Don Bennett, the Langley man believed to have died in a fiery confrontation with police on Friday, is remembered by his daughter as a man who loved horses, a non-violent, kind person who did have mental health issues.
Nicky McIntosh, a Chilliwack resident, told the Langley Advance Times she went into shock when she learned a morning wellness check on her 66-year-old father had turned into a massive police response that ended with Bennett’s home, an RV on rented space in the 23500-block of 0 Avenue, destroyed by fire.
“I was in shock for the first 24 hours,” McIntosh said. “I didn’t know how to feel at that point. I took some time for me to tell my kids what was happening. And I’m still kind of in disbelief.”
She said the family was not told about the wellness check, nor the police standoff, until late that evening, and learned after the fact that the phone to her father had been disconnected at the request of police.
“We had actually tried to reach out to him, not knowing that the situation was going on, and we couldn’t get through and then the RCMP informed us that all his calls had been blocked,” McIntosh said.
She said the last time she spoke to her father, she was urging him to get help for his mental health issues.
“The conversation was around him seeking some help around his mental health,” McIntosh recalled.
She didn’t go into detail, but stressed her father “definitely didn’t have a violent nature. This came as a surprise.”
She took issue with some social media suggestions that her father may have been suicidal, saying “that was not his agenda at all. He loved his family. He didn’t want to end his life.”
Bennett had two daughters and two granddaughters.
“He was a horse lover,” McIntosh said.
“He was a part of the Back Country Horseman [of B.C.] in Langley, and spent most of his free time at the Campbell Valley Regional Park with his horses. He loved his family. He was a really kind man. I’m actually in contact with some of the neighbours in the community right now, and they’re all telling me stories about meeting him on the trails in the area when he was out walking his dogs [and how] he was so kind and pleasant.’
McIntosh said the family has a lot of questions abut the way the matter was handled, beginning with why they weren’t contacted earlier.
“He also has three brothers and a sister who live in the Lower Mainland, and any of us would have been on it,” McIntosh said. “We would have been down there if we had had a phone call that he needed to be checked on.”
As well, “was there a mental health or support worker or social worker on the scene? And how did it escalate so quickly?”
The incident is being investigated by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), a civilian-led police oversight agency responsible for conducting investigations into police-officer-involved incidents of death or serious harm.
An IIO statement released Saturday afternoon was based on information provided by the RCMP. It said that at approximately 10:15 a.m. Friday, police responded to a wellness check of a man with “unknown whereabouts.” He was later locating him in inside a building on the avenue, which runs along the border between Canada and the U.S.
“The man was reportedly armed with a weapon and then barricaded himself inside with police remaining outside,” the statement said.
At about 10:40 p.m. a fire erupted.
“During the incident, a fire ensued, destroying the building, and it is believed the [man] died inside as [he] was not observed leaving the building,” according to the IIO.
The IIO is asking any person with relevant information or video footage of the incident to please call them at 1-855-446-8477 or use the contact form on the iiobc.ca website.
A B.C. RCMP statement said Langley officers were requested to check on the well-being of an individual “who was distraught and made concerning comments.”
Officers located him at a residence in the 23500-block of 0 Avenue at around 4 p.m. Friday, the statement said.
When they reported shots being fired from inside the building, the Lower Mainland Integrated Emergency Response Team (IERT) attended “and attempted in various ways to communicate with the individual who had barricaded himself inside the building.”
“At approximately 10:40 p.m., a fire erupted and eventually engulfed the building. It is believed the individual did not exit the building and is believed to have perished in the fire.”
Two police vehicles used for containment were heavily damaged by the fire.
According to social media posts, as many as 15 police vehicles arrived in the area early in the evening, and residents were ordered to shelter in place by officers.
ERT police were seen, along with fire trucks, paramedics, and what sounded like a police helicopter in the air.
One post from a person who lived nearby said a house behind them suddenly burst into flames, and thick smoke and explosions could be heard.
The fire started shortly after the power went out, they said.
Police still at scene of fire in 23500 block of 0 Ave. Multiple units responded to the call Friday night. pic.twitter.com/T70AZywUeL— Langley Advance Times (@LangleyTimes) November 11, 2023
Langley assistant fire chief Dale Steeple said they were called to the scene around 6 p.m. by RCMP, as a precaution, but were ordered to stay back.
Steeple said the fire broke out around 10:45 p.m.
“We couldn’t do anything to put it out,” Steeple said.