Sudden Death [The Police Murder of Ian Bush from Houston, BC]
[UPDATE: RCMP Officer Won't be Charged after Man Shot in Head in B.C. Jail]:
Sudden death [The police murder of Ian Bush from Houston, BC]
Six months ago today, a young mill worker was arrested while attending a hockey game in his northern B.C. town. Twenty minutes later, he had a bullet in his head -- and his family, friends and neighbours still have no idea why it happened. GARY MASON reconstructs the night Ian Bush died
Globe and Mail, April 29, 2006.
HOUSTON, B.C. -- here was never any doubt about what Ian Bush and his buddy J. R. MacInnes would be doing that Saturday night back in October. It was the Luckies' home opener, and the corrugated-metal walls of the Claude L. Parrish Arena in this mill town where the Bulkley and Morice rivers meet in northwestern British Columbia would be sweating from all the people jammed inside.
In the afternoon, the two headed over to the arena to watch their friend Clayton Poznikoff referee a midget game. Afterward, all three went to the beer and wine store for a few cold ones to knock back before the Luckies, favoured to win the championship of the Central Interior Senior Men's AA Hockey League, took to the ice.
They probably knew three-quarters of the nearly 1,200 people at the game that night. Ian had spent all of his 22 years in Houston; there weren't many of the town's 4,000 residents he hadn't crossed paths with at some point.
During the first period, he sat beside the local manager for Canfor, the forest giant that runs the mill where he and J.R. worked as labourers. He also spotted a couple of his old teachers from Houston Secondary School, as well as the guy who owned the local gas station, where he had once worked, and a teller from the bank.
Between the second and third periods, quite a crowd assembled outside -- smokers needing a fix and people after a little fresh air. Before long, J.R. looked over just as Ian was getting into the back of a cop car, so he went to see what was going on.
Ian had been holding a beer that Clayton had handed to him so he could take part in a friendly wrestling match. Minutes later, Constable Paul Koester had wandered over and approached Ian about having an open beer in public.
When the constable, just five months out of RCMP training school, asked for his name, Ian smirked and claimed to be Clayton's brother Tyler, another close friend. His buddies all laughed, and the young officer quickly surmised what was going on. He failed to see the humour in it.
While Ian sat in the squad car, Constable Koester consulted a more experienced Mountie on the scene. When he returned, he got Ian out of the car again, informed him he was being charged with obstructing an investigation and frisked him. Then he asked him to place his arms behind his back so he could be handcuffed.
Witnesses said that the young policeman seemed agitated. He yanked Ian's ball cap down on his forehead and then, as he put him back into the squad car, the hat was accidentally knocked off. Ian displayed his first sign of anger. "This is fucking bullshit," he barked.
Up to that point, he seemed to have taken the whole thing in stride, laughing as his buddies stood outside the car poking fun at him. Few could believe that he was really being busted for holding an open beer and giving the police a friend's name -- like that hadn't been done a zillion times by smartass kids his age.
At 9:30 p.m., Ian was taken away, and an auxiliary officer told J.R. that his buddy would probably be released after the game. So an hour later, when the Luckies had defeated the Kitimat Ice Demons 3-2, J.R. and a couple of friends walked the half-block to the detachment. They saw an ambulance parked outside. They noticed police officers who were not local. Still, they didn't think much of it when they were told to come back later.
But when they came back the second time, they again were told to leave -- and not to come back that night. Something wasn't right.
J.R. went to a party at the curling rink, and then to Idywild, one of Houston's two bars. He and a girl he knew decided to go joy riding in his pickup in a meadow outside town. They got stuck and were forced to spend the night in a snowmobile shack.
The next morning, they walked 10 kilometres before they could get cellphone reception, and the girl could call her boyfriend to come and pull them out.
"Al wants to talk to you," she said, handing over the phone.
eah, I bet he does, J.R. thought. I just spent the night out in the woods with his girlfriend.
But the friend said: "There's a rumour going around that Ian's dead."
"That's impossible," J.R. told him. "He was at the cop shop."
"J.R., that's the rumour."
After getting his truck out, J.R. headed straight for the home of Ian's 25-year-old sister, Anni Patrick. If anyone would know what was going on, she would.
As soon as he turned the corner and crossed the railway tracks near her home, he could see a bunch of cars parked outside. "Tell me it's not true," he begged Anni. "Tell me it's not true."
All she could do was cry.
"He was such an easy child," says Linda Bush, sitting in a La-Z-Boy recliner at her daughter's home, two-year-old granddaughter Emily on her lap. "He was so easy to get along with. He was just one of those kids that people loved the moment they met him. He was the perfect son."
A hand goes to her face. She begins to sob. A few seconds -- it's about as long as she can talk about her son before she falls apart.
There are photographs splayed out across the living-room carpet. Ian fishing. Ian snowmobiling. Ian mooning someone. Ian smiling. He was always smiling. Ian, as a young boy, being cooed over by his older sisters. Ian, as a young man, being cooed over by his sisters.
It was just the four of them. Dawson Bush, the kids' father, had left the home when Ian was 4, and then left town. Remarried, he returned to Houston recently to work as a trucker.
In single-parent homes, the kids often grow up a little faster and depend on each other a little more. They are often much closer in adulthood as a result. "It was the three of us kids against the world," says Renée, the oldest.
Anni remembers the time Renée accidentally gave Ian a black eye. When their mother came home from work, she asked him what had happened. "I slipped on the floor and hit my head on the table," he fibbed.
If Ian got in a scrap at the local bar, it was often because someone had said something about Anni or Renée. When Renée, seven years his senior, decided at 25 to go to university in Prince George for a nursing degree, no one was prouder than her brother. Whenever she needed a few bucks, Ian, making good money at the mill, couldn't open his wallet fast enough.
"The bank of Ian," she said, laughing. The only bank that didn't expect loans to be repaid.
According to his sisters, he acquired none of the macho tendencies boys often develop as they grow into their teens. Even when with his buddies in a bar or at the mall, he would still stop to give a sister a hug or call out, "I love you," across the street.
He did the same when he saw his 14-year-old cousin, Leeza Eggers. She would blush with pride. Athletic and strong, Ian Bush had the kind of hot looks girls Leeza's age will chat about for hours. If Houston had a Moondoggy, he was it.
The sequence of events in the early-morning hours of Oct. 30 are still a bit of a blur for everyone.
About 3 a.m., the phone rang at the home of Kate Eggers -- Leeza's mother and Linda Bush's sister. Her husband Mike answered. It was the police, looking for Linda.
Mr. Eggers said she was in Prince George, 307 kilometres east of Houston, visiting Renée. Unnerved, he hung up and told his wife: "I think we just got one of those calls."
The Eggers live right next door to Anni, and Kate phoned to alert her to what was going on. No sooner had Anni begun to call the police herself than a couple of cruisers arrived in her driveway. When she answered the door, one of her former high-school teachers, now a victim-services representative for the RCMP, stood there with a couple of officers.
"You should sit down," she was advised.
When she did, an officer said: "Your brother is dead."
"What are you talking about?" she asked.
"Your brother is dead."
Anni started crying and screaming. She called the police liars. Her husband, Kelvin, asked what happened. Was it a car accident? No it wasn't, the police said. But that's all they could say.
It was 4 in the morning.
Anni gave the police Renée's address and phone number, believing that they would have someone from the Prince George detachment go and break the news to her mother. When an hour passed with no call, Anni said they couldn't wait any longer; someone had to tell Linda. But no one wanted to make the call.
"We all chickened out," Anni said later.
By then, her father had arrived. He said his wife, Margaret, also happened to be in Prince George. He would ask her to go over to Renée's place.
But when Margaret found the townhouse, rang the bell and knocked on the door, there was no response. Pounding harder, she yelled until she finally heard Linda say, "I'm coming, I'm coming."
"Linda," Margaret said, as soon as the door opened. "Ian's dead."
She threw her arms around Linda, who began to wail. And then to throw up. Margaret called for Renée, who collapsed when Linda told her the news.
"It was sheer horror," Margaret said later. "It was sheer horror."
Later that morning, they loaded Renée's car for the nearly four-hour trek to Houston. Linda lay in the back, curled up in a blanket, her face buried in a pillow. She cried for most of the trip. Occasionally, Renée crawled back to comfort her while her boyfriend drove. She remembers badly needing to make a pit stop, but every location had some connection to her brother.
"Like the KFC," she says. "He worked at one, and I thought that would hurt my mom if we pulled in there, so I said, 'No, keep going. Find someplace else.' "
Eventually they arrived at Anni's place, which was crawling with friends. Renée remembers "everyone having that look on their face" as she walked toward the house. They all soon cleared out, leaving Ian's family alone with their tears.
Linda would have to be placed on medication to deal with the shock.
This is what the people of Houston now know for sure.
Ian Bush was arrested at 9:30 p.m. on the evening of Oct. 29 for obstructing an investigation, taken to the station nearby and, 20 minutes later, was dead from a gunshot wound to the head.
What took place in those 20 minutes has been the subject of much speculation. The police have yet to say anything since the day of the shooting. There has been no coroner's inquest. But thanks to information gleaned from those close to the investigation conducted by the RCMP's major-crime unit in Prince George, a picture begins to emerge.
When Constable Koester and Ian Bush arrived at the detachment, sources say there was no one else there, even though Howard Rubin, the Vancouver lawyer who represents the Bush family, says he was told other officers were on the scene.
Toxicology reports have shown conclusively that Ian was not on drugs of any kind, but had a significant amount of alcohol in his system. He was taken to the station's interview room, where a small couch sits against a wall beneath a video camera. The camera was not turned on.
At some point, a violent struggle broke out. Contrary to some media reports, the fight did not result in a hole in the wall with blood on it. But Constable Koester was injured -- he was punched in the face many times, and cut.
And a bullet from the gun he was wearing hit Ian from behind.
A key part of the police investigation, and certain to be a primary focus of a coroner's inquest, is the "blood splatter" the shot produced. It can tell investigators a lot about where the two men were in relation to each other when the gun went off. For example, says Shane DeMeyer, acting coroner for B.C.'s northern region, an execution-style shooting in which a shot is fired into the back of an unsuspecting target's head usually causes a significant amount of blood to "blow back" on the shooter.
Investigators have determined that the bullet struck the centre of Ian's head, travelling on a trajectory that would have seen it exit just below his forehead, although for some reason it did not. The shot is likely to have generated a significant amount of "blow back," and would appear to rule out a scenario in which a victim has physical control of his assailant.
The RCMP recently completed its investigation and sent a report to Vancouver, where, the Bush family has been told, it likely will be reviewed by another agency, in this case the police force in neighbouring New Westminster.
How long will it be before the results of the investigation are made public and any action is taken?
Calls to the commanding officer of the Houston detachment have not been returned. Judy Thomas, who oversaw the investigation by the unit from Prince George, referred all questions to the RCMP's media department in Vancouver, where Constable John Ward confirmed that the investigation is complete and that discussions about what will happen next are under way. He also said it could be months before the public learns what happened and whether any charges are to be laid.
But he refused to discuss the RCMP's policies and procedures for handling prisoners, such as whether an officer should be armed when alone in an interview room with a suspect, or whether a video camera should be turned on before an interrogation begins.
Asked whether the public has a right to know about such policies, Constable Ward replied, "The public doesn't have a right to know anything."
He also said the force would not speed up the process because of pressure "from the media." And, contrary to most reports, he said Constable Koester has not been suspended. He is working in another B.C. detachment and has never been taken off the payroll.
Winter has come and gone since Ian Bush died -- Kitimat won that league title the Luckies wanted so badly -- but life in Houston isn't the same as it used to be.
The people here are honest and hard-working -- raised to respect authority, to believe that the police are always on their side. Now, they're not so sure.
Heather Marren-Reitsma was Ian's English teacher when he was in Grade 11 and for part of Grade 12. It has been four years, but she has kept a poem he wrote that is entitled Missed Memories and speaks to the apprehension and excitement he felt about leaving high school.
"My graduation is a waterfall," he wrote. "It's going to be the ride of my life."
"He really had a sensitive side," Ms. Marren-Reitsma remembers. "There was a spark to him. Sure, he was like most boys his age, there was an indifference there about school, but his disinterest never took on any form of defiance or disrespect. I'd call it happy apathy.
"I really loved that boy."
Her husband, Leroy, a supervisor at Canfor, is anxious to have all the facts come out, although he just can't understand how Ian ended up dead.
"Regardless of what happened in that room," he says. "It should never have gotten to that point. We're talking an open beer here. I mean, how does someone end up dead over that?"
Dennis Hotte, the Canfor manager who sat with Ian at the game just before he died, says the town has lost "one helluva kid" and he has lost one of his best workers.
"I guess I have to be a bit careful about what I say because of my position," he adds. "But it's not right what happened. There's no words to describe it. It's not right, and justice needs to be done."
J.R. MacInnes sits in Happy Jack's pub, wearing his Team Canada hockey sweater and a perpetually sad expression that his friends hope will go away. Talk to him and it's apparent that won't be any time soon.
"I've thought about leaving town," he says. "But then I think of Ian's mom, and think, 'How would she feel?' I'm like an adopted son to that family. But I don't know. . ."
His voice trails off. Tears well up in his eyes. He used to do everything with Ian.
Linda Poznikoff, mother of Clayton and Tyler, says Ian was at their house all the time. She and her husband, Paul, loved him like a son. Now, she looks at her boys and can't help notice the toll his death has taken. Tyler remains especially bitter; often when Ian's name comes up, he'll scream: "Ian's dead. Get over it." Then he leaves.
Dennis Ramanda isn't over it, either. Ian was often at his place too. The gang would often assemble in the shed Mr. Ramanda built next to his trailer, using scrap wood from the mill. Basically a kids' fort for grownups, it has a fireplace -- and now Ian's neon green Arctic Cat snowmobile as well. The night of the funeral, many of his friends gathered here to toast their lost friend. They cried like babies.
"There won't be another one like him," Dennis says. "He loved my little daughter, Brooke. He'd play with her for hours.
"I never want her to forget him, so I'll often bring a picture out of Ian, and say: 'There's Ian. Remember Ian? Remember how he played with you?' "
Then the wiry, ramrod-tough mill worker bows his head to compose himself.
What happened, says his sister, Dipper's Deli owner Sandy Lokken, has "screwed up a bunch of people's lives -- not just Ian's family. Everybody loved Ian in this town."
Renée Bush sits in Sandy's deli, worried sick about her mother, who has aged, she says, 10 years in five months. "I don't know how you recover from something like this. All my mother does is cry all the time. She can't stop."
She, too, cries every day, and when she does, she wants to pick up the phone and call Anni. But "what if she's having a good day? I'd just ruin it."
She cries because Ian won't see her graduate from nursing school next year or be at her wedding. She cries when she thinks back to the last time they saw one another, a few weeks before his death.
Renée was home for the weekend. It was early morning, she was still in bed, and he was leaving for work. He came into her bedroom, kissed her, gave her a hug and told her to drive safely. Just as he had every other time she had come home to visit.
"I love you," were the last words he spoke to her -- and the last she spoke to him.
Sitting in Anni's living room, Linda Bush has regrets of her own. Ian often told friends that he stayed with his mother because he wanted to, not because he had to. But after losing her job as an accountant's helper, she needed help to pay the mortgage. And he knew that.
She last saw her son as she was getting ready to leave for Renée's place. She told him she might not be back in enough time Monday to make his lunch for work. She made sandwiches most people couldn't get their mouths around.
"Don't worry about it, Mom," he said. "I'll be fine."
She never believed that he wouldn't be.
After getting back to Anni's house the day after he died, she wanted to see his body but couldn't. It lay on the floor of the police station for 17 hours while the area was inspected by a team of investigators and forensic specialists.
Then the body was tagged, placed in a coffin-shaped metal canister and shipped to Kamloops, more than 800 kilometres away by car, for an immediate autopsy. Again there was no time, so she never did see her son again.
"Renée and others said I wouldn't want to see Ian after the autopsy," Linda now says. "But when I learned that the bullet didn't exit his head, I wished I had."
Today marks six months to the day since Ian Bush was killed. The 29th is also the day people gather for a monthly candlelight vigil outside the Houston RCMP detachment. The first one, held six days after his death, attracted 400 people, and last month's drew about 30 on a cold and windy night.
J.R. showed up. And Dennis Ramanda. And Sandy from the deli. A steady stream of people came up to give Linda a hug. They didn't say much, as RCMP officers came and went without looking over at the burning candles and the memorial set up in Ian's honour.
"Rotten bastards," Dawson Bush said as a police car pulled into the driveway. "They're a bunch of rotten bastards."
The detachment wasn't happy about the memorial -- a constant reminder of what happened inside. A few months earlier, the police had removed many of the flowers, saying it was out of respect because the cold weather was killing them.
But they also said they would like the whole thing removed at some point. "Not until we get some answers," Linda Bush said. "This is not coming down until we know what happened to Ian."
But it did come down. Two weeks later, she returned to find everything gone -- the candles, the pictures and the flowers. The RCMP denied being responsible and said it would treat the matter as a theft.
"We'll likely never find out what happened," Linda now says. "It just seems awful fishy. I just can't believe someone in town would do this, you know?"
Meanwhile, Mr. Rubin, the lawyer, is almost ready to file a lawsuit against the RCMP and the officer involved, seeking money to cover the contributions Ian would have made to his mother's mortgage in the years to come. Because the suit is against the police, the family can't ask for more.
As for the investigation, the Bush family and many others in Houston are frustrated at the slow pace. The police said it might be six weeks before they knew what happened to Ian. It has been six months, and they still don't have a clue.
And there are those for whom the gregarious young man lives on.
During last month's vigil, as people huddled to keep warm, Anni's seven-year-old son Brian seemed oblivious to the cold. His cheeks were crimson, his jacket open.
"See this snowmobile," he said, pointing to a bright green plastic toy sitting among the glass-encased candles and flowers.
"That's mine. I gave it to Uncle Ian to borrow."
Gary Mason is a columnist with The Globe and Mail's British Columbia bureau.