As major crime investigators continue to probe targeted killings discovered Sunday in a gravel pit in Whiskey Creek, a couple living in one of two trailers at the site haven’t been seen and are believed to be dead.
Two bodies were found in a burned travel trailer, while a man with gunshot wounds was found in a second trailer. A third body was found nearby.
Several sources told the Times Colonist that one of the victims of the killings is believed to be Shawn McGrath, a 52-year-old with an extensive criminal record. His girlfriend, Shanda Wilson, had been living with him in the trailer.
Kelly Morris, a peer-support worker based in Qualicum Beach, said she helped McGrath set up his trailer in the gravel pit at the end of Melrose Forest Service Road about 18 months ago. He had just finished a jail sentence and told her he had nowhere else to go.
Morris said other homeless people living in the bush were afraid of McGrath.
McGrath was set to appear in Nanaimo provincial court this month for possession for the purpose of trafficking and breach of recognizance. Wilson was listed as a co-accused in that case. In 2005, McGrath was charged with robbery, break and enter, unlawful confinement and use of an imitation firearm for offences committed in Courtenay.
Officers were called to the gravel pit area after a motorbike rider discovered one of the bodies on Sunday afternoon and called 911.
On Monday, police said they believe people linked to the killing remain at large. However they said the public is not at risk because the crimes were not random, but involved people well-known to each other.
Neither RCMP nor the B.C. Coroners Service has confirmed the identities of the dead. Police have said forensic identification must take place, since two of the victims were found in the charred trailer. The RCMP did not give an update Thursday on whether any suspects have been identified, whether the gunshot victim has co-operated with police or if the victim remains in hospital.
Morris said she planned to visit several bush camps on Saturday night, but got a tip from someone who told her not to go to Whiskey Creek. She believes that tip saved her life.
The level of violence has Morris concerned for other homeless people living in the bush.
“A lot of homeless are wondering what’s going to happen now,” she said. “People are going to continue to be hurt in the bush. They’re sitting targets.”
Morris is frustrated there’s not more help for people who are living rough in old trailers, makeshift structures or tents.
Morris, who has herself struggled with addiction, estimates there are more than 380 people living in forested areas across the Parksville-Qualicum area. She said she’s been trying to collect winter jackets for people before the cold weather sets in. Morris said anyone who wants to donate a winter jacket can contact her at 250-951-6382.
In 2018, the Oceanside Homelessness Task Force partnered with the Homeless Services Association of B.C. to take part in the provincially organized point-in-time homeless count, which that year found there were 42 people experiencing homelessness in the Parksville-Qualicum area. Another point-in-time count was scheduled for April 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.