What began as a celebratory weekend of dance throughout the Okanagan soon turned into a series of horrible shocks for a Just For Kicks teacher/dancer.
Josie Weightman, 19, had travelled with her fellow dancers from their Salmon Arm dance studio to Vernon for the Shine Dance Festival, which stretched from Thursday, April 11 to Sunday. It was amid the excitement of the festival she heard the terrible news Sunday of the shooting in Salmon Arm, which killed one man and left another wounded. The site of the shooting sits next door to one of Just for Kicks’ studios. Weightman learned her boyfriend’s friend is brother to the man charged in the killing.
“I have to admit it was quite shocking. It’s just super bizarre how it’s been going down. It’s so weird in such a small community, as well. We were all just shocked.” As they learned more details, it became more devastating.
“I’m just so sorry for the family, it’s just so heartbreaking.”
The next stop in the dancers Okanagan circuit was the Kiwanis Music Festival in Penticton. Weightman, family friends and other dancers were going to stay at an Airbnb there.
“We’re all really close, family friends, we dance with each other.”
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Some left Sunday night for Penticton, Weightman and her brother decided to drive down Monday morning.
“We get excited for Penticton every year – we go down there, we pretty much get to take a week-long vacation in sunny Penticton.”
She and her brother arrived between 9:30 and 10 a.m. As they were unloading and unpacking their belongings, they heard loud noises.
Was that gunshots? one of the dancers asked. The dancer’s mom said no, Weightman recounts.
“She was like, ‘What are you talking about, you didn’t hear gunshots.”
They put it down to construction about two doors away.
It was soon time to take one of the dancers to the festival venue. Weightman drove her, but as they were leaving, they noticed police cars. They checked back with their friends and learned there had been a shooting.
“We weren’t too panicked about it, we thought we were probably in the safest place we could be, with police around,” she says.
But while they were at the festival venue, things got scary. They were put in lockdown and a woman working there informed them RCMP told her a dangerous man might be outside the building.
“We were like, oh wow, this is a little serious now, this is kind of scary. After about 10 minutes they said we were no longer on lockdown, they said it was okay, the guy was gone.”
When they returned to the Airbnb, they realized they had been frighteningly close to the shooting. Police in SWAT gear and the K-9 unit were swarming around. As the dancers watched out the window, a man would come and update them regularly. They were told that the person who did the shooting lived across the street and the shooting took place in a house two doors down.
“We were just shocked, just, just I don’t even know. It was just so devastating to that town, especially since we go there, and it is such a happy and safe place to go to. It was quite disturbing to know something had happened right across the road from us.”
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That night the dancers were scheduled to take part in the festival, which they did, putting aside thoughts of the day.
Weightman says the woman with them used to be a social worker, so she was able to help them stay calm, not to let their imaginations get the best of them. The day after was definitely worse, she says, as the reality of the four people killed in Penticton set in.
“We felt so bad for the families.”
As the days pass, Weightman says she’s feeling a bit more cautious when she’s out and about.
“More than anything, I feel bad for the cities – of Penticton and Salmon Arm, just because it’s just so unbelievable to think of that.
She describes the time in Penticton as a very eye-opening experience.
“It could happen anywhere and it makes you realize there are some dangerous people in this world and sometimes evil just takes over.”