A man suspected of trading gunfire with police in an incident that saw an officer shot and killed was identified Tuesday as 70-year-old Fred Preston, a former reeve of a small community that residents say the slain officer was raised in.
Preston, of Sundridge, Ont., remained in critical condition after being shot in the gunfight with two provincial police officers Monday, the province's Special Investigation's Unit said.
Const. Vu Pham, a 15-year veteran of the force and a married father of three boys, died several hours after pulling over a pickup truck in rural southwestern Ontario on Monday morning. Police have said Pham, 37, was critically shot and immediately incapacitated.
Witnesses described a tense gunfight with 15 to 20 shots fired across the two-lane road.
In what appears to be a startling coincidence, several Sundridge residents said Pham was raised in the northern Ontario community, some 375 kilometres from the scene of the shootout, and that he and Preston attended the same church.
"Vu was raised by a Pentacostal minister here in town," Bill Callery told radio station AM980. "We all went together in the same church."
Marilyn Merrick, who served on council with Preston while he was reeve of Joly Township, called it a "wild coincidence."
"It's really strange how it ends up that they're both from Sundridge," she told the radio station.
Other neighbours and former colleagues of Preston's in Sundridge, a tiny village with some 1,000 residents, were left stunned by the news that a high-profile member of their community was alleged to have been part of Monday's fatal confrontation.
"I can't believe it," said neighbour Alvin Chapman, who said he's known Preston all his life and called him a "great guy."
Sources tell The Canadian Press that Preston had been living apart from his wife Barb for about a year and a half and that she lives with their daughter, Anne. Published reports say Preston went to his ex-wife's residence in southern Ontario with a high-powered rifle shortly before Pham was mortally wounded.
Preston, who is at London, Ont.'s Victoria Hospital, has not been criminally charged.
Preston's terms as Joly Township's reeve started in the 1990s, with his final term ending in 2003.
Joly Mayor Mario Campese said he ran against him for reeve in 2003 and won. Campese has been Preston's next-door neighbour for 10 years and also served on town council for a year while Preston was reeve.
"I'm surprised," said Campese. "It's unfortunate that a police officer was shot and my regards go out to his family."
Preston was an avid hunter, he added.
"I thought he was easygoing, he was approachable. Whenever I saw him in the grocery store or on the street I stopped to talk to him and he never had anything bad to say."
Campese said he heard Preston had taken up wood carving, using chainsaws to cut animal figures from stumps.
"You could hear all summer the chainsaw and him working in the backyard."
The website Backyardstuff.ca features a picture of Preston and some of his sculptures.
"Ex-logger Fred Preston enjoys working with wood," the website reads. "He decided to start caving (sic) a couple of years ago. With every statue Fred creates his talents grow."
Those who know Preston said he has spent most of his life in Sundridge and most of his family lives there, including a couple of brothers. They said Preston has three adult daughters, two of whom live on the same street as he does.
Neighbours described him as "a great guy" and said it was a "terrible shock" that he's been named as a suspect in Monday's shootout.
A woman who answered the phone at the home of a cousin of Preston said "we have no comment."
Campese said police haven't contacted him and he hasn't seen any officers at Preston's property. Provincial police in Burk's Falls, whose detachment covers the Sundridge area, said they had not been asked by the SIU or police headquarters to search Preston's property.
Six investigators and three forensic investigators have been assigned to the case by the SIU and one subject officer and three witness officers have been designated.
With Pham's death, the force has lost a "good friend, a great colleague (and) a very good officer," said Sgt. Dave Rektor.
Many officers are in shock over the death of a man who "loved his career choice" and adored his family, Rektor added.
Pham, who was born in Vietnam, was a married father of three boys, aged 12, 10 and seven.
He was the 104th Ontario Provincial Police officer killed in the line of duty since the force's inception 100 years ago. He had joined the force in 1995 and has worked in the Cochrane and Parry Sound detachments.