CALGARY – A man who has been under investigation in the disappearance of a Calgary boy and his grandparents has been formally charged with their murders.
Calgary police said today that Douglas Garland, 54, was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Alvin and Kathryn Liknes, and second-degree murder in the death of five-year-old Nathan O’Brien.
With his hands handcuffed behind his back, Garland walked with his head down and showed little emotion as he was surrounded by cameras and reporters during the walk to the police department’s arrest processing unit late Monday night.
He did not respond to a barrage of questions.
Calgary police Chief Rick Hanson said an arrest had been made earlier in the day Monday but said the person couldn’t be identified until the charges were made official.
Garland lives on an acreage near Airdrie, just north of Calgary, where much of the search by police has been concentrated since the trio vanished from the Liknes home on June 29.
The couple had held an estate sale at their home that weekend and their grandson stayed for a sleepover, but when his mother came to get him the next morning, no one was home.
So far, no bodies have been found.
Police have said there was evidence something violent had happened in the grandparents’ house, but until Monday believed there was a chance they could be found alive.
“Even as the days went by there’s always a hope, there’s always a glimmer of hope,” Hanson said Monday morning. “Unfortunately with the laying of the charges, we’ve taken that hope away from the family. So they are devastated.”
In an email to The Canadian Press, Teena Prevost, a sister-in-law of Kathryn Liknes, said her family is praying police are wrong.
“Until the police can show us the bodies of our loved ones we will not believe they are deceased,” she wrote. “Praying we will find them alive.”
Teena is married to Randy Prevost, the brother of Kathryn Liknes, and wants people to know that family is suffering as well.
“Her siblings seem to be all forgotten in all this mess,” she said. “Kathy was an amazing sister and sister-in-law.”
After news of the arrest, flowers starting piling up in front of the grandparents’ home. A note next to some candles read, “I believe.”
“I hope they’re wrong and they will find them,” said neighbour Natalie Stevenson. “To think of losing my parents like that or my son would just be a nightmare.”
While refusing to discuss the evidence in any detail, Hanson said there is no “smoking gun” that finally led to the arrest and the belief the three are dead.
Investigators met with Crown prosecutors on Sunday to go over evidence that had been gathered over the two weeks, he said. They determined charges were warranted. An Amber Alert issued shortly after the family members were reported missing was also 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.
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 on Friday. His lawyer on those charges, Kim Ross, did not return messages seeking comment Monday.
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 file.
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.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent out a message of condolence on Twitter on Monday.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the O’Brien and Liknes families during this time.”
Alberta Premier Dave Hancock and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also offered their condolences.
Police said Garland’s next court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday.