On 27 October 2017, there was a double homicide at the Northumberland Hills Hospital and until now, few details have been released. This was because Police were involved with a shooting. As a result the Special Investigator’s Unit (SIU) was called in but they have now completed their investigation and cleared the two policemen involved. They have also released a graphic detailed account of the event although the police jargon used makes it hard to follow. If one adds information unearthed by newspaper reporters at the time, and translates the jargon, the story is almost material for a TV show. Since this incident, Police and Hospital staff have worked together to establish procedures to be used if there is a similar future occurrence. Hopefully that includes making sure that no-one (other than a Police Officer) brings a gun into the hospital.
Based on SIU Report plus other news reports at the time (links at the bottom of this page)
(Wording adjusted to remove Police jargon and make it more readable)
Tom (William) Ryan (70) and his wife Helen Ryan (76) were married in 1971. They lived in summer in Northumberland (to access OHIP benefits) and most recently at the Salem Woods Trailer park east of Colborne. They usually drove to Texas for the winter. Tom was overweight and had a leg problem and possibly also a spinal problem. He boasted that he had as many as 700 firearms although likely mostly in Texas. Helen possibly had Alzheimer’s plus maybe other ailments. Pete Fisher quoted a relative of Helen, Connie Woodcock, who spoke about their relationship. She said that “Ryan was a controlling husband. He had threatened Helen many times”. And “Helen was a dear sweet woman”.
But on the evening of 27 October 2017, Helen was concerned about Tom’s recent obsession with taking his own life and she was concerned for both his safety and her own. Tom and Helen had been assigned to a Personal Support Worker (PSW) because of “age-related illnesses and decline” so Helen called the PSW. When she arrived and saw the situation, she consulted her supervisor by phone and then called 911 for an ambulance to take Tom and Helen to hospital to be assessed.
But prior to leaving for the hospital, Tom indicated that he needed a moment to get ready, went to his room where he was alone for approximately two minutes, and then returned. As he was placed on the stretcher by paramedics, he commented to his wife that “It’s been a great 46 years of knowing you, I love you, but apparently 47 years wasn’t in the cards for us,” and said to the PSW “Well, somebody’s got to cash in the chips eventually.” Both Tom and his wife were then transported to the Northumberland Hills Hospital.
Tom then expressed his thanks and appreciation to the PSW for her care and support and told her good-bye. Tom later, at 9:27 p.m. (and for the last time), texted the PSW from the hospital telling her that this was his final goodbye.
At the Hospital Emergency area, they were placed in Triage Room #7 and left alone behind a privacy curtain until a doctor could see them. Shortly thereafter, a loud bang was heard and a nurse saw that Helen had been shot in the right side of her head. Tom commented to the nurse that Helen had shot herself. She was immediately taken to the recovery room to try to save her life and 911 was called to obtain the assistance of police.
Two policemen arrived at the hospital and were told that despite the indication from Tom that Helen had shot herself, they were unable to locate the firearm. So the two policemen and a nurse went to Triage Room #7. One of the police officers asked Tom if he had a weapon, and then repeated the question a second time. Tom then acknowledged that he did, while pulling the blanket down from his chest area and lifting his gun in his right hand. He was repeatedly told to drop the gun but instead pointed it at the Officers so the nurse ran out of the room and the Officers shot Tom. After the first volley of shots, the officers observed that Tom was still moving underneath the blanket and they were unable to see the gun, so they shot him some more. They fired their guns a combined total of 30 times.
- The SIU report contains no names – not even the victims or Police Officers.
- Tom’s gun was a “Taurus TCP handgun .380 calibre, semi-automatic pistol”. The Police guns were Glocks.
- Officer #2 fired 16 rounds; Officer #1 fired 14 rounds
- Of the 30 rounds, 3 bullets were recovered from the west wall behind Tom’s bed and one was recovered from the floor in the adjacent room.
- DNA tests confirmed that Tom loaded and handled the gun used to kill his wife.
- The Coroner’s report confirmed that it was possible that Tom could still move even when riddled with bullets.
- There was no monitor or CCTV in the Triage room where this took place.
- Officers did not have a Taser
At 12:51 a.m. on October 28, 2018, a Hospital staff member called the 911 operator to report Helen’s shooting. While she was supplying the operator with information, the police officers arrived and encountered Tom. They arrived one minute after receiving the call. Precisely two minutes and 27 seconds into the call, the first volley of police bullets was heard on the 911 tape. That volley lasted three seconds. A lull, which lasted 3.51 seconds ensued, during which time no shots were heard. A second volley of shots was heard which lasted a further three seconds. Elapsed time from the first sound of gunfire to the final shot was ten seconds.
The SIU report concluded with:
I find, therefore, on this record, that the shots that were fired, more than 20 of which struck and subsequently killed the Complainant [Tom], were justified pursuant to s. 25(1) and (3) of the Criminal Code, and that SO #1 [Officer#1] and SO #2 [Officer#2], in preserving themselves or others from the infliction of grievous bodily harm or death by the Complainant [Tom], used no more force than was necessary to affect their lawful purpose. As such, I lack the reasonable grounds to believe that the actions exercised by SO #1 [Officer#1] and SO #2 [Officer#2], fell outside the limits prescribed by the criminal law and instead find there are no grounds for proceeding with criminal charges in this case.
In a Press release, Police Chief Kai Liu said
“When this domestic homicide occurred, lives were forever changed. This tragic event touched the lives of Northumberland Hills Hospital staff, police officers, Special Constables, dispatchers, firefighters and paramedics and certainly stole a bit of our community’s innocence. During this event, we had hospital staff, physicians, security and police officers run towards personal danger to protect strangers they had never met. With their quick action of calling 911, the Emergency Department team protected patients under their care. Likewise, as I read the SIU report I am very proud of the heroic actions of my responding officers. Cobourg Police officers responded professionally as they were trained.
This tragic event has inspired the Northumberland Hills Hospital and Cobourg Police Service teams to work collaboratively to research, develop and implement enhanced Active Attacker training for hospital and police personnel. It’s our intention that this outcome will not only assist our own community in feeling safe, but also support other hospitals across our province and beyond as they too enhance measures to guard against gun violence.”
Special Investigator’s Unit (SIU) Full Report – on Gov’t of Ontario web site.
The original sources for these were in Northumberland Today which is now available in their Archive on the Northumberland News web site.
- Ailing Couple shot in Cobourg Planned to Drive to Texas: Trailer Park Owners – By Pete Fisher – 29 October 2017 – Northumberland Today
- Couple involved in Cobourg Hospital Shooting identified as Helen and Tom Ryan – By Pete Fisher – 29 October 2017 – Northumberland Today
- Details emerge about couple killed at Northumberland Hills Hospital – By Karen Longwell – 30 October 2017 – Northumberland News
- The additional details from local reporters were summarized and reported on Cobourg News Blog here.