A desperate search was under way in the normally tranquil east coast city of Moncton for a heavily armed gunman dressed like Rambo who shot dead three Canadian federal police and wounded two others before he escaped.
Justin Bourque, 24, was seen in three different places around Moncton, the latest instance after daybreak yesterday, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) commander Marlene Snowman said.
Heavily armed RCMP officers are combing streets and woods in search of Bourque, who was wearing military camouflage and carrying two rifles in a picture released by police on Twitter. Schools as well as some businesses, shops and public services stayed shut as the manhunt continued in this city of 70,000 where the streets were largely deserted.
Police have commandeered armoured trucks and told residents to stay indoors.
"Stay home, stay safe. If you cannot get home, seek out a friend or family and remain there until you are advised otherwise," Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc said.
RCMP Constable Damien Theriault choked up with emotion as he described how police responded to a call at 7.30pm on Wednesday.
Three of the responding officers were killed and two sustained non-life threatening injuries and were in stable condition.
Theriault said he personally knew the officers before breaking down and excusing himself because he could not complete his sentence.
Daniel Saint Louis, a commercial photographer, said he came upon the scene at about 8.30pm and saw two police vehicles on different streets with blood inside.
One of the vehicles, a marked police cruiser, was surrounded by shattered glass. The other, an unmarked SUV with its lights still on and the driver's side door left open, had several bullet holes through its front windshield.
"I walked over and I saw two feet, facing the street, toes up," said Saint Louis, 51. "I realised, 'Oh my God. There's somebody down.' As I got close, I realised it was an officer and this is not a good situation."
On what appears to be his Facebook page, the suspect posted extracts from a song by American heavy metal band Megadeth just before the shooting.
He took letters from the refrain of the song and spelled out the letters of the word freedom and ultimately wrote, "this spells out FREEDOM, it means nothing to me."
The exact circumstances of the shooting of the police officers were not clear. Local media said the shooter opened fire in cold blood.
Witness Danny Leblanc, 42, said he saw the shooter wearing camouflage and standing in the middle of the street with his gun pointed at police cars.
The construction worker said he believed the man was a police officer until he heard a burst of automatic gunfire coming from the man's gun.
Leblanc quickly retreated into his home and remained there with his family.
Leblanc said few people on his normally quiet street were sleeping as they awaited word at midnight on whether arrests had been made. News that police had been killed shocked the city, Leblanc said.
"It's devastating. I don't know if he was on a hunt for them, or what," he said.
Such violence is rare in Canada, particularly on the country's East Coast. Theriault said that until Wednesday evening, the city of Moncton had not witnessed a homicide since 2012. "We have been blessed until this point," he said. Provincial premier David Alward said, "I was shocked and saddened to learn of tonight's tragic situation in Moncton."
The shootings brought back memories of when four RCMP officers were shot and killed in the western Canadian province of Alberta in 2005 in the deadliest attack on Canadian police officers in 120 years. They had been investigating a farm in Mayerthrope, a small hamlet in Alberta, when a man shot them before he was killed.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse