Comforting Cpl. Nathan Cirillo: 'I kept telling him he was loved'

Video: Barbara Winters heard gunshots and ran to the fallen soldier's side

Barbara Winters, a government lawyer, was walking by the National War Memorial the morning of Oct. 22 when she heard gunshots. She ran to the scene and provided words of comfort in what may have been the last words heard by Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.

Q: Tell me about that morning.

A: It was a beautiful, beautiful fall morning. It had finally stopped raining. I looked at the soldiers at the cenotaph and I thought, what a nice picture. I just happened to have my digital camera with me and I stopped and I took a few pictures, then I carried on. I was walking down Sparks Street. I had just passed the Canada Post building when I heard pop, pop, pop, the sound of gunfire. I turned and I saw people sort of ducking, more walking quickly than running. There didn’t seem to be a lot of panic. I turned around. I started to realize what it was that happened. And so I started running towards the cenotaph. I was looking for the soldiers because I had heard the news the day before—the two soldiers in Quebec who had been hit and how one of them had died. I immediately guessed that the soldiers I had just seen had been the targets. I knew if I saw them standing, it was something else. But I didn’t see them standing. So I just ran there.

Related link: ‘Without thought’ Margaret Lehre ran toward the shots

When I got to the scene, the soldier had fallen by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which has a deep meaning, I guess. He was lying there and there were already people helping them. There was the corporal who had been with the two honour guards, a nurse and another gentleman who had been passing by, and someone was at his head, another member of the military. He had fallen against the tomb and there wasn’t much room and so most of us were on one side of him. I went to that side and the nurse who was there had her hand on one wound and the corporal who had been with them had his hand on another wound. The gentleman who was at his head was talking to him and telling him he was doing a good job. The person at his feet was holding him.
I had a bit of first aid training. So I asked the gentleman at his feet to elevate his legs just to try to get the blood going to his heart because you could see the wounds were not superficial. I loosened his tie. The fellow at his head was talking to him so there was not much to do. So I started praying. But then the fellow at his head said, “I think he stopped breathing,” so we checked his pulse and we couldn’t find a pulse. So the fellow at his head immediately started doing CPR. He started the mouth-to-mouth and I started the chest compressions. The five of us were talking to each other, telling each other, “That’s good,” or someone might say, “Check this.” In some ways, it was miraculous because it was five complete strangers who worked in complete unison. Nobody was grandstanding. Nobody was taking charge. Everybody was focused on that soldier. Nobody was yelling. People on the team were asking for help. We were all asking, “Where is the ambulance?” The fellow at the head and myself, we were doing CPR. I did the chest compressions for a while and then I was relieved. I went to the other side of his head and tried to talk to him and comfort him. He wasn’t talking. His eyes were open.

Q: What did you say when you were talking to him?

A: I told him that he was a good man and that he was a brave man and I told him that his family loved him and his military family—I meant his brothers-in-arms—loved him and that his military brothers were right there with him, and that they were working to help him, and all these strangers, “We’re just here trying to help you.”
I kept telling him his parents would be so proud of him and that he was a good man and to remember that he was standing guard, that he was at the War Memorial and he couldn’t have [been doing] a more distinguished thing when this happened. Mostly, I kept telling him he was loved that he was a good man and a brave man, and I just kept repeating that.

Q: What did you say in your prayers?

A: I just recited the Lord’s Prayer. I am not even religious. That’s what came to mind.

Q: Do you think he was aware of the people helping him?

A: I am sure he was, initially. I don’t know. He wasn’t moving but I had the sense he could hear. I hope he heard people helping him and praising him because anybody would need to hear that in that situation.

Q: Where were the two wounds?

A: On his side. One was on his left side, one was on his right side.

Q: Did you have medical training?

A: I was in the Naval Reserve, so I started as a medical assistant and we would get medical training. I had CPR and I had competed, when I was a medical assistant, in St. John Ambulance competitions.
I don’t want to use the word lucky. But he had a nurse there, he had military people who all know how to do CPR and first aid, and they would have all been very well trained on gunshot wounds and how to handle traumatic situations. I think that’s what contributed to everyone being calm and just working on him and focusing on just keeping him alive.

Q: What do you think compelled you to run there? A lot of people ran from the scene.

A: I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know. I ran to help. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I am sure that having been in the reserves and being a medical assistant kicked in. I think most people want to run to help. I just happened to be there.

Q: You are a lawyer, right?

A: Yes, I am a lawyer with the Department of Justice. It’s been a long time since I was in the reserves.

Q: What was the feeling there that morning at the memorial? Were you in shock?

A: I wasn’t in shock at the time. I don’t think any of the people who were working on him were. The people there weren’t thinking of anything else. I did not see any policeman. I did not see any crowd control because we were just looking at that soldier.

Q: Did you see the gunman?

A: No.

Q: Did it ever occur to you that you could be in danger?

A: It didn’t. That thought didn’t enter my head.

Q: It was a very emotional scene. Did you and the other bystander—the other woman, Margaret Lehre—speak afterwards?

A: Yes, we actually held hands afterwards. There was also a colonel on his way to DND who stopped to help. We spoke to each other and certainly we talked to each other and comforted each other on the way to the police station. I have spoken to Margaret on the phone and the colonel was nice enough to call me. I feel bad because the corporal who was there with [Nathan], he was there for the whole thing. He heard the shots, he went to help his comrade and I haven’t been able to speak to him.

Q: The funeral is on Tuesday. Are you planning on attending?

A: I will be going to the funeral if I can. I would like to attend. If I could, I would talk to the family beforehand. If I went, it would be to show respect and to remember him.

Q: What will you be thinking about that day?

A: His family. And him. I will never forget him. But mostly just his family, his siblings, if he has any, and his parents, but also his military family who must be missing him terribly, his comrades, his fellow soldiers. That’s what I will be thinking of.

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