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Mission man's mental health struggles end in tragedy

North Delta Reporter - 12/2/2023

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story discusses suicide and distressing themes.

The daughter of a man believed to be behind a house fire in October says her father struggled for many months before black smoke filled the sky on Gunn Avenue.

Mission firefighters had extinguished a fire in a nearby vacant building on the evening of Oct. 4. They arrived to find multiple areas intentionally set ablaze, including an outbuilding and a garbage pile.

In the house, a man was known to be armed and possibly in distress. After the area was evacuated overnight, it's believed that the man purposely set the house on fire while still inside, according to a report to council from Mission fire chief Mark Goddard.

Mission RCMP says an investigation is ongoing. However, investigators are not looking for any other suspects.

The Mission Record has learned more about mitigating factors – and the troubles faced by the man, since identified as 67-year-old Bruce Alexander Kwiatkowski, who was evicted from the property the day before.

"I got a phone call at eight o'clock in the morning asking if I had heard from my dad," Nicole Kwiatkowski, Bruce's daughter, said. "And I had just spoken to him the night before telling him that [he] can come stay with us."

Bruce Kwiatkowski had posted to Facebook (now Meta) on Oct. 5 expressing frustration with both the eviction and the landlord due to a variety of concerns.

"??They have ruined my retirement and my life," the post reads.

Nicole says on the day of the fire, police told her that her father set the outbuildings and every vehicle on fire to draw attention to the place. She told police she heard from her dad the previous evening.

"They said that he had sounded very disoriented," she said.

Upon arrival at the scene, Mission Fire Rescue Service expressed the need to immediately evacuate the area. Firefighters backed away and abandoned all equipment to a safe distance, including the fire engine.

"By four o'clock, I was noticing there was a post [on social media] saying that there was a second fire that was happening. I'm assuming that's when he set the house on fire. The cops had told me that they weren't able to access the property to evacuate him because he had set booby traps around the house. Which is like him. He does that sort of thing," Kwiatkowski said.

The public was asked to stay away from the area and not to share the locations of emergency responders over social media.

"This was a difficult situation for both fire and police personnel at the scene. It was readily apparent that the fires at 31061 Gunn Avenue had been intentionally set but hazards on the property restricted the ability of first responders to safely access the residence when they first arrived," Mission RCMP Cpl. Harrison Mohr said in a statement to the Mission Record.

"As a result, the response by first responders had to be done strategically and with extreme caution, so as not to endanger the lives of anyone else."

Kwiatkowski says police showed up at her house that night to inform her they suspected her father was in the house when it was on fire but couldn't access the room. The next day, police found the body.

She says the combination of the eviction, issues with the landlord, and a recent break-up with a woman he met through a truckers' convoy Facebook page all built up to him setting the fires.

"He just had a complete mental break, I guess," Kwiatkowski said.

Days later, Kwiatkowski went back through her e-mails and discovered a message her father sent on the morning of the fire. It included the password for his iPhone and his bank card number.

"He said love you at the end, which I thought was very strange."

She was also attached to a long e-mail he wrote to his ex-girlfriend professing his love.

Kwiatkowski says her father had a rough time over the past few years. He was a retired mechanic who moved to Gunn Avenue in 2022 after living in Aldergrove for several years.

"He moved into his dream house basically. I remember him always showing me photos and the love of that house. He just absolutely loved it. It had a pond and they had wildlife – he loved wildlife," Kwiatkowski said.

Kwiatkowski says she offered her father a place to stay after he was evicted, but he would only be able to bring essentials.

"He was a collector of many things — mostly car parts. [I'm] using collector loosely because he was quite a hoarder," Kwiatkowski said.

Bruce Kwiatkoski had prior incidents with police and faced a pair of criminal charges.He also had a history of receiving care in hospital related to mental health.

"I feel guilty for not going to help him more often when he was begging me for help," Kwiatkowski said, adding that mental health issues can come in different variations and arise unexpectedly.

"I just want [people] to know that it wasn't just the eviction that put him over. There were many events leading up to this. That was just the straw that broke the camel's back."

She'll remember A&W dates with her father fondly.

If you feel like you are in crisis or are considering suicide, please call the Crisis Centre BC suicide hotline at 1-800-784-2433.

Other resources include: Canada Suicide Prevention Service at Toll free: 1-833-456-4566. You can also text 45645 or visit the online chat service at crisisservicescanada.ca.