|The Assassins Curse
||04-15-2008 10:42 PM
Manhunt is on for father of three murdered Merritt children
MERRITT - The prime suspect in the murder of his three children in Merritt had three run-ins with the police in the days following his arrival in the central Interior town just over a week ago.
But each time, Allan Dwayne Schoenborn, a 40-year-old Vancouver man with previous criminal charges and a history of mental illness, was let go.
Even after he went to his children's elementary school and allegedly uttered threats of bodily harm against the principal, a Provincial Court judge ordered him released - against the recommendation of the police.
A spokeswoman for the RCMP said the local police were unaware there had been an earlier peace bond prohibiting Schoenborn from having contact with Darcie Clarke, the mother of his three children who had moved from Vancouver to Merritt last fall.
Clarke's neighbours in the community, called Diamond Vale, had seen Schoenborn around the house for many days. On Saturday, the day before Clarke arrived to find her three children slain, they saw him flying kites with the three children.
Also on Saturday, Schoenborn struck up a conversation with a neighbour over the fence.
Schoenborn appeared intrigued that the neighbour, Clint Heigh, was a chaplain at a local prison. He asked Heigh about prison life and appeared to be troubled about something. "I said that if there is anything I can do to help you, let me know," recalled Heigh.
Schoenborn didn't take the chaplain up on his offer - and today the Vancouver roofer is the subject of a massive manhunt in connection with the deaths of his children: Kaitlynne, 10; Max, 8; and Cordon, 5.
Schoenborn's initial contact with the Merritt RCMP came when he was arrested for driving while under disqualification because of an earlier impaired-driving conviction.
In another incident, police officers encountered Schoenborn when he was intoxicated in a public place.
Then, on Thursday, police were called by the principal of Schoenborn's daughter's school, Diamond Vale elementary.
Schoenborn had allegedly uttered threats to a student and the principal.
The police sought to keep Schoenborn in custody after the school incident, arguing that he was a flight risk who had a history of failing to appear in court.
He was charged with two counts of uttering threats of bodily harm, but the Provincial Court judge let him go.
Three days later, Clarke left her children in Schoenborn's care briefly while she went out on an errand. When she returned, her three kids were dead. And Schoenborn was gone.
"There was no reason for us to foresee these circumstances at all," RCMP Const. Julie Rattee said Monday.
Asked why the RCMP was unaware of the order restraining Schoenborn, Const. Annie Linteau said a restraining order doesn't necessarily show up on someone's criminal record unless it had been court-ordered.
When Merritt RCMP called up Schoenborn's name, the order protecting Clarke from him did not appear, she added.
Clarke found the children dead in their home shortly after 2 p.m. Sunday. Neighbours reported seeing four or five police cars scream into the neighbourhood, and watched as police led the devastated Clarke to a nearby ambulance. She was reportedly in hospital on Monday "under a great deal of duress right now," said Rattee.
"We had an intense tragedy happen in the community; everyone is reeling from a pretty big crisis."
Police said that although the children lived with their mother, Schoenborn had access to them.
Schoenborn is believed to have fled into the bush with his Labrador retriever called Van Gogh, Rattee said. Police are asking for the public's help in tracking Schoenborn, who has a history of mental illness and is considered dangerous.
"At this point, he could be anywhere," Rattee said.
Asked why the police took 20 hours to announce they had a suspect and warn the public about Schoenborn, Rattee said it was part of the RCMP strategy.
"First of all you have to know who your suspect is," she said.
Merritt Mayor David Laird defended the police actions, saying they acted as quickly as they could. "It's not the type of thing you expect in a community of this size," he said. "It's horrendous... our detachment is not used to dealing with that sort of crime scene."
Schoenborn and Clarke had lived in a house on Moss St. in south Vancouver with their children for about two years before leaving abruptly six months ago, according to a neighbour.
"I knew her well enough to say hello to her and her kids," said Sandy Towler. "I felt so sorry for her, he was a scumbag."
"I would chat with the kids when they went by on their bicycles," she recalled. "She was a good mother, always playing with the kids and taking them for walks."
The couple had loud fights out on the front lawn of the house at 5077 Moss St.
"One night he beat her up and the next day she packed up the kids and left," said Towler. "I don't know if he was drunk or on dope or what."
Towler never spoke with Schoenborn while he lived in the neighbourhood, but she observed him yelling at Clarke. The police came at least once to quiet a disturbance at the house.
When told police were seeking Schoenborn in connection with the deaths of three children, Towler was shocked and saddened.
"I just hope it's not them," she said. "Those kids were so sweet."
Schoenborn worked as a roofer in Vancouver prior to moving to Merritt.
"He was a good worker," said Mo Quinn, a supervisor for Cambie Roofers in Vancouver, where Schoenborn worked for four years as a subcontractor.
"He was a little flaky - you know, he'd disappear for days on end. But in general he was a pretty good guy."
Quinn said that Schoenborn never showed any sign of emotional instability.
"A couple of times there - I can't say that it was a lifestyle - but I did see him drink quite heavily."
He also never showed any signs of violent tendencies, added Quinn.
"He was a pretty small guy. He didn't really strike me as the violent type. We used to call him 'Little Al,' actually."
Schoenborn repaired the roof of a house owned by Sun reporter Kim Pemberton in 2005. "He seemed very pleasant, but I remember one incident when he was speaking angrily with his crew," recalled Pemberton.
"I was quite taken aback because that was certainly not the personality of the man I had seen all week."
Schoenborn has faced criminal charges before.
He was charged last year with sexual assault and uttering threats against a B.C. woman. A court order prohibits identification of the victim.
The original charges ended in a stay of proceedings last July.
He was also charged with impaired driving in Chilliwack last Nov. 22. He pleaded guilty, was fined $800 and was prohibited from driving for one year.
Then last Dec. 19, Schoenborn was charged with driving while prohibited in Coquitlam.
The triple slayings have shocked the quiet Merritt community. The family had only moved to the neighbourhood about six months ago, but the deaths drew a steady stream of friends and strangers to a makeshift memorial at a stop sign across from the children's home.
Tearful children and adults dropped off a stuffed donkey, teddy bears, a plastic grasshopper and skipping rope, adding to a pile of cards and flowers.
Two B.C. Ambulance paramedics dropped off three teddy bears and a pot of flowers Monday afternoon with a card reading, "Our hearts are with you."
"My heart's breaking for the mom and what's happened," said Cindy Hamilton. "I just had to come and put some flowers down. It's just very, very sad."
Kendra Bennett, 9, who attended Diamond Vale elementary with the three children and was friends with Kaitlynne, dropped off a pot of roses because "she liked pretty things." A card with the roses read "Max-Kaitlynne Forever... in our hearts and in our prayers."
"She was good friends with me," Kendra said.
Tears welled up in her eyes as she remembered her friend, who she said loved to tell jokes and draw "funny pictures of her friends."
Although Kaitlynne was often teased at school because she was new to Merritt and because of what she wore, Kendra said, the two became fast friends. They shared a fondness for the Littlest Petshop Toys, she said, and would spend lunch hours playing "hostage," using their skipping ropes to tie each other to the backstop and see who could escape.
She said although she liked Kaitlynne's mother, she thought her father was "freaky," especially after he showed up at the school last Thursday.
Robert Richard, who lives a few doors down from the children and their mother, said Schoenborn had a "strange" demeanour and told him on Saturday they were going to move away.
When Richard saw the police cars around the house on Sunday, he said, "I thought, 'Oh brother, he finally killed her.' When I heard it was the kids, I was devastated."
Police say they have about 20 officers working on finding Schoenborn and more on standby, along with an RCMP helicopter and police dog services.
It's not known if he fled on foot or in a vehicle, although he is prohibited from driving as a result of previous drunk driving offences. He was scheduled to appear in Merritt Provincial Court today.
Neighbour Misty McKenna said even though she didn't know the family, she feels the mother's pain. Her daughter attended kindergarten with the youngest child, Cordon, she said.
"I'm mad somebody could do something like this to innocent children," she said. "It's a complete shock. He was just a quiet little boy, all the kids at school liked him.
"I'm trying to figure out how to tell my daughter that her friend is gone. It's just so unimaginable."
I live a nearby city. If anything I hope this bastard gets caught.