A 23-year-old disabled woman is dead and her caretaker escaped serious injury following an explosion at a residence in Innisfail on Friday.
RCMP said about 9 a.m., police were called to 47th Street and 51st Avenue, where it is reported that an explosion occurred inside one of the units of the townhouse-style apartment complex. The woman who died was the resident of the unit. A caregiver in her 30s was also inside at the time of the blast but did not suffer serious injuries.
At the complex, a blown-out ground-floor window was the only obvious sign of damage. Residents in three neighbouring units of the four-plex were evacuated, but the damage was confined to the victim’s apartment.
Police quickly cordoned off a one-block area around the scene, which is near Innisfail Junior Senior High School, where staff and students were already scheduled to have a day off.
Officers were also going door to door to interview nearby residents. About 2 p.m., a team of RCMP explosive experts from Edmonton arrived on scene and were video recording as they searched for clues. Several of them were dressed in white coveralls.
RCMP said a package was delivered to the residence prior to the explosion but it has not been determined if it has any connection.
“At this time, we do not know what caused this explosion — that’s why we brought in these experts,” said RCMP Sgt. Patrick Webb, spokesman for K Division headquarters, while standing a short distance away from the scene at 3 p.m.
“We do know there was a package delivered to this residence some time in the early morning. We’re not saying this had to do anything with the actual explosion, but we are wanting the public to be aware and be mindful of any unanticipated delivery of any packages.”
Webb said police do not know if an explosive device was involved at this time. RCMP plan on bringing in explosive experts from Ottawa as well.
The evidence so far is that the package just showed up at the house. How it got there has yet to be determined, said Webb.
As is standard procedure, police are investigating the incident as a homicide. However, further investigation and the autopsy must be completed before that is determined, said police. An autopsy is planned for early next week in Calgary.
Webb said that a Major Crimes Unit has also been brought in to look further into the dead woman’s life and see what clues might be shed.
The victim was not known to police, Webb said.
He believes the woman has a child, but he didn’t have any other information.
“At this point, we’re not looking for anybody or term anybody as a suspect or person of interest,” said Webb. “This is very preliminary in the investigation.”
Webb said that the woman was in an wheelchair after sustaining injuries in a car crash some years ago. The woman’s caregiver is fine and didn’t really suffer any injuries whatsoever, he added.
“She was shaken up,” he said. “She was checked out medically, she’s already provided us some statements. She’s going to provide more details as time goes on, but we’re very cognizant she’s gone through a very traumatic event here. We’re offering whatever counselling and assistance that we can.”
Webb expected that police would be on scene for another day or more.
Family friend Ron Lentz said he had been told by others that a bomb had been sent to her mailbox.
If true, he can’t imagine why someone would do such a thing.
“I have no clue why. She was a good person.”
Lentz said the victim used an electric wheelchair after being involved in an accident when she was younger. The woman has a young daughter in Grade 1 or 2.
One woman at the scene spoke to a police officer for a few moments before walking quickly away, clearly emotional.
“She was my best friend,” she said, declining to say more.
Several other women also approached the block, where there was a command unit and other emergency vehicles. One of them became teary eyed, saying the deceased woman was a member of Innisfail Alliance Church.
Innisfail resident Wyona Smith lives in apartment building across the street from where the explosion occurred.
“I just heard a big bang. I asked my husband, ‘What’s that noise?’ ” she said. “I thought something had exploded.”
Gerry Jansen lives about a block away and he too heard the explosion, which he described as a boom.
“It was a dark boom. Not a crack or anything, that’s a high sound,” said Jansen. “I worked in a refinery before. I know a little about how booms sound.”
Jansen said he went to his balcony to see what had happened but couldn’t see anything amiss.
Webb said that the explosives team looked through the apartment itself and it appears to be safe, and they were also checking for structural stability through the other units. The other residents may be able to move back in soon, he added.
Webb said that residents should be wary of any suspicious packages coming to their doors.
“But at the same time, we don’t want people to be absolutely apprehensive,” Webb said. “We have nothing to indicate this is continuing in any way.”
Innisfail Mayor Jim Romane said that his thoughts and prayers are with the family of the woman. He didn’t know them personally.
“It’s unknown if it’s an isolated or random situation — we just have to be all a bit more diligent of our day-to-day for a while until this thing is resolved,” said Romane.
He said the complex where the woman lived just opened this year.
Romane said this experience has rattled the townspeople, who number about 8,000.
“Our bylaw officers were the first to respond,” he said. “The town is working with the authorities in any way it can.”
Police are asking anyone with information to contact Innisfail RCMP or CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).