Court hears details of reserve shooting that killed boy

WETASKIWIN — Five-year-old Ethan Yellowbird was sleeping in his tiny fire-truck bed when three teens standing outside took turns shooting a rifle at his father’s home.

WETASKIWIN — Five-year-old Ethan Yellowbird was sleeping in his tiny fire-truck bed when three teens standing outside took turns shooting a rifle at his father’s home.

One bullet ripped through the wall above the child’s mattress, struck him in the head, then zinged through the house until it lodged in a tile on a bathroom wall.

No one will probably ever know which of the three youths fired the fatal shot on July 11, 2011, on the Samson Cree reserve in central Alberta.

Details of the shooting were provided for the first time in court on Wednesday, but there wasn’t an explanation as to the motive for the attack, including whether the teens may have been targeting someone. RCMP have previously said the three had ties to gangs.

The teens — 13, 16 and 17 at the time — pleaded guilty earlier this month to manslaughter. They are to appear again in Wetaskiwin youth court for a sentencing hearing on Jan. 30.

Crown prosecutor Trent Wilson has indicated he plans to ask for the maximum youth sentence for the offence— two years in custody followed by one year of supervision.

Ethan’s mother, Ashley Charmaine Yellowbird read a victim impact statement to the judge.

“I have an ache in my heart for my son that will never go away.”

Wiping away tears, she added that she tries to be strong for her other four children, but feels part of her died with Ethan. “He’s never coming home. He’ll never grow up.”

Ethan had been sleeping at the home of his dad, Lee Buffalo. An agreed statement of facts said Buffalo, his girlfriend, Alicia Simon, and their one-year-old child were all sleeping in a bed next to Ethan.

Court heard the three teens had been hanging out that night at one of their homes and came up with a plan to shoot up the house. They all handled the gun and one of them loaded it. At 3 a.m., they walked over to the house.

The oldest teen fired one shot above the house, then passed the gun to the other boys and walked away. The other two each fired two shots. Two bullets hit near the front door, one went into the basement and one struck Ethan.

“It’s unclear which of the three accused fired the shot that killed Ethan Yellowbird,” said the court document.

It also said Simon first heard the shots and woke up Ethan’s father.

“She believed she had been hit by a bullet. She ran out of the house and was yelling for an ambulance.”

Buffalo then realized his son had been killed.

Before the teens ran off, they picked up the shell casings and put them into a hat. They broke the rifle into two pieces and hid them outside near some tree stumps.

“It was later disposed of by someone else” and has yet to be recovered, said the document.

The Samson reserve, one of four near Hobbema about an hour’s drive south of Edmonton, has been plagued for years by gangs and violence. Two months after Ethan’s death, his aunt was shot and killed outside the home next door.

Police have in the past blamed most of the violence on gangs fighting over the reserve’s drug trade.

Earlier this week in Wetaskiwin court, a judge heard about another shooting on the reserve three months before Ethan died. No one was injured, but the suspects included Ethan’s uncle, Justin Whitebear, and the 16-year-old charged in Ethan’s death.

RCMP initially charged only Whitebear, said his defence lawyer, Tom Engel. But a witness who was 10 years old at the time testified that Whitebear wasn’t the culprit — several others had been lying in wait and planned to kill Whitebear that day.

A judge agreed and ruled that Whitebear shot back in self defence, said Engel.

The lawyer plans to file a complaint against the RCMP for failing to properly investigate the case. If they had, he said, perhaps they would have arrested the one teen who later took part in Ethan’s shooting.

Whitebear’s mother and Ethan’s grandmother, Debbie Buffalo, said if that teen had been behind bars, things may have turned out differently.

“My grandson might not have died. He might have still been here,” she said outside court.

She said she still can’t explain why the three teens chose to fire at the house the night Ethan died.

The one thing she knows for sure is that it wasn’t a simple fight between two people. The victim was “an innocent little boy — who had nothing to do with anything.”

A lawyer representing the oldest offender in Ethan’s shooting, who turns 19 next month, said her client is willing to participate in a community conference with his relatives and Ethan’s family to come up with sentencing recommendations.

But Debbie Buffalo said she and the rest of Ethan’s family are still too hurt to talk face-to-face with any of the shooters.

“It’s only been a year and a half. It’s still pretty tough,” she said.

“Acceptance isn’t even there yet … forgiveness comes after that.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The future of Westerner Park continues to be plagued by many unknowns, including when city council will make a decision about financing its operations. (File photo by Advocate staff).
Red Deer city council delays making decision on Westerner Park financing

It will mean missing the next opportunity to apply for a provincial loan

Nineteen-year-old Amanda enjoys a ride during a visit to Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler. photo submitted
Busy days at Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler

The ranch, which launched operations last summer, provides support through animal interaction

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer at the announcement that the city will be getting a drug treatment court Thursday. Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, looks on.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Veer concerned about rising COVID-19 cases in Red Deer

The City of Red Deer is reminding citizens to protect themselves against… Continue reading

Rode
Volunteering played major role in RDC awards

Under normal circumstances, the RDC Red Deer Bottling Athlete of the Year… Continue reading

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Thursday that the province has seen its first case of the B.1.617 variant. (Photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer nears record number of active COVID-19 cases

Alberta reports 1,857 new cases of COVID-19, 1,326 new variants

Curtis Labelle (second from left) and his band are planning a cross-Canada tour in 2022. Meanwhile, Labelle is continuing to host his weekly livestreamed talk show, Chattin 88. (Contributed photo).
Red Deer rock pianist takes on a talk show role

Curtis Labelle’s Chattin 88 gets views from around the globe

Toronto Maple Leafs' Nick Foligno (71) and Mitchell Marner (16) celebrate Marner's goal on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during second-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Thursday, April 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Leafs end five-game winless skid with 5-3 win over Jets in North Division battle

Leafs end five-game winless skid with 5-3 win over Jets in North Division battle

Taylor Pendrith from Richmond Hill, Ont. salutes the crowd after sinking a birdie on the 18th hole to come in at five under par during first round of play at the Canadian Open golf championship Thursday, July 24, 2014 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
PGA Tour Canada splits into Canadian, American circuits for 20201

PGA Tour Canada splits into Canadian, American circuits for 20201

Like father, like son: Floreal emerges as one of Canada’s top sprinters

Like father, like son: Floreal emerges as one of Canada’s top sprinters

Toronto Blue Jays center fielder George Springer (4) walks on the field during a team workout, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Yankee Stadium in New York. The Blue Jays face the New York Yankees on opening day Thursday in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Injured Jays OF Springer to play in intrasquad game Friday

Injured Jays OF Springer to play in intrasquad game Friday

Toronto Raptors' Khem Birch (24) defends against Brooklyn Nets' Blake Griffin during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Raptors ride strong 3rd quarter to 114-103 win over Nets

Raptors ride strong 3rd quarter to 114-103 win over Nets

Team Canada's Jocelyne Larocque celebrates her goal past the U.S.A. with goaltender Embrace Maschmeyer during first period of Women's Rivalry Series hockey action in Vancouver, Wednesday, February 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Stunned Canadian players head home after women’s world hockey cancellation

Stunned Canadian players head home after women’s world hockey cancellation

Health Minister Patty Hajdu is shown at a COVID-19 press conference in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Kawai
Health Canada proposes new restrictions on talc in some personal care products

Health Canada proposes new restrictions on talc in some personal care products

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady passes under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. Lawmakers are debating legislation to legalize single-event betting as a bill reaches final reading in the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Humphrey
Bill on single-game sports betting on cusp of passing — but not for first time

Bill on single-game sports betting on cusp of passing — but not for first time

Most Read