MONCTON, New Brunswick — Royal Canadian Mounted Police combed the streets and woods of a normally tranquil city Thursday in search of a man who killed three officers in the deadliest attack on their ranks in nearly a decade.
The suspect, armed with high-powered long firearms, was spotted three times while eluding the massive manhunt that emptied roads and kept families hunkered in their homes in Moncton, an east coast city where gun violence is very rare.
A large number of police officers could be seen in a part of the search perimeter with their weapons drawn, some peeking around buildings. Others were patrolling streets within the cordoned off area. Armored security trucks were also visible.
Officers, including members of a tactical unit, were seen in front of one building.
Justin Bourque, 24, was seen in three different places around the search area Thursday morning, said RCMP Commander Marlene Snowman.
Police said Bourque has high powered long firearms, ammunition and other items. He was wearing military camouflage and carrying two rifles in a picture released by police on Twitter.
At one point, he was seen coming in and out of a wooded area, Snowman said.
"He's capable of moving into the wooded area and out," she said.
Investigators have not determined a motive for the shooting, which occurred Wednesday evening when three officers were killed after responding to a call about an armed man in the north end of Moncton. Two other officers were wounded.
It was the deadliest attack on the RCMP since four officers were killed by a gunman on a farm in the western Canadian province of Alberta in 2005. That attack remains the deadliest on Canadian police officers in 120 years.
Snowman said Bourque was not known to police.
"Quite honestly I don't know where he is at this time," RCMP Commanding Officer Roger Brown said.
Police officers from across the country have been brought in to help arrest the suspect, Brown said.
Schools and government offices were closed, and the city pulled its buses off the roads. Mail delivery was suspended.
Police have commandeered armored trucks and told residents to stay indoors.
Brown said two officers underwent surgery for non-life threatening wounds in hospital Thursday and he met with the families of the officers who were shot.
"The RCMP family is hurting. As is Moncton, New Brunwick and our country," Brown said.
The homicides were the first this year in Moncton, a city of 69,000 people about 180 miles (290 kilometers) east of the Maine border. RCMP Const. Damien Theriault said the city had no homicides last year.
"We have been blessed until this point," Theriault told The Associated Press.
Police released a map of a large portion of the northwest section of the city, including a heavily wooded area, where they wanted people to remain inside with their doors locked. Families hunkered down in their basements.
Walmart Canada said Bourque worked at Walmart in Moncton four years ago, but said he has not worked for them since 2010.
Daniel St. Louis, a commercial photographer, said he came upon the scene around 8:30 p.m. and saw two police vehicles on different streets with blood inside.
One of the vehicles, a marked police cruiser, was surrounded by shattered glass. The other, an unmarked SUV with its lights still on and the driver's side door left open, had several bullet holes through its front windshield.
"I walked over and I saw two feet, facing the street, toes up," said St. Louis, 51. "I realized, 'Oh my God. There's somebody down.' As I got close, I realized it was an officer and this is not a good situation."
St. Louis said he doesn't know what to make of the tragedy.
"Our quiet little city, what is going on here?" he said. "How is this happening to us? It always happens to somebody else."
Danny Leblanc, 42, said he saw the shooter in the distance Wednesday evening, wearing a camouflage outfit and standing in the middle of the street with his gun pointed at police cars.
The construction worker said he believed it was an RCMP officer until he heard a burst of gunfire coming from the man's gun.
He said he quickly retreated into his home and remained there with his family. At one point a neighbor posted on social media that their kitchen window was shattered by gunfire.
Leblanc said few people on his normally quiet street were sleeping as they awaited word at midnight on whether an arrest had been made.
Such violence is rare in Canada, particularly on the east coast.
The three officers were the first Canadian police killed the line of duty since March 2013, when a Kativik police force officer in northern Quebec was shot after responding to a domestic violence call.
Based on information from the RCMP's Honour Roll page on its website, the last Mountie to die from a gunshot was Const. Douglas Scott on Nov. 5, 2007. He was shot while responding to a call for help involving an impaired driver at Kimmirut, Nunavut.
In 1974, two Moncton cops were kidnapped, shot and killed after making a traffic stop.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in Brussels for a meeting of the G-7 group of nations, offered his condolences to the families, colleagues and friends of those affected by the shootings.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press