Grieving family members, police officers and other first responders packed the private funeral of two police officers who were shot in the line of duty last week.
Constables Morgan Russell, 54, and Devon Northrup, 33, of the South Simcoe Police Service, died in hospital on Oct. 11 after responding to a call at a home in Innisfree, Ont., about 100 kilometers north of Toronto.
At the Sadlawn Arena in Barrie, each man walked to the podium and addressed a crowd of hundreds Thursday in front of twin caskets draped in Canadian flags and draped in lights.
As each speaker rose, a picture emerged of the two as beloved community members, brothers, sons, and partners.
Northrup’s wife, Anne Romard, told the crowd that he was one of the bravest people she had ever met.
“Today, he wants me to be brave,” she said, adding that the two’s time together was “pure joy” — even if they didn’t grow old together like they had planned.
“I will love you forever, you are my hero,” she said.
See | Family members mourn slain police officers:
Marissa, Russell’s wife of 27 years, said she and her two daughters have lost their greatest strength, their confidant and mentor.
“We were fortunate to have Morgan as part of our family unit for as long as we did, and I hope that one day we will learn to accept this devastating loss,” she said.
As South Simcoe Police Staff Sgt. David Phillips looked out at the crowd that gathered for the service and said that 10 days ago, he would have said his police force was 102 strong.
“But when I look at it today, I can see that I was wrong. Our police family is thousands,” he said.
Acting Chief John Van Dyke said the duo, who share a dry sense of humor and a good laugh, gave their lives to protect their community.
Lt.-Govt. Elizabeth Dowdswell spoke somberly, calling the deaths of both men a “heartbreaking loss”.
“I can only imagine the immense grief their families are going through,” she said.
Premier Doug Ford spoke glowingly of the pair and assured both families that the province will always be grateful for their sacrifice.
“There are no words to describe the tragedy that occurred on October 11,” Ford said. “This was an unspeakable crime and one that we are all struggling to come to terms with.”
Residents pay their respects
Ahead of the service, police from across the province marched to the stadium for a funeral procession for the two officers.
The procession made its way through snow-covered Barrie streets alongside uniformed members of the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police, local and Toronto forces, paramedics and other emergency responders.
Magnificent music with bagpipes and drums filled the air during the march, and people lined the sides of the road to pay their respects.
Angela Hart was one of them. She lives in Bradford, Ont., and says South Simcoe police officers patrol her community.
“It’s hard. It’s a small community and to hear something so horrible happen … it just breaks your heart,” she said.
Kim Pegg also came to support the families of the fallen officers. She told CBC News that her husband, Michael Pegg, was a York Regional Police officer who died in 2013 after suffering an off-duty injury.
Pegg said the support from first responders and the community around them “means everything” at a time like this.
“It feels like they hold you up. It honestly gives you the strength to keep going,” she said.
An investigation is underway
Russell, a 33-year veteran of the force, was a trained crisis negotiator and Northrup was a six-year member, working with the Community Mobilization and Engagement Unit and as a member of the Mental Health Crisis Outreach Team.
The Special Investigations Unit, which is investigating the shooting, said the two officers did not have their guns drawn before the 22-year-old opened fire at the home where the incident happened. A third officer who responded to the call then shot and killed the suspect.
The two deaths mark three officer-involved shootings in Ontario in less than a month since the fatal shooting of Toronto Const. Andrew Hong, Mississauga, Ont. In mid-September.
Thursday’s funeral comes two days after RCMP officer Const. Shalynn Yang was fatally stabbed in Burnaby, BC Yang was a mental health and homeless outreach officer.
Dowdswell said Thursday it was a devastating time for first responders in the province.
“I admire your courage and resilience,” said Ontario’s lieutenant governor.