The Hamilton Spectator

Inquest hears about police search for suspect after double killing in Hamilton

David Thomson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at a Brantford motel as police closed in to arrest him

- NICOLE O’REILLY REPORTER NICOLE O’REILLY IS A CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER AT THE SPECTATOR. NOREILLY@THESPEC.COM

“David Thomson in room 112 this is the Hamilton police emergency response unit, come to the door with nothing in your hands … do it now.”

Sgt. Alan Ing called this out twice from the hallway at the Days Inn on Fairview Drive in Brantford late on the night of Nov. 3, 2019. He usually calls out commands three times, but didn’t get a chance.

He heard a man moan and then the pop of a gunshot, Ing testified Monday at the corner’s inquest into Thomson’s death.

When the 33-year-old didn’t respond, police broke through the door and sent in a robot equipped with arms and cameras. It showed Thomson unresponsi­ve on the bed. He died of a single, self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

The gunshot around 11:16 p.m. was the culminatio­n of a police manhunt that began hours earlier, when police found Cheryl Nicholl and Donald Lowe dead inside a Towercrest Drive townhouse. Police made the gruesome discovery around 2:16 a.m. after a witness reported that Thomson had confessed to shooting two people the day before.

The inquest into Thomson’s death is mandatory under the Coroner’s Act. The five-person jury must decide how the 33-year-old died and can make recommenda­tions to prevent similar deaths.

After police discovered the bodies, they were looking for Thomson for two counts of first-degree murder, Sgt. Andrew Coughlan, the primary detective for the homicide, told the inquest. Police had not yet recovered a gun and believed Thomson was armed.

Thomson knew Nicholl but did not know Lowe, the inquest heard.

Initially police focused their investigat­ion on a house on Delancey Boulevard on Hamilton Mountain, where Thomson was last seen. Outside they found a car he had been driving, but he was not there. Detectives learned Thomson was in another vehicle — a truck that belonged to one of the residents on Delancey. Brantford police found that vehicle in Brantford.

The inquest heard that Thomson’s father, Lee Doolittle, was stopped by police after being spotted getting something out of the vehicle. Doolittle was taken to the Branford police station where he told officers he had rented his son a room at the motel. Police took his phone.

“We wanted to control the situation so we could bring this to a safe conclusion, if possible,” Coughlan said, adding that initially police didn’t know if there was evidence on Doolittle’s phone or if he was assisting his son.

Witnesses had told police that Thomson was distressed and possibly suicidal. He told the mother of his son that he wanted to come by to say goodbye.

Coughlan said police consider a suspect’s state of mind, but that it doesn’t necessaril­y mean police can back off. In this case, Thomson was armed and wanted for serious crimes, so police needed to arrest him as soon as possible.

Thomson’s father, who read a statement but was not questioned as a witness, told the inquest he lives with “guilt” over not being able to help his son the night he died.

“On that night when my son needed me more than ever before, I couldn’t be there for him because I was at the police station being interrogat­ed,” Doolittle said, adding that he asked many times to call his son.

Doolittle was 15 when Thomson was born and never thought he wanted children until a chance meeting with his son later in life. The two grew to be very close and discovered they were very much alike.

“We were becoming more than dad and son, we were becoming best friends,” he said, later recalling being best man at his son’s wedding.

Doolittle said his son was wellliked and thoughtful, never missing a Christmas or Father’s Day and regularly coming for Sunday dinners. More than anything, Thomson was proud of his son, who was 10 when he died.

But Thomson also struggled for many years with mental illness, which he tried to deal with on his own because of shame. In the year before his death, he also struggled with undescribe­d health issues that led to him needing blood transfusio­ns, Doolittle said.

Since his son’s death, he said not a single day has passed without him thinking about Thomson and wondering what he was thinking in those last moments.

“Sometimes I wonder how I have any tears left,” Doolittle said.

Ing, a 20-year veteran officer with just over 13 years in the emergency response unit, testified that there are times when family members are brought in at the recommenda­tion of crisis negotiator­s if there is a barricaded person. However, they are not the first contact.

The ERU, a tactical unit, is used for high-risk scenarios including cases where a suspect is believed to be armed. Ing said the operationa­l plans are about control and public safety.

The plan included evacuating neighbouri­ng motel rooms, making sure Thomson was alone and could not escape, and then calling to him to come out.

“From my experience had we waited, that increases the chance for Mr. Thomson to escape and thereby increasing the risk to general public as well,” he said.

Operationa­l plans include a hierarchy of safety priorities. For instance, in a situation with hostages, the hostages’ safety would be the top priority, Ing explained. In this case public safety was No. 1, followed by police safety and then Thompson’s.

Following Thomson’s death, Ontario’s police watchdog was also notified. The Special Investigat­ions Unit, which investigat­es incidents involving police in Ontario where someone is seriously hurt or killed, cleared the officers of wrongdoing.

Both police witnesses Monday said they believed they were adequately trained and that there was nothing they could have done differentl­y. Ing said one improvemen­t, which has since been implemente­d, is that the robot now records video that can be saved. He also noted that body worn cameras could help.

 ?? JOHN RENNISON SPECTATOR FILE PHOTO ?? Crime scene at 25 Towercrest Dr. where 62-year-old Donald Lowe and 32-year-old Cheryl Nicholl were killed in November 2019.
JOHN RENNISON SPECTATOR FILE PHOTO Crime scene at 25 Towercrest Dr. where 62-year-old Donald Lowe and 32-year-old Cheryl Nicholl were killed in November 2019.
 ?? HAMILTON POLICE PHOTO ?? An inquest into the death of 33-year-old David Thomson began Monday. Thomson killed himself in a Brantford motel, Nov. 3, 2019, as Hamilton police officers attempted to negotiate his surrender on homicide charges.
HAMILTON POLICE PHOTO An inquest into the death of 33-year-old David Thomson began Monday. Thomson killed himself in a Brantford motel, Nov. 3, 2019, as Hamilton police officers attempted to negotiate his surrender on homicide charges.
 ?? ?? Cheryl Nicholl, 32, was fatally shot in November 2019.
Cheryl Nicholl, 32, was fatally shot in November 2019.
 ?? ?? Donald Lowe, 62, was not known to David Thomson.
Donald Lowe, 62, was not known to David Thomson.

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