Shooting was ‘proper response’ to stop a ‘threat,’ RCMP officer tells inquest

2 RCMP officers describe events that led to shooting of Charles Qirngnirq in Gjoa Haven

Charles Qirngnirq, 21, died at the Gjoa Haven airport in December 2016 after being shot by two RCMP officers who were called to the scene. A coroner’s inquest into his death began Monday in Gjoa Haven and is expected to last until the end of the week. (File photo)

By Madalyn Howitt

An inquest into the 2016 shooting death of Charles Qirngnirq in Gjoa Haven continued Tuesday with testimony from the victim’s grandparents and the two police officers directly involved in the incident.

On Dec. 19, Cpl. Tanya Kellogg and then-Const. Ian Crowe (who was since promoted to corporal) were the RCMP officers who responded to a call of a man carrying a gun at the Gjoa Haven airport. The man was 21-year-old Qirngnirq, who died after being shot by Crowe.

In over four hours of testimony, the officers each gave their descriptions of the events leading up to Qirngnirq’s death.

The officers received a call at 11:15 a.m. that morning — later determined to be from the victim’s grandmother Eva Qirngnirq — that a man was in distress. Immediately afterward, another person called to report that a man was walking toward the airport with a rifle. The caller confirmed the man had been physically escorted out of the airport earlier that morning after arguing with his girlfriend, and that the airport was in lockdown at that point.

Crowe told the inquest when he and Kellogg arrived, they saw a man, later identified as Qirngnirq, yelling and banging on the doors of the airport. The officers observed the man as he turned and walked away from the building and toward the school at the edge of town. He began pacing back and forth while waving what appeared to be a rifle in the air.

“His pace was steady and unhindered. His arm gestures were methodical,” said Crowe, who compared Qirngnirq’s movements to a soldier marching. “He didn’t seem to be unsteady on his feet at all.”

The officers stepped outside of their vehicle and began communicating with Qirngnirq through a loudspeaker. Kellogg said she issued repeated commands for several minutes to Qirngnirq to drop the rifle but that he ignored her instructions and eventually began to advance toward the officers.

Crowe stated that as Qirngnirq approached he could hear him uttering suicidal comments.

“The subject was talking about how he hated the world and hated [his] life,” he said, clarifying that Qirngnirq didn’t appear to be directing his comments towards the officers. “He was just waving [his rifle] around as if it was a toy or a stick,” he said.

Crowe testified that because of his partner’s positioning behind the door of the vehicle, he was concerned for her safety.

“I was aware that where she was presented a significantly higher risk than where I was … if the subject fired his weapon,” he said.

In her testimony Kellogg said Qirngnirq was “pumping” the rifle in the air before he stopped and turned to face the officers with the rifle, at which point she said she “absolutely” feared for her life.

“I know that by the gun being pointed at our vehicle, he could have been aiming at me, or at Const. Crowe, or at the truck…. It’s not worth my life to make that guess,” she said. “It is the proper response … to fire the gun and stop that threat.”

Crowe said the thought of shooting Qirngnirq “was weighing heavily” on him. “I knew it would change my life and my career and the life of the subject.”

“I wanted to be able to say that I was going to go home to my wife and that I was able to protect the community from threats, so I eventually pulled the trigger,” he said.

Crowe fired a single bullet, which hit Qirngnirq on his lower right side. Qirngnirq then dropped to the ground and yelled “You … shot me,” said Crowe, who added that Qirngnirq asked officers to shoot him again as they approached him on the ground.

Qirngnirq was responsive as he was medevaced to a hospital but later died of blood loss resulting from the gunshot wound.

Crowe said he had been working in Gjoa Haven for 18 months at the time of the shooting and was familiar with Qirngnirq from previous interactions. Kellogg, who retired from the RCMP in 2019, was stationed in Gjoa Haven as a relief officer for less than a week at the time of the incident.

Qirngnirq lived with his grandparents, Eva Qirngnirq and Phillip Innakatshik, who also told the inquest about their memories of what happened that day.

Eva said she overheard Qirngnirq on the phone asking his girlfriend, who was attempting the return to Kugaaruk, to stay in Gjoa Haven. Afterwards, Qirngnirq went downstairs to the furnace room and retrieved a rifle, said Eva.

“I was really emotional and upset at what was going on,” she said. “I knew he was going to leave and use that rifle.” She stated she was worried he would do something to hurt himself.

“It affected my whole family. It was really hard,” she said of her grandson’s death. “He tried to make us happy. He tried to do things for his family. It’s a big loss”

The coroner’s inquest is being held to review the circumstances of Qirngnirq’s death and to put forth recommendations that could help prevent deaths in similar situations. The inquest is not to determine guilt of anyone involved in the case.

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