Matthew Fowler showed little emotion as he was led into court on Friday morning to face charges for a pair of shootings 24 hours earlier.
The 31-year-old from St. John’s is facing 15 charges, including aggravated assault, breaking and entering, and robbery. All charges are related to one incident in Conception Bay South, but police say more charges are expected in relation to a second shooting at a nearby residence.
Police are also investigating reports of a possible third shooting, also in Conception Bay South, but as of Friday morning they were unable to verify it actually happened.
Fowler’s alleged shootings were targeted, police say, but they posed enough of a threat to public safety that an emergency alert was issued at 1:38 pm NT, setting off the phones of most people in the northeast Avalon region.
At a news conference Friday morning, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary media relations officer James Cadigan said that alert cleared the way for Fowler’s arrest after a brief chase through parts of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s and Paradise.
“Our officers are still talking about the fact that they were able to make their way through the community and effect an arrest,” he said. “There was no concern for the public as the roads were clear, people were sheltered, and we saw the successful effect of an alert.”
Both known sustained victims non-life-threatening injuries, and despite rumors to the contrary, Cadigan said, both are alive. He couldn’t say if both men were still hospitalized.
The first was shot at a home on Uplands Road in the neighborhood of Chamberlains around 10:25 am A man was taken to hospital with serious injuries.
About 35 minutes later, a second man showed up at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital in St. Andrews John’s with a gunshot wound. Police were told at the hospital he was shot on Greeleytown Road, about an eight-minute drive from the first crime scene.
At 1 pm, police received a third report of a shooting, and were told a man was en route to the hospital with gunshot wounds. The information was included in the emergency alert, as well as a press release sent just before 5 pm on Friday. Cadigan said that information has not been confirmed, though, investigators are still trying to figure out if a third shooting took place.
Here is Matthew Fowler, all 6-foot-five of him, being escorted into court. pic.twitter.com/IyMziRmTYh
Who is Matthew Fowler?
CBC News has learned the accused, Matthew Fowler, was already facing three charges of drug trafficking at provincial court in Clarenville. He’s accused of selling hydromorphone, cocaine and methamphetamine dating back to May 2021.
A look at his Facebook page shows a man who was proud to become a father in recent months. He rides motorcycles, and enjoys fishing. But a look at his list of criminal convictions shows Fowler had run-ins with the law before his most recent charges.
He was convicted on seven breaches of court orders and one conviction for failing to attend court. All eight offences date back to 2011 and 2012.
According to records reviewed by CBC News, Fowler has never been convicted of a violent crime.
Aside from the shootings, Fowler is also facing charges for dangerous driving stemming from his flight from police. Witnesses say they saw him speeding down St. Thomas Line in Paradise just before 2:30 pm on Thursday with police in pursuit.
An officer set out a spike strip, puncturing the tires of the Hyundai Elantra that Fowler was driving. He then came into contact with a pair of vehicles, hemming him in.
Witnesses told CBC News they saw the crash and watched police take Fowler out of the vehicle and into custody.
Cadigan told the media on Friday that “multiple officers” sustained minor injuries after ramming into Fowler’s car. He said they were treated at hospital, but none of the injuries were considered serious.
1st emergency alert ever issued by RNC
Thursday’s emergency alert marked the first time the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has ever used the province’s Alert Ready system to blast out a widespread message.
“Active criminal threat — Armed male at large following three shootings in the town of CBS,” the alert read. “The RNC is advising the community to shelter in place.”
Cadigan said officers had to consider the risk to public safety, as well as the veracity of the information they’d gathered before sending the alert.
The move was mostly met with thanks by members of the public, including people who said it kept them out of harm’s way as the chase unfolded.
“The person in question drove down our road past my house at 100 km/h with cops in pursuit [and] sirens on,” wrote area resident Pat Rodgers on Twitter. “The alert caused me to lock my doors and stay inside with my two grandsons.”
“That alert changed our plans and kept us home,” tweeted another nearby resident, Moiraine Blue. “We would have traveled through the exact area we were told to stay away from. It kept us away from danger and out of the way of the responding officers. Very good call, RNC.”
The emergency services division of the Department of Justice and Public Safety oversees the alert system. It’s part of the Canada-wide Alert Ready system, which can hit cellphones in a specific area with a push notification and piercing alarm.
It’s been used by several police forces across Canada in situations where public safety was an urgent concern, but is perhaps best known for a time it wasn’t used — during Canada’s worst mass shooting, in Portapique, NS, in 2020.
Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador