SHEET HARBOUR – As an investigation into an armed daylight robbery in downtown Sheet Harbour enters its second week, rattled residents here remain frustrated with what they say has been a lack of timely information coming from the RCMP.
“When it happened, we weren’t hearing anything from the police,” said local business owner Rebecca Atkinson, pointing to the 17-hour delay between the time of the alleged crime on May 11 and the initial public advisory the following morning. As of noon Tuesday, no further details were available from police.
“This investigation is ongoing and updates could happen at any time,” Cpl. Lisa Croteau, Public Information Officer, Halifax District RCMP, told The Journal in an email. “Sheet Harbour RCMP continue to follow up on tips from the public and no arrest have been made. We would like to encourage the public to come forward if they have any information.”
Said Atkinson: “It’s been scary.”
According to the police news release at 10:39 a.m. on May 12, “At approximately 5 p.m. [May 11], Halifax District RCMP responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at a business [Lawtons Drug store] on Highway 7 in Sheet Harbour. Upon arrival, RCMP confirmed that a man had entered the store armed with a gun and demanded drugs from an employee. The man left the store on foot with narcotics. No one was injured as a result of this incident.”
The release noted: “The man was described as being just under 6 feet tall, of slender build, between the ages of 20 to 30 years old. He was wearing blue coveralls, a black mask, white gloves, a blue and white neck covering, and black sunglasses, and was carrying a green Sobeys bag. The investigation is continuing.”
But Atkinson – who owns Sober Island Brewing Company, is a contact for CBC Halifax and co-hosts a show about local artists on Sheet Harbour Radio – said the lack of information and clear communications from police have been nerve-wracking for the community. Dozens of posts to Sheet Harbour Radio’s Facebook page over the past several days have expressed concern and outright dismay over the situation.
“I first heard the news from the hospital that they were being locked down because there was someone with a weapon in the area,” Atkinson said. “Then, I heard police had a roadblock and they weren’t letting any cars go through. So, I just went on Facebook and [told] everyone in Sheet Harbour to just be aware. Lock your doors, right?”
Atkinson said, “The RCMP weren’t saying anything, even when they opened the roadblock. I went and tried to talk to them, and they wouldn’t comment. Meanwhile, people were messaging me. I had to find out from CBC Halifax that no one had been apprehended way before the news release had even gone out … Even the victim who had the gun put in [their] face was contacting me and asking if [police] had apprehended someone.”
Lawtons Drugs Sheet Harbour manager Tanya Smiley referred questions about details of the incident to their head office with the Sobeys chain. In an email from the company’s media office, a spokesperson stated: “We continue to cooperate with officials as this incident is currently under investigation. We are working closely with our teammates and supporting them through this situation.”
Following the RCMP news release May 12, Atkinson articulated her concerns in an email to David Hendsbee, HRM Councillor for Preston-Chezzetcook/Eastern Shore, and Lloyd Hines, MLA for Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie. Under the subject heading, ‘We can’t be treated so differently,’ she wrote:
“This is really bothering me here. Let’s play out this real-life scenario. At 7:30 in downtown Dartmouth, police respond to a weapons call. By 8:15 there’s a press release out and all the news stations are reporting it. By 8:45 there’s an update that the police have arrested 3 people and aren’t looking for any other suspects.
“Meanwhile in Sheet Harbour, at around 5 pm there’s a report of an armed man robbing Lawton’s at gunpoint. At no point do the police issue a statement that day. At 10 am the next morning a news release is put out and the suspect is still at large.
“I know we aren’t highly populated like downtown Dartmouth. But that does not mean our community should be at higher risk and given less communication. What can we do about this? Last night I couldn’t sleep. People were messaging me for an update, some people scared to death to go to sleep. The girl who had the gun pointed to her head was asking ME for updates! How is this lack of communication acceptable?”
Asked to comment on Atkinson’s letter, Cpl. Croteau, stated in an email:
“We understand that there were some concerns from community members. The circumstances in the two incidents mentioned are quite different in terms of what occurred including the locations, location of suspects and the police response.
“Police assess each incident on a case-by-case basis to determine if there is a risk to public safety or not. I can tell you that the incident in Sheet Harbour on May 11 was targeted and police had determined there was no risk to the public. I understand that there may have been some confusion as local media was providing information that was not provided to them by the police.
“When RCMP officers respond to an incident, they must corroborate information and pursue investigative tasks before being in a position to assess what is factual and can be released. Sheet Harbour RCMP conducted their investigation and determined that additional information was needed prior to informing the public. When this information was available, a news release was issued the following morning with photos of the suspect.”
Meanwhile, the release states: “Anyone who has information or may have witnessed this incident is asked to call Halifax District RCMP at 902-490-5020. Should you wish to remain anonymous call Nova Scotia Crime Stoppers toll free at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), submit a secure web tip at www.crimestoppers.ns.ca, or use the P3 Tips App.