BRANDON, Man. - Thirty-six passengers on a Greyhound bus watched in horror Wednesday night as a fellow passenger stabbed a man sleeping next to him, decapitated him and began waving around the man's severed head.
The bus made an emergency stop, and passengers fled in terror onto the darkening Trans-Canada Highway near Portage la Prairie, Man., while the bus's driver and a driver of a nearby truck shut the crazed man inside the bus with the victim. Passengers on the Winnipeg to Edmonton bus say they stood outside and watched through the window, horrified, as the man disfigured the victim's body.
RCMP have confirmed they are investigating a homicide, although investigators won't provide further details about how a young man was stabbed to death and then decapitated.
"He didn't do anything to provoke the guy. The guy just took a knife out and stabbed him, started stabbing him like crazy and cut his head off," said Garnet Caton, 36, a passenger.
"Some people were puking, some people were crying, other people were in shock . . . everybody was running, screaming off the bus."
Greyhound spokesman Eric Wesley, speaking from Texas, said drivers are trained to get help as soon as they can when incidents occur.
"This is very rare, unique occurrence. Bus transportation is one of the safest modes of transportation. This is highly unique that something like this happened," he said. "Our drivers are trained to provide the safest travel for all our passengers, and every time an incident occurs they know to pull the bus over and call 911."
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, speaking in Quebec City, said the issue of safety on buses may need to be examined more closely once the legal process of this case is over.
"We're never closed to looking at how Canadians can be more safe and more secure," Day told reporters in Quebec Thursday. "This particular incident, as horrific as it is, is obviously extremely rare."
Witnesses described a nightmarish scene inside the bus.
Caton and others said once they escaped the bus, they prevented the attacker from getting off by threatening him with makeshift weapons - a hammer and a metal bar.
"We were telling him, 'Stay put, stay put, stay there, don't try to come out.' He tried to get the bus working and the bus driver disabled the bus somehow in the back, I'm not sure how he did it, and at that point, I think the police showed up," he said, adding officers rushed them away.
Caton described the man who attacked the passenger as about six feet tall, 200 pounds, with a bald head and wearing sunglasses. He seemed oblivious to others when the stabbing occurred, said Caton.
Caton said he was struck by how calm the man was. He just walked up to the front of the bus and dropped the head, Caton said.
Caton said the victim boarded in Edmonton, was Aboriginal in appearance, was wearing hip-hop clothing and appeared to be around 20 years of age.
"When we saw the head, we knew he was dead," he said. "I don't think the guy knew him at all. I think he was really crazy . . . the poor guy, he didn't see it coming."
Two yellow school buses were brought in to the closed-off stretch of highway for passengers to sit in while the standoff between officers and the man inside the bus proceeded for hours.
The passengers were later taken to Brandon, Man., to be interviewed by police and to stay overnight at a hotel there. Some will be resuming their trips later Thursday.
Crisis counsellors were also at the hotel to provide support to the passengers, and counsellors could be seen chatting with them outside the hotel as groups went out to local stores for snacks or to smoke cigarettes.
One small boy, who was with an adult man and woman, was given a plush teddy bear by a crisis health worker.
Another young man from Nova Scotia sat outside the Brandon hotel smoking around 3 a.m. Visibly shaken, he said RCMP had taken 36 witnesses in for questioning into a detachment approximately 100 kilometres east.
"I felt bad that all the young people and old people had to see that," he said.
The man, who did not want his name used, said the victim of the stabbing had been sleeping before the attack.
Other passengers said that the two men were sitting at the rear of the bus and the stabbing victim was listening to music through his headphones. The men were both sitting in the back of the bus, and the attack appeared to be unprovoked.
"The first thing I heard was something like a terrible type (of) yowl and that was from the guy who got stabbed," said an elderly woman on the bus, from Winnipeg.
The woman and her adult daughter said they were three or four rows in front of the suspect when the attack began.
"(My daughter said) 'Oh my God' and everybody else started screaming," she said. "They had terror in their eyes."
Passengers said there was a rush of people toward the front of the bus to get off.
Two other passengers on the bus, a 22-year-old man and 21-year-old woman from France, said they were heading to Winnipeg after visiting the woman's father in Whitehorse. The 22-year-old man said in French that he saw a man holding a long knife repeatedly stab another passenger. He and his girlfriend said they were shocked by the attack, and the isolation in the middle of the prairie when it occurred.
"There was nowhere to go," she said.
Wesley said counselling will be provided and monetary compensation will be determined on an individual basis.
"We are going to do whatever we need to provide the passengers with counselling or any other measures to make sure they're taken care of," he said Thursday.
He said there are security systems on the buses that enable drivers to contact the Greyhound operations office quickly.
He said officials from the company have been in talks with Transport Canada to review security measures on bus routes, but it could prove difficult.
"Well, the rural nature of our network doesn't allow us to have airport-style security - doesn't make it practical for us to do that. We're working with Transport Canada to review inner-city bus security," Wesley said. "We're working with them to make things as safe as possible."