WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg man who died in an armed standoff is being described as a virtual shut-in whose mental health struggles demanded more of police than a hail of bullets.
Family members of Andrew Baryluk are now lashing out at those involved in the 17-hour ordeal, saying the tragic ending would have been avoided if handled differently.
“He had mental illness and was an alcoholic. He was very much a hermit,” an angry relative said on Thursday. She was speaking on behalf of the grieving clan on the condition her name not be published.
“They could have had him in custody in 15 minutes if they knew what they were doing,” she said. “This has torn our family apart.”
Baryluk, 52, had spent his entire life living in the Stella Avenue home which was about to be taken away from him following a bitter legal battle that had gone on for years. His mother had died of Alzheimer’s, while his elderly father is now battling cancer.
When Baryluk barricaded himself in the home on Wednesday morning — in response to sheriff’s officers arriving to change the locks for his designated eviction day — police were called. Baryluk was armed with his father’s vintage rifle, refusing to come out and threatening to harm himself or possibly others if anyone made him leave.
Family members told members of the Tactical Support Unit how Baryluk had a deep emotional attachment to the only home he’d ever known. He had no prior criminal history or any record of violence but was struggling with undiagnosed mental illness and a lifelong battle with the bottle.
“I thought that if I talked to him, I could convince him to come out,” the woman said. Other loved ones, including Baryluk’s four siblings, were also consulted. Much of the conversation involved the layout of the residence.
Their plan was to tell Baryluk that plans had changed and he would be allowed to remain inside the home despite the court order to get out.
“The police advised me that it would be okay to lie to him. I would have lied to him, if I had to, had the police given me the opportunity. I would have told him the new owners of the house didn’t want it anymore. That was all it would take to calm him down and have him leave the house,” the woman said.
“I might not have had to lie to him though, because I had other options I could have offered Andrew. In any case, I was not given the opportunity.”
The family said they were told “this was a very sensitive operation” and the tactical unit negotiator would make the final call as to whether they could talk to Baryluk or perhaps even record a message that could be played for him.
But the situation escalated Wednesday evening when police lobbed a flash grenade into the home, apparently in an attempt to convince Baryluk to come out. That only caused Baryluk to respond by firing at least one shot towards police, who returned fire.
No officers were injured, and family members don’t know if Baryluk was struck by the police gunfire or if he died by his own hand. As darkness fell, police cut power to the home and no further contact with Baryluk could be established.
“I don’t know if he had any other ammunition, other than that one shot,” the relative told the Free Press. “But that was a whole lot of resources — police, fire department, ambulance. It was not necessary. It was not necessary to turn the power off, evacuate the neighbourhood, fire shots at the house ‘til the wee hours. The police knew what his trauma was.”
Baryluk was never formally diagnosed by medical officials or prescribed medication for mental illness.
“No one could get him to a doctor. Or a dentist for that matter. His teeth were rotting out of his mouth,” the family member said.
» Winnipeg Free Press