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This article was published 28/4/2015 (2460 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg police announced Tuesday the arrest of John Paul Ostamas, 39, who is charged with three counts of murder in relation with a pair of homicides last weekend and the death of a third man earlier this month.
The allegations have not been proven in court and Ostamas is presumed innocent.
Ostamas, a transient man who has spent time in Winnipeg homeless shelters, including Siloam Mission, faces two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder. He is the person depicted in four images distributed by police on Sunday.
Giving a frank account of what investigators believe occurred, Insp. Danny Smyth said at a press conference today the accused was interviewed and based on that interview -- along with video surveillance and forensic evidence -- the former resident of Ontario was formally charged.
Smyth said investigators believe Ostamas met Donald Collins, 65, in the downtown area Friday evening. Police allege the pair went to a laneway near Hargrave Street and Portage Avenue where Collins was attacked and left for dead in the alley and did not survive.
Smyth allege several hours later, Ostamas met 48-year-old Stony Bushie, also in the downtown area. Police allege they went to a parkade near Hargrave Street and Portage Avenue, where Bushie was attacked and killed.
Homicide investigators have also linked Ostamas to the homicide of 37-year-old Myles Monias in a bus shelter on Main Street near Pioneer Avenue in the early-morning hours of April 10. Smyth alleged a "chance encounter" took place between the two men; Monias was allegedly attacked and left for dead.
Smyth said he is not certain whether there is a definition of what constitutes a serial killer but said "three murders is significant."
Smyth said Ostamas was familiar with Bushie and Collins but did not appear to know Monias, who "had very little contact" with the Winnipeg police.
"We know that he is originally from the Thunder Bay area. We also know that he has spent time in Winnipeg on and off for the past 10 years," Smyth said. "At this time, we cannot confirm Ostamas has been involved in any other homicides."
Police arrested Ostamas in connection to an assault unrelated to the homicides, Smyth said. He was then interviewed about the homicides, Smyth said.
Ostamas is also facing a domestic assault charge that occurred in March of this year in Winnipeg.
Smyth said Ostamas has a violent record for multiple assaults in the Thunder Bay area dating back to 2002. The Winnipeg Police Service will contact police in other jurisdictions where Ostamas is known to have travelled – after investigators have time to rest, Smyth said.
"Our homicide unit has been working pretty much around the clock since Saturday," he said.
Winnipeg lawyer Greg Brodsky confirmed earlier today he is representing Ostamas on three murder charges.
Smyth thanked the police’s homicide, major crimes, street crimes, sex crimes and forensic units, patrol officers in uniform and police cadets for the co-ordinated response that resulted in police "quickly closing in on John Ostamas and clearing these homicides."
Smyth also commended the public for responding quickly to police requests for information and said the police would not have been able to make an arrest without their help. He singled out businesses that provided video surveillance footage on Saturday night and Sunday morning.
"These efforts greatly advanced the investigation, enabling police to produce photos in identifying Ostamas," Smyth said. "The biggest break for us was the response of the community."
Smyth also thanked homeless shelters for distributing information to their clients about the potential threat over the weekend.
"I’m happy this came to a close as quickly as it did, so it doesn’t linger on," he said, adding he believes the attention brought to homelessness represents an opportunity for the city to understand the challenges faced by vulnerable people.
Bushie, the third of the victims, was from Little Grand Rapids First Nation in northeastern Manitoba. Earlier Tuesday the community’s chief said he saw Bushie downtown two days before his badly beaten body was discovered.
Chief Martin Owens said he offered Bushie assistance to get back home.
"He said he would call me," said Owens, 49, who grew up with Bushie, 48, in the remote community in the Canadian Shield forest.
Owens said he and Bushie played together as kids.
"He was a friendly person. He loved life. He liked to joke around. He was a fun guy to hang out with," said Owens, who last saw Bushie Thursday in Winnipeg. The chief said he saw Bushie outside the First Nations Bank of Canada on Broadway.
"I was parked in a 15-minute zone and he came to talk to me a bit," said Owens. "I told him he should try and get home."
Owens said the band will help community members return to their remote community but Bushie seemed content to stay in Winnipeg for the time being. Two days later, his old friend was found dead.
"I was in shock when I got a call from one of my councillors Saturday night."
Bushie has a brother and a sister but no children, Owens said.
A service for him will be held in Winnipeg after his siblings come and pick out a casket for their brother whose body will be flown home to Little Grand Rapids for burial. The family is still waiting for word from police that the autopsy is complete and Bushie’s body will be released, Owens said.