A man who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1997 escaped from the minimum-security unit of a New Brunswick prison on Wednesday evening, according to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).
During an inmate count around 10 p.m. AT, staff members at Dorchester Penitentiary discovered that Steven Bugden, 45, was not there. He was last accounted for at 4 p.m., when recreation started at the minimum-security sector.
“It was discovered … after recreation was done that he was not in his house,” said Emile Belliveau, assistant warden with management services at the prison, which is roughly 30 kilometres southeast of Moncton and has multiple security levels.
Belliveau described Bugden‘s departure as more of a “walk out” than an escape.
‘We don‘t know his frame of mind.‘ — Acting Cpl. Dan Hilchie, RCMP
“There‘s no walls that separate this sector from the community… this is the last step for them to be introduced into the society,” he said.
“If an inmate decides he wants to leave, he can do so on his own.” Still, he said, “we take this very seriously.”
Bugden is serving a life sentence for the murder of Angela Tong, a 22-year-old Carleton University student who was stabbed 19 times at an Ottawa hotel in March 1997. In announcing his escape, CSC said Bugden was serving an indeterminate sentence.
‘There‘s probably darkness in everybody‘s heart.‘ — Gerry Brinkman, former roommate
The service said it immediately ed the RCMP, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
The prison was searched by correctional officers while RCMP, with the help of a police dog, searched the surrounding area, according to the police.
The dog was brought in because Bugden left during a winter storm and police wanted to “find him immediately,” said acting Cpl. Dan Hilchie, with the RCMP‘s Sackville detachment.
“The weather wasn‘t very co-operative,” said Hilchie.
Although the area outside the prison is well lit, it was dark when Bugden left, Hilchie said.
Reliving what happened
A man who knew both Tong and Bugden is urging the escapee to turn himself in. Gerry Brinkman, an Ottawa-based Baptist pastor, said Tong attended a Bible study group he ran at Carleton and that he lived with Bugden at the time of the murder.
Brinkman told CBC News he was shocked, saddened and “a little disturbed” when he heard of the escape. He said it‘s tough reliving what happened in 1997.
“It‘s very difficult,” Brinkman said. “I think what it shows you is that there‘s probably darkness in everybody‘s heart.”
Speaking directly to Bugden, he said “it just ends better” if he hands himself over to police.
Do not approach
Police are continuing to gather information to find out either his location or direction of travel.
“We‘re still gathering information from family, friends, s,” Hilchie said. “We‘re investigating video tapes as well to see if he went on foot and or with a vehicle.”
Bugden is five feet, five inches tall and weighs 188 pounds. He has fair complexion, blue eyes and blond hair.
RCMP said anyone who sees Bugden should police immediately and not approach him.
“We don‘t know his frame of mind, we don‘t know what his intentions are,” said Hilchie. “We just don‘t want to put the public at risk.”
Denied day parole
The prison‘s minimum-security sector consists of housing units, which include a shared living area for four to six inmates. Bugden was placed there because he was considered a low risk to the public, Belliveau said.
“There‘s all kinds of tools we use here to evaluate the risk [posed by] this individual,” he said.
He was denied both day parole and unescorted temporary absences in 2009, according to the Parole Board of Canada.
The board‘s decision said police didn‘t support the request and parole officers believed Bugden “should cascade to a minimum-security institution” as a more gradual release plan while taking psychotherapy sessions before reapplying for conditional release. The CSC also recommended denying the request.
The decision noted Bugden verbalized a willingness to receive therapy, but the risk to the community remained “unmanageable” at that time.
The correctional service is asking anyone who has information on Bugden‘s whereabouts to police.