Screaming passengers fled in terror from a Greyhound bus as an unidentified fellow passenger suddenly stabbed a man sleeping next to him, decapitated him and waved the severed head at horrified witnesses standing outside.
The apparently unprovoked assault left 36 men, women and children stranded Wednesday night on the shoulder of the darkening Trans-Canada Highway near Portage la Prairie, Man., about 85 kilometres west of Winnipeg, watching while the bus driver and a driver of a nearby truck shut the crazed attacker inside the bus with the mangled victim.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, RCMP confirmed they have a suspect – who is not believed to be from Manitoba – in custody, but offered few new details about this baffling homicide. The suspect is expected to be formally charged Friday.
“By the time the police arrived, the driver and the remaining passengers had all safely exited the bus,” said Sgt. Steve Colwell.
He said officers could see the man walking around inside the bus, but said he refused to exit. The standoff lasted for hours.
“At 1:28 a.m., the suspect . . . attempted to jump out of the bus after breaking a window. He was immediately subdued and arrested without incident and is currently in RCMP custody,” Colwell said.
The suspect’s name has not been released.
“He didn’t do anything to provoke the guy. The guy just took a knife out and stabbed him, started stabbing him like crazy and cut his head off,” said Garnet Caton, 26, a passenger on the Edmonton-to-Winnipeg bus.
“Some people were puking, some people were crying, other people were in shock. . . . Everybody was running, screaming off the bus.”
Caton said the attacker was only on the bus for a brief time, after boarding in western Manitoba.
Passenger Cody Olmstead said he had been watching a movie on the bus just before the attack began.
“We were watching Zorro; next thing I know, I hear someone screaming.”
Olmstead, 21, told reporters he had smoked a cigarette earlier in the trip with the victim, who got on the bus in Edmonton.
He said the victim said he was going to Winnipeg.
After the bus pulled over and the terrified passengers fled, Olmstead said the attacker was taunting those outside with the victim’s severed head.
“He came back, standing in the doorway with the head, looked at him, dropped the head and went back and started cutting buddy back up.”
He said when police showed up, the taunting continued.
“He come up and picks the head up and he’s waving it in the window. I just smoked a cigarette with this man earlier – like, the head. He’s shaking it back and forth in the window.”
Caton said he and other passengers prevented the attacker from getting off the blood-soaked bus by threatening him with makeshift weapons – a hammer and a crowbar.
“We were telling him, ‘Stay put, stay put, stay there, don’t try to come out.’ He tried to get the bus working and the bus driver disabled the bus somehow in the back. I’m not sure how he did it, and at that point, I think the police showed up,” he said, adding officers rushed them away.
Caton and other passengers said the attacker and his victim, who was listening to music on headphones, were sitting together at the rear of the bus, and the attack appeared to be unprovoked; no words were exchanged.
He told a TV station the attacker had actually changed seats to sit next to his victim just before the killing.
Caton described the man who attacked the passenger as bald and wearing sunglasses. He seemed oblivious to others when the stabbing occurred, said Caton, adding he was struck by how calm the man was.
“There was no rage or anything. He was like a robot, stabbing the guy,” he said.
Caton said the victim boarded in Edmonton, was wearing hip-hop clothing and appeared to be around 20 years of age.
After the killing, the other passengers were later taken to Brandon, Man., to be interviewed by police and to stay overnight at a hotel there.
Crisis counsellors were also at the hotel to provide support to the passengers, and counsellors could be seen chatting with them outside the hotel as groups went out to local stores for snacks or to smoke cigarettes.
One small boy, who was with an adult man and woman, was given a plush teddy bear by a crisis health worker.
“The first thing I heard was something like a terrible type (of) yowl, and that was from the guy who got stabbed,” said an elderly woman on the bus, from Winnipeg.
The woman and her adult daughter said they were three or four rows in front of the man when the attack began.
“(My daughter said) ‘Oh my God,’ and everybody else started screaming,” she said. “They had terror in their eyes.”
Two other passengers on the bus, a 22-year-old man and a 21-year-old woman from France, said they were heading to Winnipeg after visiting the woman’s father in Whitehorse. The 22-year-old man said in French that he saw a man holding a long knife repeatedly stab another passenger. He and his girlfriend said they were shocked by the attack, and the isolation in the middle of the prairie when it occurred.
“There was nowhere to go,” she said.
Speaking in Quebec City, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the issue of safety on buses may need to be examined more closely once the legal process of this case is over.
“We’re never closed to looking at how Canadians can be more safe and more secure,” Day told reporters in Quebec on Thursday. “This particular incident, as horrific as it is, is obviously extremely rare.”
Greyhound spokesman Eric Wesley, speaking from Texas, said drivers are trained to get help as soon as they can when incidents occur.
“This is very rare, unique occurrence. Bus transportation is one of the safest modes of transportation. This is highly unique that something like this happened,” he said. “Our drivers are trained to provide the safest travel for all our passengers, and every time an incident occurs, they know to pull the bus over and call 911.”
Wesley said counselling will be provided and monetary compensation will be determined on an individual basis.
“We are going to do whatever we need to provide the passengers with counselling or any other measures to make sure they’re taken care of.”
Originally Posted on Winnipeg Free Press and Brandon Sun