One month after the escape of two inmates from a Metchosin prison, residents remain concerned about communication and safety in the community.
James Busch and Zachary Armitage escaped the low-security William Head Institution around 6:45 p.m. on July 7. The Correctional Service of Canada said staff members at the prison discovered the pair were unaccounted for later that night. However, the public was not made aware of the escape until about 6:20 a.m. the next day, when the Correctional Service of Canada posted an alert on Facebook. A few hours after that, West Shore RCMP put out a media release.
The two escapees were recaptured on July 9 in Esquimalt after commenting on an off-duty RCMP officer’s dog while they were out for a walk.
Busch, 42, is serving a sentence for second-degree murder and assault, and has served time for aggravated sexual assault and escaping custody.
Armitage, 30, is serving a 13-year, 10-month sentence for robbery, aggravated assault and other offences.
Jodi Donaldson owns and operates A Growing Place Early Childhood Centre on William Head Road, not far from the prison. She said the nearly 12-hour period between the inmates’ escape and the public alert was too long.
“It’s a bit unnerving,” Donaldson said.
Donaldson remembers receiving a tsunami warning in the middle of the night in the past, and said she would have happily received a warning about the escape at any hour.
“I’d be more than happy to get that (warning) and make sure my doors and windows are locked, and in the morning let families know,” she said. “If they’re not comfortable with their kids coming — and I would totally understand if they wouldn’t be — then they could make that choice.”
Another aspect of the escape that continues to unsettle Donaldson is the lack of public response from William Head and the Correctional Services of Canada, she said.
“It feels … kind of like it’s left hanging,” she said.
On July 12, three days after the inmates were captured, a Metchosin resident was found dead in his home after reports of him being missing. RCMP confirmed foul play in the death of 60-year-old Martin Payne and said they believe the crime was an isolated incident. Three days earlier, on July 9, the Oak Bay Police Department found Payne’s red Ford pickup truck parked on Woodburn Avenue.
Kym Hill and her husband Charles Knighton are neighbours of Payne, and held a vigil for him shortly after hearing of his death. Nearby residents attended the vigil and discussed looking out for each other and installing security cameras on their property.
RCMP have been tight-lipped when it comes to details on the investigation into Payne’s death and have not released any more information since their initial release on July 15.
When it comes to the escapees, Hill said knowing why they were in prison and that they escaped is “chilling.”
Hill said she would have appreciated a warning at any time of the day or night, and noted that she and her husband don’t use Facebook. They learned of the escape through local media.
“At the time, it didn’t occur to us [delayed notification] was an issue,” she said. “Of course in retrospect you can see that there is this problem with that. It doesn’t allow the community to react in an appropriate way.”
Hill said she would have preferred to hear about the escape quicker, whether it was through e-mail or by telephone.
“Whether it’s in the middle of the night or midday, the key point is that we’re notified as soon as they know about it,” she said.
Being so close to the Metchosin community, Hill said she would like to see the prison act in a more “neighbourly fashion.” She said if there’s a problem, it’s “just good manners” to let people know that something might affect neighbours.
“It’s something that’s expected in Metchosin, that’s how we treat each other,” Hill said.
Metchosin Mayor John Ranns and Fire Department Chief Stephanie Dunlop both said the District of Metchosin is working with William Head to ensure communication is improved if a similar event occurs in the future.
Dunlop, who said she was notified of the escape around 2 a.m., was unable to alert the public unless told to do so by the RCMP and Correctional Services of Canada.
“It’s not my purview to do that,” Dunlop said. “For all I know RCMP and Correctional Services of Canada are doing some kind of private search for the guy.”
Residents that would like to receive emergency alerts from the Metchosin Fire Department can call to be placed on a list to receive them.
Ranns said he met with the warden at William Head to work out a better way to notify residents of any incidents in the future.
“We have a good working relationship with both the RCMP and William Head,” Ranns said. “How you alert residents and when is kind of a complex issue, but it’s something we all agree we’re going to work our way through to find a better way.”
Black Press Media has reached out to the warden at William Head Institution for comment.