Murder charges are pending in the mysterious case of a missing Calgary boy and his grandparents, and police say there’s strong evidence they’re dead even though their bodies have not been found.
© — Photo by The Canadian Press
Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson says first- and second-degree murder charges are being filed in connection with the disappearance of Nathan O’Brien and his grandparents at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Monday.
Calgary police Chief Rick Hanson told reporters a man was arrested early Monday, but couldn’t be identified until he appeared before a justice of the peace on the charges later in the day or early today.
The man is to face two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Alvin and Kathy Liknes. One charge of second-degree murder is to be laid in the death of five-year-old Nathan O’Brien.
Hanson said the arrested man is from Airdrie, a community north of Calgary, but would not confirm media reports that he is Douglas Garland. The 54-year-old lives on an Airdrie acreage with his parents and was earlier questioned as a person of interest in the case.
Hanson would only say police are not looking for any other suspects.
The missing family members were last seen on June 29. The couple had held an estate sale at their home that weekend and their grandson stayed for a sleepover.
When his mother went to pick him up the next day, no one was home.
Police had said there was evidence something violent had happened in the grandparents’ house, but had always held out hope the three would be found alive.
Shortly after the three disappeared, Nathan’s parents issued a tearful plea through the media asking for their return and urging their “superhero” son to be brave.
“Even as the days went by there’s always a hope, there’s always a glimmer of hope,” Hanson said. “Unfortunately, with the laying of the charges, we’ve taken that hope away from the family. So they are devastated.”
While refusing to discuss the evidence in any detail, Hanson said there is no “smoking gun” that finally led to the arrest.
Investigators met with Crown prosecutors Sunday to go over evidence that had been gathered the past two weeks, he said. They determined charges were warranted. An Amber Alert issued shortly after the family members were reported missing was cancelled.
“It was clear at that point that this was no longer a missing persons investigation. This was a homicide investigation,” Hanson said.
From the beginning, the case captivated people across the country. Thousands of people wrote messages on a blog for the family, and police received more than 900 tips from the public, including sightings reported from coast to coast.
Despite the charges, the police chief said the case is not closed and investigators will continue to search for the bodies of Nathan and his grandparents.
Hanson renewed calls for rural property owners to search their land for anything out of the ordinary.
Garland was first questioned more than a week ago, then held on unrelated identity theft charges. He was released from custody Friday. His lawyer on those charges, Kim Ross, did not return messages seeking comment Monday.
Investigators have been searching his parents acreage northeast of Airdrie, including several fields and sloughs on and around the property.
Garland has ties to the Liknes family. His sister is in a relationship with a member of the Liknes family.
Police earlier said they were looking into whether there was a business connection to the missing persons case.
Alvin Liknes was involved in several oil and gas companies, including Winter Petroleum Ltd., which media reports say was forced to close a few weeks ago. The CBC has quoted a police source as saying Garland and Alvin Liknes had a dispute over a patent for a gas device.
Court documents show Garland has a criminal record and mental issues.
In 2000, he was sentenced to 39 months for making amphetamines at his parents’ farm. Before he went to prison, he jumped bail and lived for several years in Vancouver using the identity of a dead person.
The Parole Board of Canada gave him accelerated release after six months, noting in its decision that Garland’s prior criminal record consisted of various property offences over the course of 20 years.
His mental health played a role in the crimes, the board said, but a psychologist determined that Garland had “little violence potential to others.” It ordered a psychologist and psychiatrist to closely monitor him during his release.
After news of the arrest, Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent out condolences on Twitter: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the O’Brien and Liknes families during this time.”
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also released a statement: “I, like all Calgarians, am terribly saddened to learn about the murder charges that were laid today related to the missing persons investigation in our community. My heart goes out to the Liknes and O’Brien families, and I know that they will continue to have the support they need from all of us at this very difficult time.”