Halifax police have prevented a shooting plot that would have taken place at a shopping mall this Valentine’s Day. Two people have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and a third has been released following an anonymous tip. The commanding officer of the Nova Scotia RCMP told reporters that a Crime Stoppers tip enabled police to prevent the Halifax shooting plot. He would not reveal where the information came from.
Four people were suspected of having been involved in the plot. However, there is currently insufficient evidence to link a 17-year-old suspect to the plot and he has been released. Of the other three, a 19-year-old was traced to his home in a suburb of Halifax, where he shot himself after police surrounded his home late Friday night. Police seized three rifles from his home.
The other two suspects are 20-year-old Randall Stephen Shepherd from Halifax and 23-year-old Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath, an American from Geneva, Illinois. The pair was apprehended at Halifax Stanfield International Airport as Souvannarath was arriving in Canada. Investigators have revealed that it is likely that the group met online. At least one of them was a member of an online blogging community. Police are not certain of their motivation.
So far, police are certain that the plot was not politically or ethnically motivated. They are not classifying it as terrorism. Justice Minister Peter MacKay told reporters that it was simply “a group of murderous misfits… planning to wreak havoc and mayhem on our community.” While investigators are certain that the shooting plot prevented in Halifax is not related to a terrorist organization, they believe that people like Shepherd and Souvannarath could be easily motivated by an organization like ISIS.
Law enforcement agencies on either side of the border are working together to complete the investigation. The Geneva, IL police department performed a search of Souvannarath’s home after she confessed her involvement. They seized a number of items during the search, but would not give reporters specific details of what was taken. A spokesperson for the department told reporters that Souvannarath had no previous criminal record.
Shepherd and Souvannarath are due to appear in court on Tuesday. They have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder. The investigation into the plot is ongoing.
Investigators say that the planned attack at the Halifax Shopping Center would have been a catastrophe. They indicated that mass casualties would have been likely. The mall is one of Canada’s largest and busiest. However, officials are doing their best to reassure the public. Extra security is planned for the shopping center, and Valentine’s Day events will continue as planned. Police have made it clear that the threat has been eliminated and all the suspects apprehended. They encouraged people to go on with their daily lives.
Justice Minister MacKay told reporters that the “balance” of privacy and police power was emphasized throughout the ongoing investigation. He believes that it is important for police to be given the power they need to prevent attacks like the one planned for Valentine’s Day. Police have said that this plot serves as a sobering reminder that although the Halifax shooting plot was prevented, attacks of this nature can happen anywhere and they need to be watchful.
By Kirstin Pinto