Residents of North Preston are raising concerns over a province-wide emergency alert issued Friday night they say contained misinformation connecting North Preston to reports of gunshots.
Archy Beals, the former PC MLA candidate for the area, said he and his wife were leaving the Black Cultural Centre Friday night when they saw two unmarked police cars and an officer stepped outside of one car with a rifle. Beals said he then saw several additional unmarked cars police speeding down Highway 7. He also saw a marked police car head up Montague Road towards Lake Loon.
An hour later, just after 8pm, Beals was home watching TV when he saw the emergency alert that said:
“Two recent shootings occurred in East Preston and North Preston. Two black males were seen running into a wooded area behind Brian Street in East Preston and are believed to be armed. All residents are to lock their doors and shelter in place. Do not approach suspects and if seen call 9-1-1 immediately. For updates go to RCMP NS Twitter or Facebook.”
Cellphones throughout the province and parts of New Brunswick blared the alert, which was also broadcast on television.
Beals figured it had something to do with the police presence he’d seen in Cherry Brook an hour earlier, though the alert made no mention of Cherry Brook.
Beals, who’s from North Preston and whose mother lives in that community, said he then started seeing several posts from people in North Preston who were questioning the accuracy of the emergency alert.
“There was a post from Micah Smith that said there was no shots fired in North Preston,” Beals said. “One person who posted said he was either leaving or going into the community, can’t remember which one, and he said there was no police activity on North Preston Road or on Lake Major Road, so I’m saying if there were shots fired, there would be police presence in the community, and there wasn’t.”
As RCMP provided updates through Twitter, Beals took to Facebook just after 10pm and wrote: “Just for the record, from what I’ve been hearing no shots were fired in North Preston as was reported by the police in the emergency alert.”
A number of people commented on Beals’ post, some writing:
“When I saw that, I had to read it again to see if it was really what I was reading. There wasn’t any gunfire in North Preston at all.”
“They’re very quick to include North Preston in anything Negative. They need to get the fact first!”
“They keep doing this. And if their excuse is ‘they are neighbouring communities,’ then why didn’t they say East Preston and Lake Echo?”
“The reason why I made the post because for so often we get blamed for things that don’t even happen in the community or with the individuals that are from the community or whatever,” said Beals in an interview with the Examiner on Monday. “To have an alert like that broadcast across our town, number one, it sends false information. Number two, you have people in the community who are now afraid, who are now scared.”
“And we have seniors in the community who live alone. That just adds another level of frightening to these people, to these seniors in the community. People [outside the community] probably still believe that there were shots fired in North Preston when they weren’t.”
About a minute after the emergency alert was shared Friday, the RCMP issued a tweet stating a third suspect had already been arrested in a shooting they said was reported in East Preston. The tweet, however, made no mention of North Preston.
An hour later at 9:21pm, RCMP shared another tweet that said that another suspect had been arrested and that they were continuing their search for a lone male suspect. In that tweet, RCMP said that additional gunshots had been fired on Bell Street and used the hashtag #EastPreston.
On social media, some people pointed out that Bell Park Academy and Bell Road, which borders East Preston and Lake Echo, are usually cited as being in the predominately white community of Lake Echo when mentioned in the media.
Just before 11:30pm, the RCMP canceled the emergency alert. They then issued a tweet reiterating the two arrests, made no mention of the third suspect, and said that no injuries had been reported.
Angela Simmonds’ statement
On Saturday just after 10am, Preston MLA and Liberal leadership candidate, Angela Simmonds issued a statement that read:
Folks – I am deeply concerned about the events which took place last night in our community, and the official communication about them.
The information shared in the emergency alert was incorrect, and the importance of timely and accurate information in such a fluid situation cannot be overstated.
I have started conversations with the RCMP about their response.
Both streets mentioned in the alert are located in East Preston. There were no shootings in North Preston.
I will also be requesting a meeting with the Minister of Justice to emphasize the importance of accurate emergency alerts, and I will be asking what concrete action he is taking on gun violence in this Province.
Many of you have reached out to me and have shared similar concerns. I intend to raise all of these comments, and any others you share with me between now and when I meet with him.
Wayne Adams, former MLA for the Preston area and the province’s first Black MLA, commented on Simmonds’ statement on Facebook and wrote:
“Thank you Angela. The local media also need a tune up.
Last night CTV reported the 2nd suspect was captured, this morning radio reports only one suspect caught.? And finally they reported Bell Park school as being in East Preston. For years they’ve reported it as being in Lake Echo!
Keep up the good work.”
Hours later, just before 4:30pm, the RCMP issued a statement that read, in part:
The RCMP/HRP Integrated General Investigation Section of the Criminal Investigation Division is investigating multiple shootings that occurred in East Preston.
At approximately 6:55 p.m. yesterday evening, Halifax District RCMP responded to a report of multiple shootings that had occurred in East Preston, with the latest shooting being on Brian St. in East Preston. RCMP members arrived on Brian St. and safely arrested a 21-year-old man. Police believed that two other men, who were possibly armed, had run into a wooded area behind Brian St. RCMP and Halifax Regional Police resources began securing the area so that a search for the men could be conducted.
The statement went on to say that the second suspect, a 26-year-old man, was arrested after he entered a home without consent on Cherry Brook Road in Cherry Brook. Friday’s tweet that announced the second arrest made no mention of Cherry Brook.
The tweet did mention, however, that additional gunshots were reportedly fired on nearby Bell Street — about a kilometer east of Brian Street.
Saturday’s statement made no mention of Bell Street.
For reference, Cherry Brook/Lake Loon is the western and most southern part of the Prestons. Cherry Brook Road is about seven kilometers southwest of Brian Street — and past North Preston, which sits in the middle of East Preston and Cherry Brook, and to the north.
“During the investigation, police located a stolen vehicle that was believed to have been involved in these incidents,” Saturday’s statement also read.
It is unclear at what point in time the stolen vehicle was located or where it was located. And it’s also unclear at what point the gunshots on Bell Road took place or whether or not they were part of the initial gunshots that prompted the alert or if they took place afterwards.
If they took place afterward, it is unclear at what location(s) in addition to Brian Street gunshots took place to prompt the initial emergency alert.
The RCMP statement made no mention of any shootings in North Preston, nor did it clarify whether or not misinformation with respect to North Preston had been issued in the emergency alert.
If misinformation was, in fact, issued during the emergency alert, it remains unclear how and why a miscommunication took place.
Beals calls for an apology
Friday’s emergency alert came just shy of two weeks since 20-year-old Keezondre Smith was shot and killed in Halifax. His funeral took place on Friday, prior to the emergency alert.
In response to Simmonds’ statement on Facebook, one person wrote:
I think we should be more concerned that our young men are killing each other on what seems like a weekly basis. People look at the real picture. I’m glad the RCMP arrested two suspects and alerted the communities. Let’s come together to figure out a way to stop all this senseless killing rather than blame the RCMP for their alert. There have been shootings in both communities East and North Preston over the years. Let’s worry about a solution to the bigger problem rather than lay blame on the RCMP. I commend them for their efforts last night.
Beals said his aim isn’t to simply criticize the police or the media, but he said more due diligence should have been exercised.
“I don’t know if I would accept it as it being a mistake,” Beals said. “I think they tie all of the communities into one. If they would have said ‘shooting in the Preston Township,’ that would have been totally different than saying shooting in North Preston and East Preston when there was no shooting in North Preston.”
“I do believe that there needs to be an open apology to the community for singling out the community with misinformation going across HRM for our residents to see and hear.”
Despite the alleged shootings, and the allegation of break and enter in Cherry Brook, the RCMP statement Saturday said that both suspects had been released without criminal charges. The statement made no mention of the third lone male suspect from Friday night, though it said the investigation is ongoing and encouraged anyone with information to contact RCMP.