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Winnipeg officers help save 10 people from home deliberately set ablaze

Dec 5, 2007 - WINNIPEG - For a few critical moments, a Winnipeg police officer traded his badge for a firefighter's hat trying to unsuccessfully save a 14-year-old boy from a inferno that detectives believe was purposely set in a gang-related attack.

December 11, 2007
By By Tamara King THE CANADIAN PRESS

WINNIPEG – For a
few critical moments, a Winnipeg police officer traded his badge for a
firefighter's hat trying to unsuccessfully save a 14-year-old boy from
a inferno that detectives believe was purposely set in a gang-related
attack.

Constables Thane Chartrand and Lindsay Cancilla just
happened to be patrolling in the area about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday when they
noticed two people throw something at the home's front porch.

A fireball erupted, but “fizzled'' after the initial burst, Chartrand said. Then it erupted again.

The officers made a split-second decision to let the suspects run and try to get the occupants out of the burning house.

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“It was literally crawling under the flames to get to the back of the house,'' Chartrand said.

“The fire was taking off really fast, so we just wanted to get everyone out,'' Cancilla said.

As
the officers yelled to wake residents likely asleep inside the home,
Chartrand tried to break into the house through the side door, but it
was barricaded.

Someone smashed a nearby window, and the
officers helped 10 people, including a nine-month-old baby and a
Rottweiler, out of burning home. A quick count revealed one person was
missing.

“(The fire department) hadn't gotten there yet. The
house went up really fast. It felt like forever before (the fire
department) got there, but probably about three minutes,'' Chartrand
said.

Chartrand somehow managed to scramble onto a roof or
balcony hoping to find a 14-year-old boy who happened to be sleeping
over that night in a room in the home's third storey.

“I was
able to get upstairs and kick out a couple top floor windows. Smoke was
really, really thick by that point, (I) called out, you know, kind of,
reached in waiting for someone to, whatever, but that wasn't happening.
It was gone,'' Chartrand said.

Chartrand was still on the
overhang when firefighters arrived, Cancilla said. They found the
14-year-old boy, who was rushed to hospital, but died a few hours later.

At
a news conference Wednesday announcing two arrests in the case,
Winnipeg police spokesman Const. Nick Paulet said the home was the
target of the attack, not the boy.

“The investigation is
ongoing, although we've been informed by the homicide unit that this is
a situation of rival gangs and in relation to the drug trade,'' Paulet
said.

The two suspects were tracked to another home in the neighbourhood that police say also has ties to a gang.

“It
would appear the two residences involved … are affiliated with rival
gangs, and that this was some sort of attack in relation to that
rivalry,'' Paulet said.

Riel Mitchell, 27, and a 16-year-old boy
are charged with second-degree murder. The teenager can't be named
under the provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Police declined to identify the 14-year-old killed in the fire.

Exactly how the fire started remains under investigation, although officers describe it as an arson.

“It
was purposely set. That's all the information I have, and I know at
this time,'' said Sgt. Darrin Kruger. Police have described the object
that the officers saw thrown at the porch as an “incendiary device.''