It was “Bermuda Shorts Day” at the University of Calgary, an annual spring tradition that celebrates the final day of classes. For most students, it means a boozy breakfast, an afternoon at the on-campus beer garden and a nightcap of pub crawls and house parties.
Not surprisingly, some of the bashes are massive affairs. Others—like this year’s gathering at 11 Butler Crescent NW, a short walk from the school—are much more tame.
“It wasn’t a crazy party at all,” says Doug Jones, a neighbour whose backyard deck overlooks what is now an infamous crime scene. “It would be like you and I having a few friends over for a barbecue. They were hanging around a fire pit and having a few beers, maybe 15 or 20 people.”
As the sun went down that Monday night—April 14—Jones actually heard some of the young guests talking about stocks and politics; by 9 p.m., everyone was inside the split-level home, leaving just a few empty cans and bottles on an outdoor table. “Again, it wasn’t loud or boisterous,” says Jones, 54. “You barely even knew there was a party going on.”
Shortly after midnight, Jones fell asleep.
As Monday turned into early Tuesday morning, another invited guest showed up to the party: Matthew de Grood, a 22-year-old psychology graduate who was supposed to begin his ﬁrst semester of law school in September. The son of Douglas de Grood, an accomplished senior inspector with the Calgary Police Service, he had just ﬁnished a shift at the local grocery store where he worked.
On April 11, three days before the party, de Grood changed his Facebook profile picture to a black capital E surrounded by a thick circle. “Equal Rights for all races & identities under the charter,” he wrote. Just hours before walking into 11 Butler, he posted the title of a Megadeth heavy metal song (Dread and the Fugitive Mind) and the album title (The World Needs a Hero). Whatever he meant, it was his final Internet footprint.
Exactly what happened next—and what triggered such a gruesome frenzy—is still under investigation. But this much is certain: Police believe de Grood, a cop’s son, grabbed a large knife from inside the home and erupted into a sudden rage, stabbing five people, again and again, before fleeing on foot. When officers arrived on the scene shortly after 1:20 a.m., they found three murdered men inside the house, not far from a severely injured 23-year-old woman. On the front lawn, another young man was bloody and barely alive.
Although both breathing victims were rushed to hospital, neither survived their wounds. All told, five people were dead.
“They did nothing wrong and nothing they did contributed to what happened to them,” a somber Rick Hanson, the city’s police chief, told a packed news conference on Tuesday morning. “This is the worst mass murder in Calgary’s history. We have never seen five people killed by an individual at one scene, so the scene was horrific. It’s extremely difficult, regardless of who the perpetrator is, to go into a scene like that with young people who have been killed.”
Doug Jones, the neighbour who overheard the small party the night before, woke up early Tuesday morning to take his dog for a walk. The house on the other side of his yard was now surrounded by yellow police tape, and a television reporter told him what had unfolded while he slept—including the K9-unit pursuit that nabbed the suspect. “It’s a total shock,” Jones says. “To find out that five people were stabbed to death there, I almost fainted, to be honest with you.”
It was a feeling shared by so many, not just in Calgary, but across Canada. The victims—all in their 20s, identified by various news outlets as Josh Hunter, Zackariah Rathwell, Jordan Segura, Lawrence Hong and Kaitlin Perras—were doing what countless college-age students do every day: drinking a pint with friends and sharing a few laughs. Why were they attacked? Was there a heated argument? A previous altercation? And why would a 22-year-old university student—the product of a seemingly good home, with no criminal record and a potential career as a lawyer—unleash such a massacre?
For now, at least, there are far more questions than sensible answers.
“The events that led to him stabbing the individuals is not something I can comment on here because we still don’t know,” Chief Hanson told reporters. “All we know is he stabbed five of them. The investigation is still underway. There are a number of witnesses, the witnesses are being interviewed, and there is still a lot of information we need to get.”
Police formally charged Matthew de Grood late Tuesday afternoon with five counts of first-degree murder. All suspects are considered innocent unless proven guilty, and the alleged quintuple killer will certainly be afforded that presumption. But clearly, his parents have already come to grips with a terrible truth. In the most emotional moment of Chief Hanson’s press conference, he passed along a public message from the suspect’s mom and dad, including Doug de Grood, who has spent his 33-year career arresting the kind of violent, dangerous criminals his own son appears to be.
“He is absolutely devastated, and asked that I would pass on that he’s heartbroken, as his wife is,” Hanson said. “He said: ‘Could you please pass on to the families our total and complete sorrow and condolences as to what happened.’ They are devastated and they feel so much pain for the families that were impacted by their son.”
Despite so many unanswered questions, Hanson did confirm that de Grood was welcomed into the party, invited by one of the home’s occupants. He didn’t appear drunk or high and, at this point, police aren’t certain whether the ambush was planned or provoked. “Was there something that anyone had done that could have been taken as an insult or an affront to this individual?” Hanson said. “To the best of our knowledge right now, there is nothing to indicate anything like that happened.”
When the attack began, there were approximately 20 partiers still in the house, Hanson said. One of them managed to phone 911 and, when officers arrived, one particularly helpful witness pointed in the direction of where the suspect fled. A sniffer dog quickly tracked him down and, after a brief struggle—including a bite from the dog—de Grood was handcuffed and arrested.
As the suspect was loaded into an ambulance, a television news camera captured a glimpse of what appeared to be numerous slash wounds on his arms and chest.
Speaking at the same news conference as the chief, University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon expressed condolences to the loved ones affected by “this senseless tragedy.” She also said now is not the time to debate whether Bermuda Shorts Day—a 53-year school tradition—is somehow to blame for such an unthinkable rampage. “This is a day to mourn the loss of members of our community and to provide support to their families, friends and to our university community members,” Cannon said. “As the police chief said, this was a house party off campus, and today is not the day to evaluate activities that are on campus.”
Two of the confirmed victims, Zackariah Rathwell and Josh Hunter, were members of the funk-rock band Zackariah and the Prophets. On April 12, just two days before they were murdered, they played a sold-out show at The Palomino Smokehouse to celebrate the release of their EP, Goodnight Icarus. On his Facebook page, Hunter, the drummer, called it “hands down one of the best nights of my life.”
Less than eight hours before he died, Hunter also posted a short video from an April 14 Bermuda Shorts Day (BSD) concert. “Crazy town,” he wrote. “Bsd!”
Spencer Brown, The Palomino’s entertainment and marketing manager, met the friends last year and was struck by their enthusiasm. “They were polite, passionate young men and musicians,” he told Maclean’s. “They were always great to deal with, on and off stage, whether it was something like this past Saturday, or when they came out to support their friends’ bands, which they did pretty constantly here. It’s a very sad dichotomy that they went from a high point in their musical career to the terrible events of this morning.”
Back on Butler Crescent, Doug Jones can still see the remnants of Monday night’s party from over his fence. Green lawn chairs. An empty can of Old Milwaukee. Barbecue tongs. “We’re like a Canadiana neighbourhood: nothing fancy, but people take pride in their homes and everyone says hi to everyone when you’re out walking your dog or riding your bike,” he says.
“Nothing ever happens in this neighbourhood—that’s why we liked it here. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
It never fully will.
—With Adrian Lee, Emily Senger and Aaron Hutchins