer.

After the shootings, police announced a Crime Stoppers reward of up to $6,000 if a tipster's information connected the three shootings and led to an arrest of those responsible.

Retired Winnipeg police detective Bill Vandergraaf, a 29-year veteran of the service, said police should look at a higher reward for an "extremely tough case."

"When you have a random situation like this, we have to generate some information from the public, from the people that are in the know," he said.

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca