Maclean’s reporters spent the aftermath of Ottawa’s day of terror on Oct. 22 interviewing as many eye witnesses as possible. We are compiling an oral history — a first draft of the day’s events, from the first shooting at the National War Memorial to the end of the long lockdown of downtown Ottawa. Below, find the accounts of parliamentarians, staffers, construction workers, and other visitors and residents. Click the red markers for the harrowing accounts. We’d also like to hear your own story from that day. Tell us about it.
The chaos that followed Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s rampage touched everybody in the immediate neighbourhood. Bystanders witnessed and performed small acts of bravery, confronted an immediate police presence unlike any they’d ever seen, and stitched together whatever scattered thoughts consumed their minds.
This week’s cover story is based on Maclean’s interviews from Oct. 22 and the days that followed, scrum transcripts and one note to a constituency. Compiled by Sue Allan, Genna Buck, John Geddes, Aaron Hutchins, Anne Kingston, Michael Petrou, Cormac MacSweeney, Julie Smyth, Nick Taylor-Vaisey, Paul Wells and Aaron Wherry.
Who saw what on Oct. 22
- Frank Antonsen
- Michele Austin
Senior adviser at Summa Strategies
- Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe
- Steven Blaney
- Abby Campbell
Daughter of Valarie Campbell
- Valarie Campbell
Mother of Abby Campbell
- Sean Casey
- Rob Clarke
MP, Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River
- James Cowan
- David Christopherson
MP, Hamilton Centre
- Libby Davies
- Paul Dewar
- Anthony Di Monte
- Rosane Dore-Lefebvre
- Kirsty Duncan
- Ted Falk
- Steven Fletcher
MP, Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia
- Chrystia Freeland
- Peter Goldring
MP, Edmonton Centre-East
- Joe Gollner
Watching from the Chateau Laurier
- Ted Hsu
MP, Kingston and the Islands
- Heather Lamarre
Wife of Matt
- Matt Lamarre
Husband of Heather
- Helene Laverdiere
- Marjory Lebreton
- Margaret Lehre
- Greta Levy
NDP press secretary
- Tom Lukiwski
MP, Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre
- Martin Magnan
- Elizabeth May
Green Party leader
- Ric McIver
Alberta labour minister
- Ginette Munson
Wife of Sen. Jim Munson
- Jim Munson
- Joyce Murray
- Anne Minh-Thu Quach
- Murray Rankin
- Craig Scott
- George Soule
Husband of NDP MP Rosane Dore-Lefebvre
- Brad Trost
- Adam Vaughan
- Shawn Virgin
Ottawa police officer
- Scott Walsh
- Vern White
- David Wilks
- Barry Willis
- Barbara Winters
- Terence Young
- Bob Zimmer
MP, Prince George-Peace River
He had a hat and either a shotgun or a rifle in his hand. He came in through the front door, trying to get up the steps, I think he fired a couple of shots from his rifle and immediately the Hill security guards drew their pistols and returned fire. There must have been five or six shots. We all just ran as quickly as we could.
I was there about 10:04 a.m. When I arrived, the gurney was still there and he was on it. They were pumping his chest pretty hard. I watched them put him in the ambulance. At that point, there were a couple of officers telling us it was far too dangerous for us to be there, that it was a live scene and that we needed to get out and get out now. I crossed Elgin Street. I didn’t see [the shooter] get into the car. The cars were moving, but slowly, there was more pedestrian traffic. Everyone was slowing down, looking around to figure out what had happened.
I was in caucus with my colleagues and my baby. I had to leave to go feed my baby. I went to the lobby. Fifteen minutes [later], I heard the first shots.
I was with my baby and a colleague in the lobby. [My colleague] went to see if it really was shots … [and] came back yelling, “Yes it was! Quickly, Lysane, go and hide in the phone booth!” So that’s what I did. I took my baby with me.
In the lobby, there is a little booth, one-metre-by-one-metre, with a phone and a chair for MPs to call in a quiet place. I ran to the booth and sat down. I wanted to hide as much as possible.
I was sitting on the ground in the little booth. The first thing I thought was, “Please, the baby needs to keep quiet. I don’t want the baby to start to yell and reveal our position if anyone with a gun entered the room. So I continued to breastfeed the baby while hiding to make sure he would stay quiet and calm. I tried to control myself to make sure I wouldn’t make him panic or anything. He is two months old. His name is Evan.
It was so unreal, sitting in a little space, wishing that the baby would stay calm so the person with the gun wouldn’t find us. [I] was panicking for sure.
I was there a few minutes. I heard people yelling, “Is there anyone here?” so I just put my hand outside the booth to make sure they [saw] me. They helped me get up and brought me to a safer place.
They took a few minutes to make sure the way was clear. Then we walked quickly to another place just in front of the doors to get to the House of Commons. It was not that far, we walked there. From there, they brought me to a safer place—an office with no windows—and they locked the door [and asked] me to open [it] to no one else other than police officers. I was there for three to four hours. There was a couch, there was a bathroom, so there was everything needed for the baby.
I don’t know how I managed it, but I kept the bag with all the diapers and all that I needed to change the baby. I felt that everything was under control and I was not in danger anymore. All that time, the baby was sleeping—I don’t know how, but he was very good that day, especially good, and he was sleeping [as] we were walking to a safer place. When he woke up, he just smiled and laughed and I felt the stress going away.
I tried to [communicate with my husband] but we were in the basement of Centre Block. The network was very bad, so it was very difficult to communicate. But it was very important because [the] media was starting to talk about that MP with a baby. My family and husband were following my story by other people’s tweets and interviews.
For example, an MP was saying on the radio, “Oh, we really worry for a colleague of ours, she left with her baby and we didn’t hear from her since then,” and my husband was hearing those kinds of things on the radio and on Facebook without being able to reach me. He was really panicking. I think he was more scared than I was that day.
Q: What did you do when you were freed?
Well it was 9 or 10 p.m. and it was a really long day, and we just took a taxi and I came back home and my husband just held me. He was just happy for us to be safe and to be home.
Q: What was your experience when the gunshots started ringing out? You were in the caucus meeting, correct?
SB: We thought at first it was construction noises, so the Prime Minister went on with his speech. He was addressing us in the caucus room, and there were 200 people. Then, when we heard repetitive shots, we understood. The Prime Minister stopped his speech and looked at us and we realized we were being attacked on the Hill. We didn’t realize at that time the shots were from security agents. We felt the noise coming toward us and we felt the danger was getting close, with all that echo. And at some point in time we just thought that was it, we were about to experience the last moment of our lives.
Q: How did you get out of there?
SB: Thanks to the security agent Ken Vickers, I left with the RCMP around… it’s hard to tell—we lost track of time. I guess it was getting close to the end of the afternoon. I was extracted with Minister [Rob] Nicholson, Minister [John] Baird and Minister [Peter] MacKay, and we went to the Pearson building, where most of our colleagues joined us, some of whom were exhausted after the long shutdown. They went to get rest and food, because it was quite a long stretch.
The last time we had gone to Parliament was a while ago, so I was really looking forward to it. I was really pumped and ready to go.
We took one of those fancy green buses up to the Hill. I and several others had already gone through security when we heard this echoed banging noise. It didn’t sound like gunshots, even though that’s what they were. It sounded like construction.
Everybody started shouting, and there was running, and before I knew it, I was following people out the front door, down the Hill and toward the gates that circle Parliament Hill. We didn’t find out until 10 minutes later that there was a gunman on Parliament Hill.
My mom was still going through security, and I just followed those who were in authority. I didn’t really register where my mother was, because I knew my brother was with me, and my brother’s friend, and my friend who I had invited with me that day. I just wanted us to stick together, and we did stick together and just followed those who were security, or those who were in authority and trained for this.
My friend who was with me, she was shell-shocked. She was very different from her regular self, but she pulled it together.
[Maurice Vellacott], the MP we were with, was immediately swarmed by reporters and other officials. And there were policemen left and right, and cop cars everywhere, so we were just standing there, not really knowing what to do for 10 or 15 minutes. I didn’t really feel like this was the proper place to be while waiting for news, or waiting to go home to meet up with my family. I told one of the officials that we were going to go a few blocks down, where it’s closer to downtown and away from all the commotion.
The MP we were with was talking to several people. As a group … we just headed down to Tim Hortons.
The people there didn’t really know what had happened. All the customers in Tim Hortons at that time didn’t hear anything. They were all just sitting there like it was a normal day. I was kind of surprised that people were walking out the door, just going about their day. It seemed very weird.
After at least a half hour, people started to hear what was going on. Tim Hortons let people out, but they started to not let people in anymore. In about an hour, or two hours, we were the only customers left in the store.
We saw SWAT teams going by and K-9 dogs. We could see the action but we didn’t necessarily know if everybody is okay. But we were pretty well informed from the Internet and people we were connecting with on my phone.
Considering I had two younger boys who were stuck in a Tim Hortons for six hours, it was a bit trying, patience-wise. They were rolling around on the floor of a Tim Hortons. We had to send them to count the tiles several times, but other than that they were good. They said [there were] 70, but I’m not sure that’s an accurate number. But the Tim Hortons, they fed us. They took care of us. They were very concerned. They tried to help us in any way that they could, which was very kind of them.
Funnily enough, I did text everyone I thought to text. Made several notifications on Facebook to let people know where we were. Made a few phone calls to family members who weren’t with us. Up until about 45 minutes before we left, I was checking my phone and staying close to it, making sure that everybody knew that we were okay.
There were my two home-schooled kids and their two home-schooled kids. We picked up Maurice Vellacott and got to park in his parking spot on the Hill. We met up with the Lamarres at the front of Parliament.
There were a few families we were expecting still, so Heather went outside. She took Matt’s phone because his phone had the other people’s names.
We went downstairs with our kiddies. There were six. We went through security; everything was calm and normal. Maurice went through first, and was making his way through the hall. The kids went one by one. It was a pretty small area. And then I came in. I was scanned and went through, and as soon as I went through—my stuff hadn’t come through the belt yet—all of a sudden we heard loud noises. Very echoey, there’s lots of construction. I didn’t think anything of it at all. Then it kept going, and the guards looked alarmed and started guarding us.
We couldn’t get our kids. We got two of them—two of his girls. My daughter, her friend, Matt’s son and my son were kind of pushed out a different door right under the main stairway, one level below what was happening. They were asked to leave the building; they didn’t really go fast at first, but they were asked to go go go go. They ended up running off the Hill. At this point, Matt and I were still saying, “Our kids our kids our kids.” He was able, somehow, to grab his two daughters who were there from the hallway. But at that point, very quickly, several guards escorted us down and through the tunnels.
[She says a security guard told her he escorted kids and a man outside, and that they were safe.] That made the rest of a day a little easier, to know that.
We lined up in a hallway. One of the girls was really upset, and I tried to comfort her. Parliamentarians were coming down the stairways and standing with us. After probably between 10 and 20 minutes, the guards took us through another way … into a small room behind the East Block centre door guard station. A small, unused office with one window. There were already two guys who worked for Parliament in some capacity in there. I don’t remember names. There were 11 of us in that room for quite a few hours.
We were able to use the bathrooms. The girls used the bathrooms a lot. It was kind of like our field-trip option. There’s a fridge in there, and we kind of raided it. There was some guy’s lunch there. We shared an orange among the 11 people, and a few veggie sticks. That’s all we had for a while. A guard brought in a few chocolate milks, a jello and a pudding, which we shared. But we were getting pretty hungry.
Within half an hour, Matt and I were able to communicate with his wife, who was on her own, we now know, because she was taken away as a witness. She saw the guy. And my daughter, her friend and her two little boys ended up at a Tim Hortons.
We had agreed before our phones died that we would meet at my house when it was done. Heather was able to get a ride for the kids and her from here, and Matt and I and the girls were able to leave at 9 p.m., and we got home at quarter to 10. I do have to confess we stopped at a McDonald’s drive-through on the way, because we were famished.
The Atlantic Liberal caucus was holding its regular Wednesday morning meeting in the boardroom adjacent to Justin Trudeau’s office on the fifth floor of Centre Block. There was a window open. We heard a person shout, “Get down!” It seemed to be coming from outdoors. This was followed by a sound I thought was a construction crane hitting against a hard surface (I have never heard gunfire, except on TV)—the sound of construction cranes is pretty common around here. I thought the sound was coming from outdoors, through the window. Then two other MPs came bursting in, sirens wailed, and there were a few scary minutes as it became clearer that it was shots, not construction.
We moved away from the doors and windows. A short time later, we had a rap on the door from someone identifying themselves as a police officer to confirm that the office was occupied by MPs and staff. We were directed not to open the door.
After that, any time we tried to look out the window, a bullhorn directed us away from the window. We did hear some shouting coming from the hallway, mid-afternoon. We thought it was probably someone being directed back into their offices by authorities.
The day was spent on cellphones and watching TV.
Mid-afternoon, we were moved from Trudeau’s office to the fifth-floor cafeteria, as SWAT teams escorted us and patrolled the halls. It seems they were emptying out all the offices.
I have been inundated with messages from home, for which I am grateful. My respect and admiration for House security and the police has been reinforced, and I am saddened that an innocent young man standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been killed. My heart goes out to his family.
[I sit] in the back row. When we heard the shots, we didn’t know what it was at first. The first sound was metallic, but we didn’t know what it was. Then there was the first hail of bullets, which sounded like a gunfight at the O.K. Corral. And then there was a calm, and at that moment you’re thinking the good guys have overpowered the bad guys, everything’s under control and we should be getting the all clear, but instead the shooting starts up again. At that moment, we knew there was an equal possibility the bad guys have overpowered the good guys, and they of course only wanted a one-way ticket in here. They weren’t worried about getting out. In fact, the shooter was probably expecting not to come out again. Some of us were sharing thoughts afterward, and it turns out we had the same one: this could end up as a Columbine. That he comes through that door, takes out the guard and then methodically goes around the room and slaughters everybody.
Fear kicks in, adrenalin starts flowing. But it was relatively calm, except a few of us yelling to others to cover themselves a little more. For the most part, it was fairly quiet. People were doing the best they could to take cover, making sure their colleagues were taking cover. There were a few of us still half-crouched but sort of standing up, too, scanning the room—somebody had to be keeping an eye on the room. And then I guess everyone did their own version of a silent prayer. Then there was that heroic guard, he was amazing. He came in and said something to the effect of “guns and shots,” ordered us to hit the deck, closed the door and then stood there. All he had was a bulletproof vest, no other armament. If they came through that door, he was going down first and he knew it. And he knew that all he could do was slow them down, because he didn’t have the means to stop them. And there he stood, like a monument himself.
When the final shots were done, we didn’t know when it was over—most of us didn’t know up to 12 hours after it began when it was really over. We were hearing slivers of reports about snipers, etc. After a few moments, the other guards came in indicating they wanted to take us out of there and to a secure place. We were out of here within 10 minutes or so from the beginning of the shooting, on our way through a tunnel, scooping up families and tourists as we went, to a secure place in the Senate.
Q: I just want to take you back a bit to talk about the heroics of the security guard who barred the doors. Outside, just on the other side of that door in the Hall of Honour, there are many bullet holes; holes in glass-paned windows, in the walls and in chairs. Even this door the security guard was standing behind has a hole. Luckily, it’s double-doored, only piercing the first door, not reaching the guard. What did you when you saw that bullet hole?
DC: That hole is at about eyeball level for me and I’m about the same height as the guard. That means he would have taken a head, chest or throat shot had that door not been there. His risk was so much greater than ours, and that’s what they do, they put themselves in harm’s way. They’re trained, but they still have fear. You can’t stop that, because fear is human nature, you can only train to function when it hits. Even though we now know the gunman couldn’t have gotten in here, we didn’t know that at the time. The guard didn’t know it, and he could have lost his life. He literally put his life on the line so he could protect Canadian Parliamentarians. That’s a hell of a thing.
We had one of our Senate open caucus meetings in the Aboriginal Room in Centre Block on the first floor, 160S. We had about 20 Liberal senators there and members of the public and some experts who were giving presentations on income disparity. The two Senate security guards came in and said that shots were being fired and we had to clear the room. We went out the back of that room, away from the front hallway, and they put us in a small electrical room. We stayed there for probably 15 to 20 minutes, and then we were ushered out and down the back corridor and through the tunnel to the east block and then up to the summit room. There were already a number of people there, primarily NDP MPs and some House of Commons scanner personnel, a lot of Senate staff, some other Liberal senators and some other witnesses who’d been in our hearing. That’s where we were for the rest of the day.
We didn’t hear anything. One of our group went out into the back corridor and then came right back in because they heard gunshots. But I didn’t hear anything. We knew there was somebody shooting. And then of course rumours began running around. You never know, you hear all sorts of conflicting rumours. Nobody was quite sure what was going on. But nobody panicked. It was all as calm as you would expect under those circumstances. People were upset, they were nervous. There were two very brave [unarmed] Senate security officers who stood outside in the back hallway while we were inside.
At about 9:30 p.m., we were loaded onto Ottawa transport buses and taken to the Pearson building, Sussex Drive. There were two or three other buses there, and we seemed to be all MPs and senators there. We were all asked, if anybody had seen or heard anything, to go speak to some officers who were in one part of the room, and for the rest of us, we were asked to register, to give ID and where we could be contacted, and then we headed out, and they arranged for cabs which took us home.
I was impressed by the professionalism of the guards. There were House of Commons [guards], there were Senate [guards], there were Ottawa police. They were very professional, very caring. Very firm that they didn’t want people going out and wandering around, to stay away from the windows. We were allowed to go out to the washrooms, but we weren’t allowed to go back to our offices. They were very concerned about us. I thought they were very brave.
There are a couple of TV screens in there. They’re normally used for closed-circuit presentations, but one of the technicians hooked it up so we could watch television. People were watching that, and they were glued to their iPads and their BlackBerrys and cellphones. There were lots of rumours going around—that someone had been seen escaping on a motorcycle, that there was someone seen on the roof of the Senate Speaker’s entrance, that there’d been a shooting at the Rideau Centre, which didn’t turn out to be true. Some people had seen things, they had heard the gunshots. One person had actually seen the shooting at the Cenotaph. Others saw somebody running up toward Parliament Hill. They were exchanging stories. We were trying to reach out to our staff members. I was anxious to make sure they were safe. And then calling our families to make sure they knew what was going on. Once we were in that room, we felt safe. I don’t think anybody felt unsafe, and it was pretty clear pretty quickly that there was only one person, and that person was dead. Once we knew it wasn’t a full-scale assault on the Parliament buildings, we felt reasonably safe. There was always the chance that there was somebody else, and that’s why we were all told to stay away from the windows. We all understood that, and people were very patient and understanding, there was no one saying, “Do you know who I am? I want to go home.” Everybody was very polite and very appreciative.
I didn’t know anything about [Justin Trudeau’s whereabouts] until at one point, just about the time we were released from the lockup, Mr. Harper had spoken, Mr. Mulcair had spoken, and they were waiting for Mr. Trudeau to come. I had no contact with any of them.
LD: We start at 9:15 a.m., so we’d already had our Leader’s report, and people were already lining up at the microphones to talk and we heard the initial shots. I know that some people thought it was falling chairs or something big falling down. I don’t know why, but I just instinctively thought, oh my God, it’s gunshots.
Q: Have you ever heard gunshots before?
LD: Only years ago, in my childhood. My dad was in the military, so I’ve lived in various places around the world where there’s conflict. I mean, I grew up in the middle of a civil war in Cyprus, hearing gunshots every night in bed. My dad always had a revolver with him.
And then there were more shots, and then somebody yelled, “Get down, get down!” and we all hit the floor. And I just remember feeling very calm about it.
I do remember thinking, “Wow, what’s going to come through that door? This could be really serious.” Because it felt like the building was being stormed.
The security personnel guy came in, and I thought he had locked that door, but I found out that actually it was only the side door that locked. The main front door that comes off the Hall of Honour doesn’t lock. He stood in front of the main door and the bullet came through the door and lodged in the soundproofing. So he really put himself in front of us, in harm’s way. I remember thinking, “Wow, that guy is standing there for whatever comes through that door.” I think it’s only later that you realize how close it was, for everybody.
I had asked one of my staff to bring something down to me, and they were between the second and third floors in the stairwell and they met somebody who said, “Run, run, run.” It was actually one of our MPs who happened to be out of the room, and didn’t say why. And as soon as I was on the floor, I sent an email to my office, saying, “Don’t come, don’t come, don’t come down, there’s shots here.”
Then another security person came in the side door that leads into a Senate room and they took us through there.
[In the room in East Block], they said, “Close the blinds, close the blinds,” so Niki Ashton closed the blinds. But there was one window where there’s no blinds, and that was the window that faced out to the metal gate [in the courtyard]. So we actually had a little bit of a peek at watching the SWAT teams coming around.
In that room, a lot of the time we were under the table. There was a lot of noise in the hallways, especially at first, people shouting, and I think it was the various police giving clearances, but it was very hard to hear what was being said. We would just hear a bunch of shouting and a lot of noise and then somebody, I don’t know if it came from outside or inside, would say, “Get down, get down!” So for several hours overall we were under the tables or crouching in corners.
When things kind of eased up a bit later on, we were able to raid the Senate kitchen.
Going to the bathroom was a bit scary. I think this was when they still thought there was a second shooter. They were super cautious about letting us down the hallway and into the bathroom. And you had to stay locked in the stall until they gave you clearance to come out. And you had to walk by a couple of [uncovered] windows. I talked to a couple of my colleagues and they agreed that going to washroom was—you felt exposed.
An officer would come in. He talked to Mr. Mulcair a couple of times. Mulcair went and sort of talked to him quietly, just by the door or even in the hallway. He would give him a little update. That’s when they thought there was a shooter on the roof across the street, and they said they could hear shots coming from a roof on Sparks Street. We were like, “Oh my God, there’s a second person.”
One of the big problems was that the BlackBerries were running down so fast, so we were saying, “Please, please can I have five minutes?” We were bartering with each other.
What was eerie was how quiet everybody was. Every time we were told to get under the tables, you’ve got somebody’s legs next to your face or whatever. And then eventually people would start whispering a little bit and then somebody would go, “Shh,” and everybody would go quiet again. Because we were trying to hear what was going on outside. As you know, we’re all very talkative people, especially New Democrats, and so that was kind of eerie, that we all know each other so well and yet we were so silent.
I mean, if there really were people outside, then not having a bunch of MPs yakking around a table was pretty important. So I feel like we were pretty disciplined.
Hoang Mai, he was the guy who organized the washroom patrols. He said, “Okay, who really needs to go? We’re taking three at a time, five at a time.”
I was standing in the back of the caucus room. I’d been in crossfire before when I was very young in Central America. I heard the first pop and I didn’t know what it was—I thought it was one of the trolleys careening into a wall. But then I knew right away. Right after the second shot, we had one of the guards rush in, lock the door down, and everyone got down on the floor.
Then there was whimpers and cries from people, because we knew what was happening. Because it was the Hall of Honour, because of the echo, it was very scary. Not just personally, but just to think that somebody could be in our Parliament doing that. We knew they were just outside the door.
A young guy came in and told us what had happened. I’m not sure if he had ever shot his gun before and killed someone, but he had just come from that, and he told us in very calm terms what had happened. He was reassuring us. He was a hero yesterday, and I can’t thank him enough.
Anthony Di Monte
I was at city hall meeting. We were doing follow-up on our Ebola preparations.
I got into my vehicle. I was pulling out of city hall and the exit from the underground garage is literally on Elgin Street. I had the service radio on, and I heard a call come out at the cenotaph. I overheard it was a cardiac arrest. I had heard the preliminary discussions that it was a shooting with maybe multiple victims, and the scene was unsecured, but I picked up that snippet and I said, “Well, I can’t go back to the headquarters; that’s up the road and I’m 30 seconds from [the cenotaph].” I logged on the radio and indicated I was proceeding, turned on my lights and siren and went up to the cenotaph, where I observed a fallen military member being worked on by a couple of other military members and some bystanders and they were doing CPR. I grabbed my kit and I ran over. I asked, “What do you have?” As I was observing blood on the ground, that’s when somebody was telling me it was a gunshot wound . . . There was an Ottawa police officer arriving, and he piped in, “We have an active shooter.” I knew we were now working on a victim of a gunshot wound in an unsecured zone.
My focus was to make sure my resources were on the way. They were a couple of minutes out, and to indicate to them they were arriving at a scene that was an unsecured zone and, in our language, we would be trying to scoop and run, get out of the scene as soon as possible with the patient.
There were military people doing CPR. I checked the pulse, I opened the shirt to be able to see the entry and exit wound . . . I started putting pressure and getting some of the bystanders to put pressure on the wounds. I was observing the chest to make sure there wasn’t any apparent visual impact from the bullet in the lungs.
We had multiple 911 calls. My time was literally 45 seconds from the first 911 call until I was on scene.
His fate was sealed when that gunshot hit him. It was an extremely traumatic entry and exit wound. It was not survivable.
He was never conscious [when I was there]. He was in full cardiac arrest. They were doing exactly what they needed to be doing. His pupils were dilated—all the clinical signs of someone who had been tragically shot. He was no longer there. He had passed away by then. Attempt of resuscitation was being done, but I was, unfortunately, in the position to know the outcome would be what it was.
He is a member of the Forces. If this had been a different circumstance, we may have ceased resuscitation . . . That was not in my plan. This [soldier] was going to get every chance of resuscitation. I brought him to the trauma centre. They worked him and we tried everything. We were not going to give up on this man.
I was in the caucus room like every other Wednesday morning. People were talking on the microphone and then we heard some big noises, big bangs—and then another one two seconds after. No one was sure what was going on—there are a lot of renovations going on on the Hill, so in my head, it’s like, “maybe someone dropped a table.” But then a few seconds after that, you can hear somebody shooting and running at the same time. The noise was coming from where we had our meeting. I realized it was somebody shooting with a gun, and I think a lot of my colleagues realized what was happening at that moment. We put tables [against] the doors and we got under chairs and tables and we waited there for, I don’t know if was a minute or a few minutes, because time was suspended.
My kid, Madeleine, is 18 months old; she was in daycare here. My first thought when I was under my table was, “Wow, there’s something wrong [on] Parliament Hill right now. I don’t know what it is, I just want to make sure my daughter’s safe.” I had my phone on me and I automatically contacted my partner by text message because I didn’t want to make any noise. We didn’t know what was going on outside, so I texted him, asking him, “Please make sure our daughter is fine,” and that’s what he did. George [Soule], my partner who works on the Hill, went as soon as he could, and then they were locked down in my office in Confederation building until 9 o’clock. I was escorted outside with a small group of MPs and we were escorted to another building. I got out of the lockdown at 4:30 or something like that, and I had to wait because I couldn’t go to the other buildings because they were still in lockdown. Even though I knew they were fine and the security was there and the RCMP was there, I was still so worried about my little baby girl and my partner.
We’d just left one caucus meeting for another, where the national caucus meeting would have occurred. I was packing my bag in Centre Block, and my friend Judy Sgro comes and says we’ve got to leave. It was about 9:57 a.m. We got outside the back of Centre Block and there was confusion as to whether they wanted us in the building or out. We were there for half an hour and saw people come out of the back of the library. One man was clearly shaken up.
We could smell gunpowder. About 30 minutes later, police told us we had to get off the Hill—they thought there was another shooter. My office is in Confederation Building, and I wanted Judy to come with me and not walk all the way back to Justice. The security then put Confederation Building on lockdown, telling us to stay in our rooms. So we did that, turning the lights out. For a long time, we didn’t have email or phone access. We were told not to move, so we were just glued to the news. We just wanted to know our colleagues were okay, and the security guards. They’re our friends.
The morning started off with the parliamentary prayer breakfast at 7 a.m. in the parliamentary dining room. From there, on Wednesdays, I typically go to our Manitoba caucus and after that I go to national caucus. Caucus had just started at 9:30 a.m., and probably eight or 10 minutes to 10 a.m. is when we heard the initial volley of probably half a dozen shots and wondered what the noise was. It sure sounded like gunfire, but of course your thoughts are, well, it can’t possibly be. And then, about five seconds later, I heard another volley of probably six or seven shots. And by then this was no isolated incident anymore, this really was gunfire.
I just briefly watched what the room was doing, and the movement was initially toward doors, and within five seconds or 10 seconds at the most, the direction changed from trying to leave the room to barricading the room.
Then our thoughts were, okay, what kind of threat is this? What has just happened? We didn’t even know if it was a threat. Is there one person out there? Are there multiple people out there? Certainly you think, well, this is probably bigger than just a lone assailant.
Certainly my senses were very heightened, and I wondered exactly how I would have to react if all of a sudden somebody did break through the barricade. I thought, well, I would try to engage whatever would happen and do my part. Interestingly enough, one of my first thoughts was, “Where is the Prime Minister, we need to protect that guy.” And I think there were lots of MPs who thought that way and, in fact, he did receive cover.
In caucus, I actually sit right in front of those doors [that exit to the Hall of Honour], facing the main table. We heard the first “kaboom,” and that could have been anything. We’ve heard stories of windows falling down and Parliament falling to bits, so that’s the first thought. But then in the next half a second, there was “boom-boom-boom-boom-boom, bang-bang-bang-bang,” and it sounded like a really serious firefight. We had no idea who was involved, how many assailants there were, who was winning the firefight, but we did come to the quick conclusion that there was a shooting going on. So I backed up and put myself perpendicular to the doors and flush with the wall, knowing that the Manitoba Tyndall stone on the other side would protect me and there likely wouldn’t be any ricochet if someone were to shoot through the door.
That was the only place I could go. Other people had other options, like lying down and going to places where the gunshots were not as noisy, which is all very rational. Melissa was with me, my caregiver [Fletcher is quadriplegic]. I told her, “The first opportunity to run, to get out, take it.” And Melissa said no, she wasn’t going to leave me. And I told her, “No, you’ve got to go,” and she said, “I will not.” So we had a bit of an argument.
The gunfire paused for a few moments, then we moved closer to some of my colleagues along the wall, and what transpired after that was basically defensive manoeuvres. Some MPs took leadership roles for our own protection, and we would hear the occasional “boom, bang,” which sort of suggested it wasn’t over—but it was, apparently. It was the security forces knocking down doors and windows to make sure the place was safe.
I called my dad, and actually now it’s kind of funny, but it wasn’t at the time for me. I said, “Dad, I’m okay.” This was just after 10 a.m. He said, “Well, okay Steven.” I said, “Have you seen the news?” And he goes, “Yes, I was listening to the news, CBC radio, and I heard about the shooting.” And then he starts nagging me about getting my van checked out to get some repairs made. And I said, “Dad, can we talk about this some other time?” And he said, “No, you need to get the van repaired.” And I said, “Look, Dad, I’m okay, everyone’s okay, we’ll talk about this tomorrow.” And of course he had only heard about the first shooting at the War Memorial, and CBC had not updated its newsreel for nine a.m. Winnipeg time. So I will never let my dad forget that.
There was, I would say, 15 minutes, maybe 20 minutes, that things were very uncertain, and it was Kevin Vickers who came in and gave us the report that really brought down the tension. And, as we now know, minutes before he talked to us, he had shot the assailant dead and saved many, many lives. And he was as cool as a cucumber.
We spent many hours in the caucus room and then we were moved to another undisclosed location, and at that time we were able to, under armed escort, be brought to one of the elevators, down to the main floor, where I came to this office, on the ground floor, which is my main office, and we waited here for the remainder of the shutdown.
I was in Centre Block, walking to our caucus meeting, which was in the basement. I heard very distinctly the sound of shots. The security guard hustled me and one other person to a room with no windows and instructed us to stay there and hide, which I was very pleased to do.
I was conscious of all I needed to do to not be a target myself and to stay as calm as possible. As a former journalist, I had to suppress my urge to run toward the gunshots to find out more. I realized that probably wasn’t wise. I’m very grateful to the security officers, who were very effective and calm. They made me feel safe.
I saw a few people scrambling, some civilians, some staffers and MPs. I just focused on trying to stay safe and trying to get out of the way of security.
The first gun shots, I thought they were setting off dynamite for construction work around there, I thought it was part of the construction. But then it continued and I could recognize that it was small arm fire. I’m former military myself and have been in the military police, too, so I know what 9-mm sounds like.
What we all thought in the room was that there’s a gun battle going on out in the hall, and it obviously sounded like there were many people involved in it.
You have an emergency like that and you think, well, what can you do? You’ve got to do something. And the immediate thought was to lock the doors. They tried locking the doors, but apparently the locks on them don’t work that well, so you’ve got to buttress the doors, and that’s when they piled those chairs.
Those chairs are not easy to pile. I mean, if you take a look at them, they’re two chairs tied with a little pedestal in between and then they’re all wired together. So it’s not only dragging the chairs up and piling them, but you’re dragging the wires and you’re dragging other chairs, so it’s not an easy thing to do. And then what do you do from there? And really the only tool that was available was the flag poles.
We armed ourselves. Because that’s all you’ve got.
There’s one for every province and then there’s three for the territories and then there’s one for the country. So that’s 14 spears. That’s all you’ve got. You’ve got nothing else. And so from there, that’s all you can do until you know what’s going on. So you buttress the doors and you arm yourself—I’ve got one for a souvenir. And I’m sure several of the others do, too.
They’ve got that pointy part on the end that’s supposed to be a decoration, but it’s really very sharp. So we stood at the various doors and people used them as spears.
My office is on the western side of the eighth floor of the Chateau Laurier, overlooking Parliament and the War Memorial. I was working at my desk and heard the shots fired at the War Memorial and stepped to the window and saw Cpl. Cirillo down, and I saw the assailant running from the scene. It was literally the second after the shooting, and it was not very busy at the time, so I could see probably six or seven tourists or people standing by, and just at the instant I went to the window, we weren’t sure what we were seeing, but I immediately focused on the fallen soldier, and said, “Ah, that’s not good.” I’ve been in the military, so I knew exactly what I had heard, and that was small arms fire.
You do your usual triage of the situation, and by my estimation, it would take me three to four minutes to get down there, longer if I detoured to my car to get my first-aid kit to be any use at all. I saw everybody reaching for their cellphones, so I sent electronic messages to the police while everyone was phoning 911. And then things unfolded rather quickly. I was basically in my little perch, because very quickly the Chateau was included in the lockdown, so we weren’t going anywhere. I basically had perfect visibility over the East Block, the Gorge, down Wellington, obviously the War Memorial. For the first while, I was sending messages only to the police, and then I started tweeting the occasional thing out, and that’s what caught the interest of particularly U.K. news channels.
What I immediately reported to police was that I noticed the soldier down and I saw someone jumping into a car. And I gather that was the assailant’s car, a beat-up old car, and he just went further along Wellington and stopped it in front of the bollards that are directly in view. But actually, in that instant, my eyes went back to the soldier, and it was in that time I was deliberating whether or not I should make a run for it and get down there. So my eyes had come off [the shooter]. It’s an example of how your mind takes in information selectively. Because my eyes were on the corporal, I was trying to reconstruct where this person was going, so I was focused long enough on the corporal to lose sight of the car. It was a short sprint from Wellington to where he took over one of the ministers’ cars.
I immediately thought it was a terrorist attack of some sort. Your mind goes to the worst possible scenario. I was thinking about the Mumbai attack. That was one of the reasons, I think, that the Chateau was put into lockdown mode. And then of course there were stories or concerns or even reports of shots fired near the Rideau Centre, so people’s imaginations ran ahead of facts, but that’s kind of normal. And the responders, of course they have response plans and they will naturally default to the most serious conclusion until proven otherwise. The police—I could see them all from where I was—they were trying to find cover, but you could tell from where they were standing that they didn’t know what they were taking cover from, and you can’t blame them.
[I’m going to remember] my first look out the window and seeing Cpl. Cirillo down. I was thinking about that today—you always second-guess—could I have helped if I had got down there, because I could add military first-aid training? But I was pretty sure I couldn’t have gotten down there in time to be useful. But that’s sort of the one memory—of him down, before anyone moved, of everyone frozen, before people even reached for cellphones. That’s what I took in.
There were probably 20 seconds of people just frozen. I think I could even spot mouths open, of just, “What the heck was that?” Then everyone moved in as quickly as they could and rolled him on his back. One person was trying to do CPR. I did notice—of course I was looking for this as well—I didn’t see an awful lot of blood. And, actually, the old-fashioned tunics are designed to keep blood and other bits and pieces inside. So it was difficult to tell, but I knew that very quickly there was a group, and there was another minute before the first police officer was on-site. I would say it was at least three or four minutes before the ambulance arrived.
The Ontario Liberal regional caucus was from 9 to 10 a.m., which I chaired, and that let out at about 10 minutes to 10. So some of the people left earlier, and we had to go downstairs to the first floor for the national caucus.
I was tidying up after the meeting and then walking toward the stairs, the first stairway there. That would have been, I would say, around 9:55 a.m. or so, a little bit after the shooting. Some people had noticed a noise. I was just too busy with finishing up the meeting—we were in this corner room where there’s construction outside—we’d been interrupted by construction noises all morning, so I kind of put it out of my mind. But when I got out of the meeting, the Liberal Atlantic caucus meeting down the hall had just let it out and they were milling around, and people were looking out the windows because they were noticing the RCMP officers running toward the building. Somebody was yelling, “Stay away from the windows.” And I thought, well, okay, what do I do? I guess I’ll just head downstairs, not knowing what was happening or where. And I had only gone down around half a of flight of steps when a voice shouted from below, pretty clearly, “Get into an office and lock the door.” So I just walked right back up and turned into the first office. It was [Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff] Cyrus Reporter’s office.
Joyce Murray was in the hall, so I grabbed her and we closed the door and locked it. But then I heard Arnold Chan was outside, that he hadn’t gotten in an office yet, and so even though we had locked the door, I opened it up and yelled down the hall, “Arnold, Arnold, come in here.” So it was myself, Joyce Murray and Arnold Chan in that office for the first five hours.
We were checking Twitter, we phoned some family and told them we were okay. We turned on the TV. The TV was slow, compared to Twitter and email. I emailed my staff to make sure they were okay, and one of my staff members…was in the room next door, which was the Liberal Leader’s boardroom office. So she was okay. Another staff member was out sick. And I also phoned my constituency office to say, “If you feel uncomfortable, go ahead and close the office. But they felt fine.”
I didn’t feel scared, because it just seemed like the security people knew what they were doing. We could hear them outside in the hall, so I didn’t get the sense that anybody was going to run up to our office and do anything because they would have had to get through armed security first.
And then about three security people finally entered the office. I assume they were police officers, they had helmets and automatic weapons and body armour and so on. But a couple of very nice guys came in and made sure we were okay and escorted us immediately to the cafeteria on the fifth floor, where a lot of other people had also been led. So they gathered everybody to that one place.
I think the first thing is that [you’re] just happy to see each other, and people [are] asking, “Where were you?” Just sort of recounting each other’s experiences. You can only do that for a certain amount of time, but we were all just smooshed in together and chatting and just being together and sharing five hours of waiting. Sharing BlackBerry chargers—that was another thing that was going on.
They kind of rationed the food, but eventually the staff there made some coffee and put out sandwiches and drinks and water. And we waited there for another five hours until about eight p.m. We saw Stephen Harper’s and Thomas Mulcair’s speeches, and then the fella said, “Okay, let’s go,” and we filed out, with an armed guard, down to the Senate entrance, where they had buses.
We were chatting with the kids and walking up. We’d been there 100 times. Not all of our group had arrived, so I said, “You guys go ahead and I’ll wait on the steps for the rest of the group.” I was waiting outside, at the top of the steps, against the wall underneath the Peace Tower. I was standing right underneath one of [the gargoyles].
The people who were supposed to be coming, I didn’t know most of them. I just had names of people who had signed up to come on this trip. Since I didn’t know who I was looking for, we wrote it down on my husband’s phone, and he gave me his phone so that I’d have this list of names to check off. I was checking my phone and I heard one of the guards yell, “Get down!” I looked around to see who he was talking to, and I was looking straight at the [shooter]. When I saw him and what he was carrying, I hit the ground. I didn’t know until I was down that Greta and her friend were beside me.
I kind of lost it. I was yelling, “My kids! My kids are inside!”
The man who was with Greta started talking to me, saying, “It’s going to be fine. There’s all kinds of police everywhere. Your kids are fine.” Greta put her hand on my arm and we just sat there. I don’t know how long we were there before one of them said, “We have to get out of here.” The two of them grabbed me, and I assume they dragged me to the road, because I don’t remember running there.
I couldn’t hear anything. We went running down the road. We went beyond the fence. I was standing there and I was holding on to the fence, trying to hold myself up and crying. This old woman came up to me and started spraying me with her perfume—I don’t know who she was. I don’t know why. Spraying my arms and my face, and I thought, “What the heck are you doing?”
I think that kicked me into something. I looked at Greta and said, “I saw him.” She said, “I did too, we need to go tell them.”
She and I walked up to the RCMP officers at the road. We said we had seen him. They grabbed us and put us in the back of a cruiser. You’re thinking the worst. You’re hoping that it’s not. Your mind is going everywhere.
[Matt’s] phone was in my hand the whole time. I can’t text him. I can’t call him. There’s no way to find out. I was just sitting there, waiting.
[An officer] said, “I’m going to find out what happened to your family. This is my priority right now.” I couldn’t think of what else to do. I was texting everybody I could think of: my mother-in-law, my pastor, anybody who might have some kind of answer from the outside.
We were in the cruiser for about five minutes and then they took us separately down to the headquarters. They didn’t want us discussing what we had seen.
[Once I got in touch with Matt], the conversation was: “Are you okay? Are the kids okay? What’s going on?” There was no chit-chat. It was very serious. Every text ended with “I love you.”
At one point, I was in a room with a bunch of other people at East Block. We talked a little about what we’d seen. We were all trying to process it. At that time, there were differences, so we thought there was more than one. When they saw him, he was wearing a coat. When I saw him, he wasn’t wearing a coat.
We made the assumption that there was more than one because they saw something different than we did.
My family home-schools our three children. We’ve got a sort of network of home-school families that have sort of banded together every once in a while to do a field trip. This was one of those days. An MP, Maurice Vellacott, he goes to our church. He invited us to take a private tour with him through Parliament to see what people don’t normally see through tours.
He told us to meet at 9:45 a.m. at the Peace Tower on Oct. 22. That’s exactly what we did. We parked at the Rideau Centre, took a walk through downtown and went to the Peace Tower.
It was a gorgeous, sunny day. It’s actually been a really wet fall, so we were grateful for the sun to come out. Nice blue sky and sun. It was really quite pleasant. It wasn’t a bustling day in the city. Just a normal Wednesday, people coming and going as they do.
We walked up Rideau, which turns into Wellington, right by the War Memorial. We didn’t really take notice of it. I’ve lived in Ottawa my whole life, so I didn’t really take special notice of it.
Getting on Parliament Hill, I did notice the steel [bollards] were up, and I’d never seen them before. I didn’t think anything further of it. Little did I know that the gunman was going to walk through those very gates. We walked up Parliament Hill, up and around the sidewalk, and then up to the Peace Tower.
My wife asked me for my phone, which had a list of all the families that were going to show up. We met Maurice and another family. We were going to another visitors’ entrance underneath the Peace Tower. I said, “Here’s my phone, I’ll meet you in a bit.” And I went underneath into the security gates. She waited underneath one of the gargoyles at the top of the Peace Tower. I left her there at the top of the stairs.
My kids went through first. I was with a woman called Valarie Campbell. She was one of the home-schooling moms. Her kids and my kids were together, so we ushered them through the X-ray machines first. It was all the normal stuff. The kids all went through. There were my three kids and her two kids, and another visiting as well. There was a whole range of ages. They all went through and out of our sight. They went through the security scanner and were cleared and picked up their stuff real quick out of the bucket and sort of made their way around the corner.
I gave the security guy my jacket, my Nikon camera and my belt. They put it through the scanner. As soon as it came through, I was putting on my belt and that’s when I heard the first gunshot and an alarm go off. I instantly thought, what did my kids do? It was just one of those things. I couldn’t see my kids. I thought my son had pressed some button or something, and I thought, “Phenomenal, here we go, we’re never going to be allowed on Parliament Hill again.”
That’s when I saw the RCMP running to and from wherever we were, back and forth, back and forth. And I realized something really, really big was happening. I grabbed all my stuff out of the bucket, had it all in my arms, and I bolted out into the hallway, looking for any of the children. I looked to my right, where I thought my son had gone. There were just cops everywhere. I looked to my left and my two daughters were standing there, very, very scared. I grabbed them, and we just kept on going to the left, which led us directly underneath where the shooter actually was. We were in sort of a foyer, and that’s when the cops basically told us, in no uncertain terms, to stop, get down. Their guns were drawn. I had two kids and my bundle of stuff still in my arms, and my only thought was to get my kids safe. I don’t want the cops to think I’m a threat of any sort, but here I am holding a big, black leather jacket and holding two kids. I just said, “Officer, where do we go? I’ve got another child here.”
My son and his friend and Vellacott and two older teenagers were ushered out the building. I found out later that they only heard the first shot, and by the time the gunman had run down to the other side of the library doors, they had already been ushered out. They didn’t even hear anything else. We were underneath the foyer. That’s when the other shots rang out. Two cops just sort of grabbed us—myself, my two daughters and Valarie Campbell—and just told us, “Come with us right now.” And we just ran with them down a series of corridors. They told us to get up against a wall, very quickly, mostly just to get out of the way of anybody who was running to and from. We sort of stood there for five minutes, gathering ourselves, putting on my jacket, getting my kids calm. That’s when I realized I didn’t have my phone on me. My wife had my phone.
Valarie gave me her phone and said, “Here, Heather’s on the line, take it. Talk to her.” As it turns out, she had actually witnessed the gunman run right past her to the Peace Tower.
There was a lot of swearing. My family is not used to hearing anything like that. We don’t have cable. That stood out to me. I thought, “Guys, do you really have to swear with kids right here?”
There’s gunshots everywhere. There’s yelling. The police officers were very, very precise and well trained. I couldn’t believe it. They knew exactly who to take orders from. There was no breakdown in communication whatsoever with them, from what I could see. One guy yelled out the command, “Batons out!” His baton came out, and all of a sudden I heard 20 batons clicking out. And they went like a unit up the stairs.
We’re away from the action at this point. We were up against a wall. We didn’t hear anything beyond that. It was very quiet. We were just kept separate from absolutely everything. We saw MPs and senators going by. They were being brought out down the hall away from us. We’re standing there with our police escort, and that’s when they made the decision: come with us, we’re going to take you to East Block. We went down a corridor, through some concrete tunnels. At one point, we were running so fast that I had to stop the police officer because my six-year-old daughter couldn’t keep up.
He handed us off to a female officer who immediately put us into a small room in the East Block behind the main doors. They basically shoved any visitors they had in that room. At one point, there was about 11 of us in the room. There were a couple of businessmen waiting to meet some senators. There was me and my daughters, Valarie and two couples from Saskatchewan.
In was in that room, I think, where we found out that Maurice Vellacott had been taken into custody and whisked away from our kids. He made sure that they were going to go somewhere safe, so they went to a Tim Hortons. The 16-year-old, the 15-year-old, the 14-year-old and my eight-year-old son basically crossed the lawn and went into the World Exchange Plaza, where there was a Tim Hortons. Luckily, the 16-year-old had a phone. We were able to communicate with her.
We came to find out later that the Tim Hortons staff basically took them in. They fed them. They entertained them for five and a half hours.
[In the room], there was a computer and a TV, a couch, a chair, a desk, a closet and a mini-fridge. We opened up the mini-fridge and there was a lunch there. It had to be one of the guards’ lunch. We jokingly said, “If we’re in here long enough we’ll have to eat this thing.” By about 12:30 p.m., we were itching at it, and we said, “Let’s split this thing up, we’ll leave whoever owns this lunch a note.” We basically divided it up, an orange, a couple of cucumber sticks and yogourt, and that’s about it.
My wife heard the gunshots and saw the guy run in with a gun. She screamed out and said, “My kids are in there!” and ran to a police officer. “My kids are in there! By the way, I saw the guy.” They grabbed her right away and put her in an armoured vehicle and said, “Okay, we need you for a witness statement, evidence collection, stuff like that.” She was whisked away to an RCMP depot and put into a room where they weren’t allowed to tell her anything—simply because she was a witness and they didn’t want to influence what she saw.
Once we realized that we were all very safe, then the waiting started. It was five hours later, maybe six hours later, that she was released from her secure location. She told the police, “Hey, you need to take me to this Tim Hortons, right now.” They took a squad car, picked up all four of the children from the Tim Hortons, deposited them into the back of the squad car and took them out of the perimeter. We had arranged for my mother to go and pick them up at the University of Ottawa.
I knew that we were safe when we were in that little room. Only because there was a little door. One door to the whole place, and a window that didn’t open. Our window faced a courtyard in the East Block. There was no way anyone could get in. It wasn’t accessible to the public. At first, we were ducking down, kneeling to the ground. It was about 20 minutes later that I stood up and said, “I don’t think we’re in any danger here.” I looked out our door and, I mean, there were nine armed guards—the helmets and the machine guns, fully armed and ready to go.
[The children] wanted to leave. They wanted to go home. I just kept telling them we can’t leave right now, and that we are the most protected people in all of Canada right now. Take a look out our door. We have nine very trained and very alert police officers looking out for just us right now.
“Why don’t we do an icebreaker?” I said. “I’ll go first. My name is Matt. I live here in Ottawa.” We went around the crowd, saying what we were there for, and just sort of getting to know each other and getting the air moving. Sometimes we were quiet. It was a nice chat throughout the whole day.
We turned [the TV] on. Sure enough, it was fully cabled. At first, we wanted it just for the children. They were starting to get really antsy about leaving. I thought, let’s put on YTV and let them watch Spongebob Whatever. That really calmed them down. After about 20 minutes, 30 minutes, we were itching for any kind of news. Valarie had the bright idea of taking them out for a washroom break as we did this, just on the off chance that it was really, really bad news. We didn’t want to expose the kids to that. It was kind of weird because we were in the building that the news was pointing at.
After about six and a half hours, we were moved into the Senate hearing room with the rest of everybody. That’s when we communicated and texted with my wife and anybody that was involved that we’d meet at one of our houses in Orléans. At about nine p.m., they moved us all—all 100 of us—down the hall, right to the East Block gates. Then they turned us right around. That’s when my daughter started to lose it a bit. My daughter is 10. My other daughter is six.
[Once we left the Hill], we went to McDonald’s. Had to. We both went through the drive-through at McDonald’s, lightning speed, and grabbed whatever we could, and then up to Valarie’s house where my wife was waiting for us. All the kids were waiting for us. My wife met us right at the door, and there were just lots of hugs and tears and lots of I love yous, and all that.
They asked a group of us to come out silently; we came from the caucus room. Some came out of the main building, but some must still be in there. We were in the caucus, we heard the shots and we all lay down. Then security guards came and told us to stay under the tables. It’s very shocking. I must have heard about 20 shots. Very, very loud.
I was working for [Robert] Stanfield when the War Measures Act was invoked, and I was working for [John] Diefenbaker in May 1966 when that man blew himself up in the washroom on the third floor. He had a bomb and he was going to throw it down on the floor in the House of Commons. I was working one floor above that, so it lifted me off my chair. I was in room 402, right over the chamber. There’s not many of us who were around at the time of that incident.
[This time], I thought somebody had knocked over a stack of chairs. In about a nanosecond, I realized it was rapid gun fire. Through the years, working in the Prime Minister’s Office and travelling with prime ministers, the RCMP always tell us, “If you hear gunfire, get down. Don’t be running, trying to get out the doors, because if someone bursts in, you are just a target, right?” So that’s what I did. I just got down on the floor. There was a little bit of commotion, but not for long, then all of those ex-cops and ex-military, boy, they just took control real fast. Shelly Glover, David Wilks, Ryan Leef, Rick Norlock and Laurie Hawn. And Scott Armstrong, who was an ex-principal of a school—he was another one who had gone through drills. They just started barking orders to get to the corners and to get back against the walls and then they started barricading the doors. It calmed down really quickly. I was really impressed. I didn’t see people panicking. I heard afterward that some of them ran out the door, which I think was absolutely foolish. It was not knowing, that was the worst part, what was on the outside of what we now realize were rather flimsy doors. We were listening and trying to hear. None of us had our BlackBerrys as we don’t take them into caucus. So we were just sitting in there waiting to get some information when Kevin Vickers and then the Prime Minister’s personal security came through the door. Kevin Vickers told us what had happened. The rest of the day, it was just a long, long wait. The whole government caucus was in there, save for the few that weren’t at caucus. We were in the caucus room until 5 p.m.—that was seven hours. So a lot of us got to know a lot about each other as we were just sitting around talking. There was not much else to do. We didn’t talk much about the event, other than the security. We felt there probably would be changes to the security just in the overall coordination, though in hindsight the security seemed to work pretty well, at least on the inside of the building. I was raised on a farm, so I talked about farming. I talked to a colleague—we both like car racing, so we talked about that.
The thing that kind of bothered people was the unknown. There was an incredible number of gunshots, easily over 30. You don’t know if it’s one person or if the building’s being ambushed or whether we were under siege. Once gunfire died down, it was just kind of an eerie silence. I wasn’t panicked or anything. Not many people were panicked. A couple of people began to shake, but not many.
I know all of us on the internal economy committee in the Senate, we’ve been talking about this for months. We knew something like this was going to happen. It was only a matter of time.
I was walking between my work buildings. I heard shots. I looked and there was the [gunman] in full shooting position. It seemed theatrical. There was this great, long gun.
There was another bystander there. I turned and I said, “Is this a mock? Is this a drill?” Then I looked toward where the fallen soldier was, with his comrade leaning over him. His comrade yelled, “Call 911.” And I thought, “This is still really sounding like a drill.”
I looked to see if someone was filming. It became clear that it wasn’t a drill. That’s when I ran forward, without thought, just to see what I could do. When I got there, I asked the soldier who supervises the two soldiers at the tomb what I could do to help, and he told me very specifically. He was in control. He said, “Put your hands here. Put pressure. He’s been shot twice.”
That’s when I looked up to the soldier’s head and saw that he wasn’t breathing and I asked someone to start CPR. There was this other amazing woman [Barbara Winters, a lawyer at the Canadian Revenue Agency]. I thought she was a relative of this soldier. She was talking and she was consoling the soldier in such a compassionate way that I thought he must be a loved one. I asked her if she could could check for the pulse. There was no pulse. I asked her if she could do compressions and she did.
There were four or five of us now, all focused on this soldier. None of us knew each other. We were all focused on helping this soldier survive. It was amazing how well people performed.
There were a couple of things that were quite upsetting. There was a ring of observers taking photos. I yelled to another soldier, I think, who was standing there, “Tell those people to step back and tell them to stop taking photos.”
Q: Were they media or bystanders?
ML: At that time, they were bystanders. We were getting anxious and we could hear so many sirens. And we are wondering: Where’s our ambulance? We got someone else to step in to take compressions. It is tiring. Barbara, the other volunteer, she stayed there to comfort the soldier, to say, “We’re with you, we’re working hard, the ambulance is coming, how heroic you are.” She was really amazing. I want tp speak about this soldier’s comrade, this heroic effort he made to staunch and control the bleeding of his fallen colleague. The next time I looked up, that’s when there were media with big cameras. I couldn’t figure out how the media was there. I couldn’t figure out how there was no ambulance yet. By this time, there was a policeman. I said, “Please push them back and stop the filming.” All you can think of is this soldier would be recognized, and that is his job, to be at the tomb, and you can clearly see his spats of his uniform and they’d know who he is and we shouldn’t see him in this state.
Barbara did this just phenomenal job, telling him, “We’re here, we’re helping.”
People ask me, “Were you scared?” It was never about being scared. It was just about this real focused effort by these strangers to help a soldier whose normal role was defending us.
I come from a military family. My dad was a Second World War veteran, his entire career. My oldest brother’s career was in the military. My youngest brother also went to military college. I run and walk the Army Run.
In the media, people are talking about their reactions, how this has changed Ottawa, how we live in Ottawa. I am not a fearful person. Other than snakes, I have no fear. I run at night, I walk at night. I realized this is not going to bother me. At 61 years of age, I am not going to become a fearful person. This is not going to have a lasting effect on me. The five of us who were there, we worked together to do our best for the soldier, and that’s the memory I’m going to have: that we could pay back [and] I am not going to be afraid.
I would say I was about 20 to 30 feet from the shooter. I could see the guy clearly. My perception of what I saw is quite different, as it turns out. But I could see his gun very clearly. I was very close. When they had taken the corporal in the ambulance, I approached the one policeman to say, “I saw it all. Do you want us to stay to give a description?” In my mind, I had a crystal-clear image of what he looked like. And, as it turns out, I had most of it right, but I didn’t have all of it right. That’s just something I find interesting about perception. As they say, eyewitnesses are not usually that reliable.
I think I will approach the police to find out about Barbara [Winters], in particular. I would like to check how she is doing. I know we were both emotional at the police station. We went through something pretty special; you know what I mean by that. I am very concerned for her and very concerned for the soldier whose comrade was there. He was helping so hard to keep him alive.
Q: Did you see the shooter run away? Did you know he had left the scene?
ML: It’s not something I even thought about. I was never concerned there were other people there. I never even thought about it.
I saw the gunman run away, but I didn’t even think about it afterwards. I just assumed they had got him. It was just this intense teamwork to focus on Nathan. I have the privilege to call him by his first name, I guess.
Q: You have done a very heroic thing.
ML: I am not even comfortable with that word. I just did my duty. I just was a first responder, a nurse, a military [family] person. That’s what Canadians do, right?
Just like every Wednesday, the NDP caucus meets in centre block. I’m a press secretary, so I was with another one of our press secretaries and we had just finished doing what we call caucus-ins, which is when journalists want to speak to caucus members as they’re heading into caucus about the day’s events and what they expect to be the hot topics of the day. I’m there to facilitate that.
My colleague and I, once that had been done and the meeting started, we walked down the main steps of Centre Block to the main exit because our offices are across the street, so we were heading back to our office. And I noted the time, that it was 9:50 [a.m.], because I was late for a meeting. We came out the main doors, and they were these big brass doors that everyone recognizes from images of Parliament. And we took a few steps outside and, once we reached the top step before walking down, I saw two journalists that I know way up ahead of us get down on the ground. And when I saw that, that was the first indication that something was wrong, but my colleague and I both just stopped and didn’t react any further than that.
Then a guard—someone in uniform—was close to the women and was yelling, “Get down! Get down!” We still didn’t move. And it was only when someone, I don’t know who, yelled, “Gun!” that he and I both dropped to the ground, along with a woman who happened to be standing next to us, whom we didn’t know. So the three of us ended up huddling next to a pillar that’s to the side of the stairs. A short while after that—and I’m not sure how dependable my memory is on time, but it felt like a few seconds—I lifted my head straight up, just straight ahead of me, and only saw one person, a young man. When I say young, I mean 20s or 30s. Nothing struck me about him initially, because he was wearing dark clothes, seemed white, had dark hair, I thought, just below his ears, and was striding purposefully, running, when I saw him. And it was only when my eyes lowered to the gun in his hands that I really knew something. It was only when I saw the gun that I reacted fast, the only time in the day I did that, and dropped my head. And then I never saw him again. He was walking up the ramps that leads into Centre Block, next to our stairs, so, walking toward us up to the door. I never saw him go in, because I had my head dropped, but, a few seconds later, we heard the first protracted round of shots, so I knew where he had gone, because the sound was somewhat muffled; I knew he wasn’t outside. The first round of shots lasted a very long time—it was a sustained volley—and we just stayed huddled on the ground. I don’t know if it was that moment or during the break in the shooting or in the second round of shots, I don’t know what it was, I typed into my Blackberry into a group chat I have with my colleagues in communications, I just typed in “shooting.”
During the break between the two series of shots, the woman we were with [Heather Lamarre] started crying and said to me and my colleague that her kids were inside. [At] that time, we were more focused on trying to calm her down. My colleague put his hand on her back; I just kept repeating anything I could think of that would seem reassuring. I kept saying, “There’s tons of security here, the cops are here, they’re after him, your kids will be fine.” And then the second round of shots happened, this one was shorter than the first. And, at some point there, either during those rounds of shots or right after, I’m not sure, a police officer—this is the first time I noticed anyone else—a police officer came running up the middle stairs and asked, “Which way did he go?” And we answered, “In there, in Centre Block,” and he had his gun drawn and he started running in, and as he was running in, he said, “Go, go go, go now, run down.” So the three of us got up and just started running. I thought all three of us were running, and then, after I got down three steps, I looked back and saw that my colleague was half pushing, half dragging the woman who was with us, because she was just physically unable to run fast. So then we all caught up with each other and then walked fast to the nearest cop car. We just told him that her kids were inside, and he said, “Okay, keep going, run to the bottom of the hill,” and the three of us ran down.
We were standing at the bottom of the hill close to Wellington Street. It was total confusion. There were lots of tourists milling about, lots of foreign tourists who didn’t speak very good English, with cameras, sort of with smiles on their faces, asking what all the commotion was about. Marc-Andre, my colleague, started talking to some journalists who were running up, and I was standing with the woman and she was still obviously very upset. Her husband was inside, but she didn’t have a way to contact him. She had his phone, so I just didn’t know what to do. I felt like I should just get her to some place where she could most easily, whenever possible, contact her kids, and I had no idea where that would be.
I think at some point, someone asked my colleague about what had happened, and he said, “I didn’t see him,” and I just said, “Oh, I did.” And the woman I was with said, “I saw him, too.” So then I thought, “Okay, we should find a police officer”—at that stage, I didn’t know what had happened inside, I didn’t know if he was on the loose—so I just thought, “Let’s just find a police officer and see if we can give a description.” So I found a cop car partway up the hill and I went up to the officer with the woman. As we walked up, he said, “Get back, get back,” I said, “Wait, we saw him, do you want to talk to us?” and he said, “Yeah, okay,” and he put us in his car. And then, I said, “Okay, we haven’t talked to each other about what we saw. Do you want to separate us so we can each give a description?” and he said, “Yeah, we’re going to do that. Please just sit here for the moment, we’ll get you sorted out.”
A second car came up, she got into that car, and then I gave a short description. This was just for the police to try to identify him if he was still loose inside. Of course, later, I would find out he had already been killed. But I just described everything I could remember, including what I could remember of the gun, which was that it seemed more—it was a long gun, but it seemed more of a hunting gun than a military-grade weapon. All of this is based on my very short memory and my lack of expertise in guns, but it seemed like it could be relevant in some way. So I gave a description and he said, “Okay, I’ll be back,” and he went out, I think to speak to some colleagues, so I just sat in the car. And then it occurred to me for the first time to contact my family. My family lives in Europe, so I figured they wouldn’t hear about this for a little while, but I just sent an email to my parents and my sister and I just said, “I am okay” in the subject line and sent that off.
At various times, the officer came back, talked to me a little more, asked me a few more questions, and said, “We’re going to get you sorted out, we’re going to take you somewhere,” and I just said, “That’s fine,” and kept talking on the BBM group with my colleagues about what I knew. I also listened to the police radio and the reports that were coming in, and it just sounded absolutely chaotic. There were reports of multiple gunmen, there were reports that there was a gunman outside the Library, which I assumed to be the library and archives, as opposed the Library of Parliament, which was where he was, so I was telling my colleagues on my phone, “Don’t go outside, get off of Wellington, stay inside.” And then I was sitting there for quite a while, maybe half an hour or so, so I thought: Okay, I’ll call my parents, so I got on Skype and called my mom. She hadn’t seen my email and had no idea what was going on, so I had the fun experience of saying, “Don’t worry, I’m totally fine, and you’re about to read some things that are going to make you upset.”
And then, a short while later, they took us to an RCMP station, where I spent the next four hours repeating the description. [I was] kept away from news, kept away from the outside world as much as possible. When I got out of there in early afternoon, I was accompanied by two police officers within the perimeter across the street back to the office, because my phone was out of battery, so I had been totally incommunicado and just wanted to get back to my office, to my colleagues and to start working. So, for the next seven to eight hours, I just did wall-to-wall media. It’s a strange twist of fate that I happened to be an eyewitness to the shooter and I’m a press secretary, so I’m on the radar of a fair number of journalists, so had the opportunity to stay very, very busy.
Physically, I was feeling shaken up. I could tell; I had never had that physical feeling before, which didn’t happen in the few minutes I was on the ground or running way. I can’t remember any particular physical experience then. But, at the police station was the first time I very clearly had a physical outcome, in that I couldn’t really stop shaking. All the words people regularly use—wired, hyper-aware, jumpy—all of that is correct, and it’s also why, especially now, I feel very strongly that there is no hierarchy of trauma based on that day. There were people who were in lockdown all day long, and what that can do to you physically, when you’re dealing with the unknown, when you’re huddled with co-workers, afraid to get close to windows—I never went through any of that. My experience was acute. I don’t mean to downplay it, but it was short, it was very short. There are people I talked to in subsequent days who had the full spectrum of experiences, including those who weren’t even on the Hill that day, because they got into work late, because they were with a sick kid, and there was no lessening of their experience because of that.
When I saw the gun, which I would call the first moment of true acknowledgement of the situation, it was an acknowledgement in physical reaction only. I acknowledged what was happening by lowering my head. My mind went completely blank, completely blank. I thought of nothing. It was only several seconds later when the shooting started that my actual capacity to think came back, and I understood that what was happening was a shooting. And even then, I didn’t do anything in particular. But there was never any kind of analysis of the situation, and even subsequently. You’ve got to remember: The reports that day of what was going on were mostly false. If you look at every single piece of information that came out through media, through social media, over the police radio, which I happened to be listening to for most of the day, and then subsequently, when I met back up with my colleagues and we were hashing it out—if you take the sum of all those pieces of information, the majority of them would be false. So, in terms of what we now know, what we now know bears so little resemblance to what was running through our minds of the day.
[Heather Lamarre’s] children, they were visiting, they were part of a tour group and they were visiting the Commons. That morning, like most days, there are dozens of people walking around inside Parliament in these organized tours and, that morning, we had seen there were a bunch of kids milling around, and her kids were among them. Once we got separated into two cars, I knew that she was at the station, but she was kept in a different room from me, but the next time I saw her, maybe an hour or two later, she looked kind of stunned. I went up to her and said, “Hi, have you heard anything?” assuming that she hadn’t, and she said, “Yeah, I reached my husband, they’re fine,” and just looked a thousand years old. And again, kind of dumb, [I said], “Oh, that’s good, oh, I’m glad,” just repeating pleasantries. And then, when we were in a room together a little bit later, she described that, essentially, her three kids were sitting in a Tim Hortons a few blocks away, bored out of their minds, and I thought, “Alright, things really snap back pretty quickly.” But they were pretty happy, because they didn’t have any cash on them, but the Tim Hortons was feeding everyone for free.
Q: What’s going to stay with you?
GL: Certainly the image, that split-second I saw of him. I don’t know if that will ever leave me completely, but much will depend on how we react in the coming weeks and months. We just talked about it a little bit with the misinformation that was circulating on Wednesday, but there’s going to be a lot of discussion in the next little while over: Has our country changed? Must it change? How should we react to something this horrific? I’ll be around for that. I’ll be working, and I’ll be very aware of how that discussion unfolds. So one thing I try to keep clear in my mind is that each of us, with our relationship to the Hill, no matter what we were doing that day, we have to give ourselves some leeway to react as we need to in the next little while. At the same time, personally, I … Two people died on Wednesday. One of them, I know, is being mourned by millions of people. One of them, from what I’m reading, isn’t even being mourned by his mother. As we go forward, I would be very saddened if we made decisions based on the actions of that second man.
It was surreal and scary, reminding everyone how fragile life is. I don’t want to be overly melodramatic about this, but when you’re in a caucus room, with a shooter 15 to 20 feet outside, not knowing what might happen next, it changes your perspective on life, remembering how precious it is. Clearly, all of our thoughts are with the family of the fallen soldier. But, if things turned out a little bit differently, it could have been far, far worse. It’s well known that if the shooter had turned either left or right to either of the caucus rooms, I’m not sure what would have happened, but likely, extreme loss of life.
Q: Can you describe those moments from your perspective?
TL: It was surreal. We first heard the gunshots and it took a couple of seconds before anyone really understood that they were, in fact, gunshots. We’re so used to hearing loud noises and explosions from all the construction outside. But, once we realized what it was, there was a lot of activity. Let me put it this way: I was very happy to be in a caucus that had many former law-enforcement agents and military people, who established a protocol very quickly. They secured the perimeter of the caucus room. If anyone could feel confident in that situation, I felt confident, because we had some people who demonstrated leadership, who knew exactly what to do and how to do it. That was a comfort, at least.
Q: What did they do, exactly, that you wouldn’t have done?
TL: I’m not sure it’s what I wouldn’t have done, only that they did it quickly, They barricaded the doors, made sure everyone was up against the walls, rather than standing in the middle of the room. They took action, because they were trained to do so. We had a good, core group of people who knew what to do. We all stayed calm, we knew we were basically in the most secure place we could be and I was thankful for that.
Q: Which individuals are you referring to?
TL: There’s a number of them and I’m not going to identify anyone individually, but we have many former law-enforcement personnel and military personnel in our caucus. They have been trained and, in a situation like that, it showed.
The first reaction was to leave. Someone shouted out as soon as it happened that we should leave. But those who ran out came right back in; maybe it was a security guard. But clearly, the right course of action was to stay in the room. I think four or five got out, and thank god they’re all safe. I won’t get into too much of what happened, because it’s an inner caucus room and everything that happens there is confidential, but suffice it to say the [Prime Minister] is safe and that’s all that counts.
The meeting was in progress. I think it was 9.30 that caucus is due. Half an hour or so into the meeting is when it began.
Our own caucus members took the lead immediately and, shortly thereafte,r came into the room and took over. Thankfully, we have people who are MPs now, who, in their previous lives, knew what to do. At least a dozen of them took charge in that room, once we realized what was happening.
I’m still waiting to hear a little bit more information about [how the shooter got into the building]. I suppose that, if someone wanted, as we found out, they could literally barge the door, and I assume that’s what happened, but I’m waiting for more information.
Q: How did you feel coming to the Hill today, after all this?
TL: I felt good. I felt, as I think every MP feels, like this is something we needed to do. If anyone, whether it be an armed gunman or a terrorist, interfered with the work of Parliament, then they win. I think it’s important we show a sense of community, a sense of commitment. I’m happy to be here.
I work on Slater Street, and I was meeting a friend to talk about business at the Rideau Centre Starbucks. From where I work, you can either go over to NDHQ [National Defence headquarters] and cut through the mall, or you can cut outside, walk by the Memorial, and you get right there to the corner. As I walked outside, you get to the street corner and the [pedestrian] lights. You go in whichever way the light is available, so I went left. That brought me towards the Memorial and walking outside. It was a nice day, so I thought, “Fantastic.” So that’s why I was walking by there, just at that time. I was meeting my co-worker there at 10 o’clock.
It is a busy time for work, and the work is good, so I was feeling pretty good. I hadn’t seen this guy in a while, so I was looking forward to it. I was thinking, “Wow, it’s really nice out.” You’re just walking like any regular day. Walking.
Then I heard three shots—two rapid ones and then one a little slower behind it. It was to my left and I turned. From where I was standing, it was directly in line of sight from me. After the shots, [the shooter] was yelling something, but I have no idea what he was saying. I turned after the first shot. I was already moving towards the memorial from the last shot. I was just running. In my head was: ‘Go, go, go. Go, go, go.’ I could see in the distance, I could see the shooter. I saw there was a guy there. I saw the other corporal approaching as I got closer. I saw the other century running. I got there and the corporal—he was awesome—he had already put his hands on the wound on the right-hand side. I said, “What do I do?” He said, “Put pressure on this wound.” As I went down to do that, I don’t recall if I actually got there or not. The nurse, she put her hands on the wound. They said, “Elevate his legs’. The idea was to keep the blood in the torso. He’s a big, strong guy. I had to really get underneath his legs and lift him up. I got underneath and lifted his legs up on an angle. I just tried just holding him with my arms, but he has strong legs, so I had to rest his legs on my thighs. I was in a crouching position. I had his legs resting on mine. His hand was right there, so I held his hand. I gave him a little squeeze. He gave a slight squeeze back. I think he might have said something to his buddy, I’m not sure. He wasn’t all that responsive. His eyes were open. Initially, his eyes were open.
A few other people are joining in at this point, with CPR. Another soldier was talking to him, telling him to hold on. The military guys, they were bang on the money. They were in control. I wasn’t thinking anything. In my head, I was telling myself to keep my eyes open, listen and pay attention. At that point, I looked around. That’s when the thought comes in your head: “Are there more? Is he gone?” We didn’t ask each other that. It just came in my head. I had no idea. That thought went away right away; it was just paying attention to what’s going on with the fallen soldier. I decided to put my focus back to where I was, holding his legs, holding his hand, just in case I needed to do something else. There was a lot of cold cement everywhere. At the time, I just felt so small, trying to pay attention to help, if I could.
Another guy showed up. He was a really nice man. He was all dressed in black. I could see there was a rifle on the ground farther away. I asked him to pick up the rifle, bring it over. A policeman showed up. He was doing his thing on the radio, calling all sorts of people. At this point, CPR had started. The first soldier there was getting upset; that’s okay. When you look down the steps from the cenotaph, there was a whole gang of people, and you could see cellphones up [taking photos]. It was just an odd thing to see. Already, it’s a very unusual circumstance. I asked the guy there and the police officer to maybe clear the area. So they said, “Stand back,” and they moved right away.
I was a military reservist. I was in the reserve for just over 11 years. I was also a military spouse, a very proud military spouse, for just about 20 years. I’m assuming [my training kicked in]. Whatever kicks in, it just kicks in. What’s going through my head is I had to get there. I didn’t know, exactly, what I was going to find. I saw the shooter. I saw the guy on the ground. But it didn’t register: That’s the shooter, that’s the guy on the ground. It was just, “Get there. Get there. Get there as fast as you can.” When I looked up, the shooter was gone. He had stopped yelling. He was gone. And that’s when the whole scene on the ground started. Maybe the military training was, “Respond, be part of the moment, be in the moment, listen and react.”
It seemed like a long time [before] two ambulances showed up at the same time. One guy from the ambulance started to check his vitals. Another declared that he was in charge. I thought [that,] since the professionals were now here, they’d tap me out. But it seemed to take way too long. Eventually, they put the stretcher between his legs, put him on the gurney and then they were gone. I sat back and I was looking at the War Memorial. My hands were shaking. I thought, “Now what?” So I went over to speak to the police officer. At that point, you start looking around, and boom. Everybody’s gone.
I entered Centre Block at five to seven in the morning. I know that nothing was different. I went in the Senate door with other members of parliament who go to prayer breakfast. Like every Wednesday morning, we step over a vacuum-cleaner hose. We’re the first ones there. And then I stayed for a second meeting. I left Centre Block probably around 9:15, and my offices are in Confederation Building. I never really use my office, because I don’t have enough workspace in my office. But I was going to be there until 2.
I was the last one out of our building [that night]. Just as they said we could leave, I’d agreed to talk to BBC. [The security guard] came back and said, “No, we’re really clearing the building.” I cut short my chat. My executive assistant had waited with me, so we left the building together. We were running into people who were going to get their kids from daycare. I usually would have just gone straight home to work.
We ended up walking past the Marriott. I’d been to the bar Spin the night before, because World Wildlife Fund had had a reception there. Otherwise I’d never set a foot in it. Suddenly it felt like the familiar place. Strange things that happen in life — a woman [Erin Coffin] came over to me and said, “Do you know if Centre Block is still on lockdown? My husband’s in there.” Her husband is one of the table clerks. And then she said, “I think you know my father.” And then I realized, I taught you Sunday school in Halifax at St. Paul’s Church. So she gave me a ride home.
I was standing halfway across the street, leaving from a meeting and we heard shots.
My colleague said, “They must be doing some kind of military thing.” I saw a guy in a uniform running around and I thought “No, something bad is going on.” I saw the shooter with his rifle in a three-quarter long brown coat running.
So we crossed the street to a place where we thought we could get out of the line of bullets, behind blocks.
When we were standing there, the brown Toyota pulled up beside us, so we got out of the way. I went that way and he ran toward the Parliament Building.
I saw the shooter get out of his car with a gun but it was covered.
I had just dropped my husband on Parliament Hill and I was driving, heading east on Wellington. I came to a red light at Wellington and Elgin and I looked up — I was in the right lane — and in my lane ahead of me by what was probably six or seven car lengths at most was a little beige-brown car stopped right there at the entrance to the War Memorial.
The first thought I had was “there is somebody in trouble … how is it the flashing lights weren’t on?” Just as I’m thinking that, the driver got out of his car, shut the door and then opened the back door on the driver’s side and took out an object wrapped in what appeared to me maybe be a rolled up sleeping bag with another blanket over it.
Something was hanging like a blanket. Then he dashed out from the car toward the monument. The thought I had was someone was bringing blankets to demonstrators. It was a silly thought and it was just so unusual. The car was so odd, stopped right there.
This is happening so fast. My red light turns to green and beside me is this very long truck. I let the truck go on and moved into the left lane and proceeded toward the car. But in my lane and, as I approached the back of his car, I looked to the monument and there was the guy running, coming back and he was carrying something.
I saw a flash of light, a silver reflection. I did not think “gun” then. It’s only after I thought, “maybe a piece of pipe.” Instantly I thought violence. At that point, I am beside his car and I’m driving and I know it’s urgent and I get out of there. I had a feeling of doom inside of me because what went on happened in the space of maybe — I don’t know how long the red to green light would take place — but probably 20 to 25 seconds.
There are two or three steps on the north side of the monument. He was running down those steps. It was just a few steps from where he shot to running down those steps. This person had such energy in his actions as he moved and ran. I can understand why people were defenceless and could not do anything.
I came home and, the minute I arrived, I realized what had happened. My husband called to say he was in a lockdown. Then I turned on the TV.
Q: Tell me where you were when the shooting happened.
JM: I was in a committee room called the Aboriginal Room in room 160S, which is in the basement of Centre Block. The security guy ran in and yelled, “Out! Out! Out!” very animated and very loud. We knew he wasn’t kidding.
He was saying, “Gunman in building. Gunman in building.” We started to move. There was no panic.
There was concern, obviously. We went into what appeared to be a safe area. Then, it just seemed like seconds later, the sound of gunfire, which I thought was coming from the outside. It was so loud. Then there was a pause and then came the second round of gunfire. I thought for a moment, “This is really serious. It sounds like more than one gunman.” The sound of the gunfire. At that moment, [I was asking myself], “Is this really happening?” It was so loud.
We stayed for 10 minutes or so and they led us to a secure area in the East Block through the tunnel and we stayed there for 11 hours. We were in room 257.
Q: Was that the main room where the Senators who were not in the Conservative caucus went?
JM: Senators and NDP MPs. Also, there was an emotional scene to watch because there were two elderly couples from Saskatchewan who were on a tour and then there was a young family with two children — and to watch the friendship that was made between the young fellow who was probably five or six and the people from Saskatchewan was a site to behold. At the end of it, I think he made friends with what he presumed would look like a granddad and said, “See you, Bye.”
Q: What do you remember about being in the room?
JM: Just to lighten the mood, as there were so many NDP MPs, and I know a lot of them, and there were a lot of Liberal Senators and the NDP want to abolish us, I said, “Here’s an opportunity to get together to think this thing out. Can’t we all work together? There was some laughter.” We got TV at one point. Someone found some sandwiches somewhere.
The toughest things: I saw a couple of cleaning women. They’d been locked up somewhere in the building — not where I was — for 10 or 11 hours. One was just in tears. People were trying to console her. It wasn’t something she expected to see in her life. Some of the staff, they just wanted to go home and have a good cry. Inside the room itself, a lot of them were on television and radio, talking to the media. People started getting cranky but it was a minor inconvenience compared to what was happening outside. Some of the tourists, they were on the 10:20 a.m. tour. This one tourist, he told me he was at the memorial and he was actually going to go over to shake the hand of one of those soldiers. He said my friend and I were going to shake hands, but I looked at my ticket and it said 10:20, so we left to make sure we did not miss our tour.
Q: What happened when they let you out?
JM: They put us on these OC Transpo buses to Foreign Affairs and we spoke to the RCMP. There were lines for just giving our name and other lines for people who saw something.
Q: What did you do when you saw your wife again?
JM: What I usually do — a hug and a kiss, but this hug was a little warmer. I certainly went home and had a nice long glass of red wine and so did my wife.
I didn’t sleep very much that night. I had three or four hours sleep.
You’re living the image and thinking about the soldier’s family. It takes about two or three days to sink in. I had that feeling on Sunday, a lump in my throat. It’s a delayed reaction to what we all witnessed and heard. I thought this morning I would go down today for a moment of quiet and private reflection, but when we drove by in the afternoon, the crowd was so big. I will try another day. I am still trying to come to terms with a known soldier dying on the memorial of the unknown soldier. It will never be the same.
Q: Where were you this morning when the shooting started?
JM: I had just emerged from a regional caucus and was headed for our 10 a.m. national caucus meeting. The pathway from the one to the other is through the Hall of Honour, heading downstairs. And we hear a set of gunshots. I looked down the stairs where a woman was racing up them, yelling. Within a minute or two, there were security members in the hallways telling us to get behind doors and lock them and not look out the window. It was a very fast and co-ordinated response.
Q: Have you received any information since you’ve been in the office?
JM: In the beginning, we were watching coverage of the sad event of a soldier at the War Memorial being gunned down. We were all following Twitter feeds to figure out why we’re being locked in here. But cell phone service is patchy.
Q: Did you hear gunshots, doors being rammed?
JM: We heard the gunshots—I think all in Centre Block heard it. It was a very loud noise. And lots of yelling. Some of that is continuing even now, as we speak.
Q: I imagine this is a pretty scary situation. How are the others that are locked in that room with you?
JM: I’m with two others and it’s not fearful, we’re just worried about security officers and first responders. The idea that they’re being targeted is extremely upsetting. We’re just trying to connect to our families.
Anne Minh-Thu Quach
I think I was just sending an email and I didn’t react right away. I just heard a lot of noise around me and realized everyone was under the tables. I just thought it was construction sounds.
Then we saw security guards entering our caucus room, saying, “Everyone, under the tables and stay away from the doors.” And so I went under the tables, and I was wondering, “Oh, where are my baby and my husband,” but I could not send any emails or call them because my husband didn’t have his cell phone that day.
So we were under the table and I was taking care of one MP who was shaking, and another one was crying. Everyone was afraid, not knowing how many gunmen were in the block and what was happening actually.
So there was the second series of [bullets], and then nothing. And a security guard told us to follow him into another room and then after that he asked us to follow him outside by walking by the Senate and go to the East Block. So we followed him and I was among the first people because I asked them if it was possible for me to get to the [place] with my husband and baby, but they said it was too dangerous.
Once outside, my staff called me. One staffer asked me if everything was okay and where I was, and where my husband and my baby was. So I asked her to try to find the phone number of the room of the lounge. She was really really worried too. She succeeded in finding the number so we could call. But it took a little time because the phone ring was at mute, so when I was calling, my husband didn’t hear the phone call. Forty-five minutes later, he saw the lights when the phone was ringing, and after that, he just realized that we were trying to reach him and he didn’t hear anything. He didn’t know at all what was going on.
By that time we had a police officer knocking on our window to come inside the East Block so when my husband calls me, I was already safe, and he tells me that he and my baby were safe too on the sixth floor. We were able to reach each other at 4:30 p.m.
The baby didn’t drink, wasn’t fed, for seven hours and a half. That was my main concern after knowing everyone was safe.
I was just trying to ask all the police officers and security guards to see if it would be possible to either go to Centre Block and reach them, or ask them to come by the East Block. By 2:30 p.m., one police officer said they were trying to evacuate Centre Block and they were trying to bring everyone from the East Block.
I asked if it was possible to bring my husband and my baby to the room that I was, and he asked, “Oh, how old is your baby,” and I said, “Three weeks and a half,” and he said, “Oh gosh, follow me!”
We took the tunnels. One police officer just guided me into the tunnels into the Centre Block, and then there was a kind of a special unit all armed with guns evacuating level by level the Centre Block. So at 2:30 p.m. I could not join my husband and my baby. At 4:30, my husband and my baby got to my room, and I was able to feed my baby at that time. Finally, I was relieved.
Just before 10 we heard what we thought were construction sounds — there’s a lot of construction going on on the Hill — and then somebody said, “Those are gunshots.” And then all of a sudden the security guard banged on the door: “Lock the door, barricade the door, and get down on the ground.” So that’s what we did.
I huddled under a desk with a colleague from Quebec, she and I were there for 15 minutes. Finally, we heard another bang on the desk, saying, “Okay, I want you all to be evacuated, go out the side door.”
They let us out single-file out to the East Block and down to the street. It was surreal, as you can imagine: It was shocking. To think this could happen in the middle of the House of Commons.
As an urban kid, I haven’t heard gunshots before. So I didn’t know what to make of it. It’s too surreal that it truly could be gunshots in the House of Commons so that didn’t even enter my mind until someone said, “That’s gunshots, we’ve got to act accordingly.”
People were very calm about it. They were shocked, they were shaken, but it was all done in a professional and orderly way. Mr. Mulcair was giving a speech and he was very professional, calm. But obviously people were very very concerned.
The woman I was with was literally trembling like a leaf; it’s a cliché, but it’s true. We held each other under the table, and people were simply in shock.
Q: Was everybody already in caucus at this point, was the room mostly full?
CS: Yes, anybody who was at caucus was there, because we were already half an hour into caucus. A good 90 MPs were there. It was closed-door, so a lot of the senior staffers hadn’t yet arrived, so it was almost entirely MPs and a couple of staff. Plus we can’t forget the translators. When the shooting started, a security guard entered the room and he was in there with us too.
Q: So you hear the shots, and then what happens?
CS: I heard the shots. I was sitting at the back of the room to the south-west corner. I happened to be with my back right to one of the three doors leaving that room, the one that’s closest to the centre block entrance. The gunfire was five to six bursts and then they paused. A colleague told me they heard a single shot in the middle of the bursts, but I didn’t hear that. Then sergeant-at-arms Vickers must have at that point got him. I don’t know how much longer it took before they realized that that shooter was dead, and then they evacuated us. In the meantime, the moment I heard the shots, I thought, ‘S—, we’ve got to somehow block these doors,’ and by that point everybody but me and a couple of senators was under the tables, which was a perfectly sensible thing to do. So I grabbed one of those tables—unfortunately the people under it had to sacrifice that in order to shove it up against the door. Nathan Cullen did the same on the other side. The security guard used a big trolley that I think had AV equipment in it to block the third door, and then we stood on either side with our feet up against the legs of the table so that we’d be prepared to reinforce the table if somebody tried to push through. That happened pretty quickly, the evacuation was smooth. Despite it being on the news, I won’t tell you where we were evacuated to. That was done very professionally. The security guards struck me as being extraordinarily calm, especially for individuals who are not themselves armed. Some people were more frightened than others. It was almost too quick to be frightened. One thought, almost rationally, that I should be frightened.
Q: The putting the stuff up against the doors happened after the shooting had stopped?
CS: No, no. There was the shooting, and then we did that, but we didn’t know whether the guy was still out there, because I certainly didn’t hear that single shot that others did. People stayed under the tables, we had no idea if there was going to be more than one shooter anyway. Within a minute, two minutes of the first shot, the doors were barricaded.
Q: Was there a security guard already in there with you?
CS: Yeah, he came in. I think he said, ‘Take cover.’ He might even have said, ‘Get under the tables,’ but that might have been blurred with colleagues telling others to get under the tables. He was very calm. There wasn’t a lot of instruction going on. Everybody just did what they did, and a few of us decided the doors closest to us needed to be reinforced. My understanding is that the Conservatives did the same thing. They had the big, heavy chairs that frankly were probably more effective than the tables we had, which is why I had to stay there with [another MP] because someone could easily have forced those tables. They’re pretty thin.
Q: Was it just Nathan at the other door?
CS: Nathan was standing at the other door, alongside the other door in the way that we were.
Q: When do you know that it’s OK to leave?
CS: When the security folks came through the door that we were guarding—the security guard who was inside was already in contact with them by walkie-talkie. He came over, and the door that I had been watching became the door of the evacuation.
Q: How long from the start of the shooting to being evacuated?
CS: I’m guessing 10 to 15 minutes, but it might have been less. After the shooting, the shooter was shot by Vickers quite soon, so it might not have taken security and the RCMPs long to figure out that it was sufficiently safe to lead us out.
Q: What’s the mood among MPs at this point?
CS: There were several who were shaken enough that it took a while for them to calm down. There was a little bit of a sense of being clearly frightened. Almost everybody took it in stride. They relied on what security were doing for us to get us out. Anybody who didn’t at least think they should be frightened would be crazy. My biggest worry was that this was a wholesale assault, that there could be more than one person. One person can rush the door, with how security is set up, one person who’s willing to die could. Just as one could, maybe four or five could.
Q: Had it ever occurred to you to worry about security?
CS: Yes. I had a conversation the evening before about exactly this with a couple of MPs. I won’t say who unless they give me authorization, but we had a conversation. It was raised by the issue of how the security forces of all the different divisions have to balance the access of both the public and the parliamentarians with serious security. I was saying, “Well, here’s why I’m extraordinarily worried about what could happen.” I’m proud that we have such an open and accessible legislature, but it’s very easy, if someone isn’t worried about their own life, to do something. After the incident, I had a couple of MPs coming up to me and saying, ‘Wow, you called it.’
I was in my office at the Jack Layton building at Bank and Laurier when I saw some reports on Twitter about shooting at the War Memorial, and I started getting text messages from my partner Rosane who was in the caucus room, and obviously she was quite frightened in the moment. So I got up and ran up to Parliament Hill as fast as I could and Rosane was among the MPs, the few MPs, who were escorted out of the building, so I met her on Wellington Street. She joined Charlie Angus and a few other of our caucus members in Charlie’s office in the promenade, and then she really wanted to know that our daughter [who is 18-months old, named Madeleine] was okay, so I ran over to the daycare and, following that, ran over to the Hill office and to Rosane’s office. Once I got in her office, I was told I wasn’t allowed to leave. So we were locked down for quite a while, and eventually the lockdown was eased so we were allowed to wander the halls, but I mostly stayed with Rosane’s staff in her office.
Q: How was it being separated from your child and for how long?
GS: I was really fortunate—I wasn’t actually separated for that long. As I said, I was in a different building, we weren’t able to connect, and that was frustrating for [Rosane]. They were allowed out sometime after 4 o’clock and we didn’t get out of it until after 8 o’clock. While I had complete and full confidence in the security and the care that was being provided at the daycare—in fact, the women who worked there are my heroes, they’re added to the list of heroes of the day, because so many children were in lockdown with them—it was very nice to hold Madeleine.
Q: Did they have enough supplies?
GS: They did. Probably the irony in this is that if I left Madeleine in there she’d be well-fed, changed regularly, well-rested because of proper nap time. They basically took care of them like a normal day. As far as the children in the daycare knew, nothing had happened, whereas we were stuck with granola bars and a little bit of fruit and one tub of yogurt, and one diaper for the day.
People began to move to the exits and then realized immediately this wasn’t going to work, this was stupid, so they began to move and I shouted out, ‘Don’t panic, people, don’t panic.’
Within seconds we began to realize we had to shut the doors and barricade stuff. And the ex-police in our caucus, they started to shout out instructions.
I chose the door they were least likely to come through. I was practical. I was going to do my duty, but in a wise and thoughtful manner.
You know, MPs aren’t always good about following rules … A few people who had forgotten or hadn’t always followed the rules, had [a phone]. So I got a call into Mom ten minutes after it started, because I couldn’t get a hold of my wife, so I told Mom, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going hear something, we’re fine, get a hold of Carol and calm her and make sure she’s calm.’
When Vickers came to speak to us and said that he had shot the guy, you could tell he had emotion.
He was holding it together, but you could tell this was a big thing in his life. He was doing his job, and he was going to continue to do his job, but man, you could tell the emotion was packed in him.
Q: What did you see?
AV: I was just leaving Ontario caucus on the fifth floor of centre block, heading down the stairs to the first floor. There’s been construction on the Hill and loud noises occasionally but this time the noise was strange and much louder. As I emerged on the first floor, security was scrambling in every direction. I was pinned against a wall by a security guard for safety and then escorted to a room for lockdown, which I’ve been in ever since.
Q: How frightening is this, that it’s happened on Parliament Hill, the institution of democracy in our country?
AV: There’s a soldier fighting for his life and our thoughts are with him. There’s a security guard that’s been shot in the leg. These things are scary for the people we ask to stand and protect us. I feel secure and I feel secure that the best people for the job are out there keeping us safe. It’s not something you live with, you don’t walk to work on a daily basis and consider this. It’s important Parliament stay open so that the public can watch their government operate but at the same time anyone with a long gun or a crazy idea in their head, intent on doing harm is capable of causing this kind of fear. We need to be smart about it and at the same time principled about it.
Q: We don’t know if it was a coincidence or planned but the fact it happened on a caucus day, when so many MPs are present. Is it frightening to think about that aspect?
AV: My guess is that there are even more when there’s a vote in the house, more public, too, so I don’t want to speculate. I just hope the soldier pulls through and that normalcy is restored in terms of Parliament getting on with its work.
We heard the bang, I heard just one big one. We were in the Peace Tower. It sounded like it came from that way, to the west of Centre Block. All of sudden there was scurrying. The police were on the scene pretty quick, with guns pulled. Now we’re just hunkering down, some of our group is in the basement. There’s lockdown all over the Hill. I wasn’t in National Caucus this morning when it happened. I haven’t even checked my email yet, I was busy taking pictures of the scene.
I’ve been a police officer for the last 11 and a half years with the Ottawa police. So our course started at 8 o’clock that morning and we were in the middle of a presentation when one of the sergeants came into the room—there’s about 40 in the course, and I would say about 25 to 30 of us were officers; I think there were nurses as well and some other agencies. So a sergeant came in and said, ‘If you have a uniform available, then get out onto the road. There’s an active shooter situation ongoing down at Parliament Hill.’ So based on that, the majority of us, maybe all of us went and put on our uniforms, and got kitted up and got equipment and cars, and headed out onto the road. That would be around, I’m guessing, 10 o’clock. It was out in Kanata, so it took—by the time we got our uniforms on and the cars and everything, we were a good half an hour or 40 minutes from getting downtown.
So basically at that point the information was quite limited as to what was going on. The sergeant said that it looked like possibly two people had been shot, and that’s really what we knew at the time. As we were approaching we realized they were setting up a staging area at Metcalfe and I think Sparks streets, and we were supposed to start staging there, and we were at that point seeking some direction about how we could be of assistance to anyone.
So I end up in East Block. At this point we didn’t know that anybody had been engaged and had been shot other than the soldier at the War Memorial had been shot and killed. We didn’t have any information other than there might be two or three people outstanding that were shooting, or potential shooters as the terminology would be. We were told it could be upwards to three at that point. And the number kept changing—it was two, it was three, it was one. The information was coming from all over the place, and it wasn’t necessarily all coming through the radio. There was quite a bit of confusion at that point.
Q: What about the reports of shots at the Rideau Centre?
SV: We got information that shooters were possibly on rooftops on Parliament Hill. And there was information—again, I don’t know where this was coming from—that there might be people on the northwest corner of where we were staying, at Metcalfe and Sparks streets. So there was a lot of conflicting information. Everything that caused stress for me that day actually never really had occurred by the end of the day. It was all information coming across that at the time we believed was accurate.
I was working in a manhole inside the gate here. [Just inside the Wellington St. fence along the south end of the Parliament Hill lawn.] We heard two gunshots over on Wellington and we saw a bunch of people running. There was a woman with her stroller and a child, and she was screaming and running. I was going to go over and help her but then we saw a man with a mask over his face — well, a scarf; long black hair; he was wearing blue pants and a black jacket and he had a double-barreled shotgun. He ran up to the side of this building here and hijacked a car at gunpoint. Didn’t hurt the gentleman in the car. And then took off towards the back here and headed off in that direction, towards the construction. That’s the last time I saw him.
When I came back over the fence here I saw another gentleman leaning up against the fence here. He had the same type of scarf but he didn’t have a weapon on him that I could see. Before I could really see what he was wearing and stuff, I popped back over the fence because somebody was screaming that he was involved, and that’s the last time I saw him.
He was about five feet from the first man with the [weapon.]
We were just pulling fibre-optic cable between manholes on Parliament.
I was more worried about the woman with the child because he ran directly beside her. And then she managed to take cover in an RCMP officer’s car and then she was fine at that point.
Q: How fast did more police come?
SW: Seconds, actually. Right away, people were screaming and then there were officers right on his tale.
It was 9:10 or 9:15—I was walking past the war memorial on my way away from Parliament Hill to give a speech to the RCMP … Every province has oversight bodies that physically investigate the police and there was a gathering of all those together, and they asked me to come down and talk about policing. So I walked by about 20 minutes or so before the shooting happened and just on Queen Street.
I obviously couldn’t help. It’s always challenging when you see something happen and you want to use your background and experience but you can’t. It was challenging to not do something. But there was no shortage of police officers and skill, it’s just a matter of that’s what you’re used to doing.
I tried to leave the building as soon as I found out and immediately was approached by RCMP and Ottawa police to return to the building, so I couldn’t even exit the building, so there was no place to go until they cleared it, and they didn’t clear it until 3:30 p.m.
I tried again to go back up—I wasn’t sure they were actually still secure on the Hill, and I found that they were. I ended up walking across to the west over past the War museum and had my wife come and pick me up, because my vehicle, my keys and everything I had was up in my office and I couldn’t get back.
I knew it was shooting right away. I’m very familiar with that sound of the 9-mil, just because that’s what I used to practice with and carry for 20 years … And I had heard what I thought was one shot of a shotgun and then a barrage of 9-mil. My initial instinct, which is what we’re taught, is get to the ground. So I just got down on the ground and then just looked over towards where you could hear the shooting coming from, which obviously we now know is the Hall of Honour. And then shortly thereafter, I had made the decision that we needed to block that door, at all costs, that door had to be blocked. So that’s what myself and a few others did, we just started grabbing the chairs and piling them up. I think my reasoning behind it was that although it would never stop a person from coming in, it would definitely slow them down. And so we had piled enough chairs there that it would have taken a person some time to get through there and in that time, with a couple of us strategically placed, you could probably deal with that person in some time.
The problem is those chairs are connected so you had to unconnect them and then get them piled up there. They are in twos, but they’re also connected electronically.
The problem, in my opinion, is that when I heard the shots, you don’t know who’s shooting. So my assumption from my previous career is that until told otherwise it’s a bad guy and you just deal with it that way. And those doors are not that thick, so I’m suspecting, whether it’s a 9-mil or any other type of weapon, that a bullet could get through there relatively easily. And, again, the chairs were not meant to stop a bullet … they were meant to impede the access of someone entering.
Even though I’ve been retired for some time, it’s instinct. Your instinct is to ensure that you try and secure the scene and ensure that everyone’s safety is as good as you can make it. And ensure that everyone stays calm.
So we had just come off a week break, so I plugged in my phone at the apartment [earlier] but I forgot to plug it into the socket. So I go to use my phone and it’s dead, right, it’s done. But me personally, from my years as a police officer, I had always had an understanding with my wife, who I’ve been married to for 33 years, I’ve said, the only call that you have to worry about is the call that they call you to tell you that I’ve passed away. Otherwise, I’m okay. That’s how I deal with it … that’s the deal. Because I don’t think that there’s a need to alarm. I do agree that for most people their first instinct is to call their loved ones and I completely understand and agree, but from my previous career there are times when you just can’t call. Like you just can’t. I was involved in the riot of 1991 in Penticton and my wife slept through the whole darn thing. Never had a clue what I was involved in and she found out about it the next morning when I came home.
We are blessed in our Conservative caucus with a number of police officers, including myself, [who have been] in some dicey situations from time to time and we were able to keep calm and keep people calm. And that’s the most important thing that you can do in a situation that occurred yesterday. Panic is the worst thing that can happen.
Just trying to get some calm in the room and get everyone to just keep their heads with them and everything will be okay. Because as soon as you lose it, you lose it. And that’s when things go wrong. But you can’t control what you can’t see and we could not control what we couldn’t see. So you can only then take care of yourself and those around you. And that’s what kicked in with me right away, was my previous career. And those other people that were in there as well, there were others in the room who were police officers who were doing well too.
I was on the Hill. I was right on the sidewalk, on the berm. We work in the manholes between the berm and the fence. I looked over that way and I saw this guy running, and he had a rifle with him. I thought he was, like, acting in a play; it didn’t seem real for a second. And then, when the rifle came up, it was right at me, I was like, “Holy f–k,” and I dove behind my van, and that’s when a young gentleman in a three-piece suit dove into my van, and I was watching from the corner of the van. He had run up; there were three cars parked in front of East Block, and the first car, he told the guy to get out. The guy got out, got on his knees, and I thought that second, he’s getting his head blown off, because the rifle was right at his face. The guy jumped into the car instead and drove off, up into Centre Block.
The guy was still on his knees. I don’t know if there were other passengers in the car. I just saw the driver get out and get on his knees, and the shooter jumped into the car and took it up into Centre Block. I started screaming, “Terrorist! Everybody down! Everybody down!”
I was on my way to a meeting and I was walking past the cenotaph. 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.
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, 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.
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?
BW: 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?
BW: 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?
BW: On his side. One was on his left side, one was on his right side.
Q: Did you have medical training?
BW: 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.
BW: 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?
BW: Yes, I am a lawyer with the Department of Justice. It’s been a long time since I was in the reserves.
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?
Q: Did it ever occur to you that you could be in danger?
BW: 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 afterward?
BW: Yes, we actually held hands afterwards. There was also a colonel on his way to [the Department of National Defence] who stopped to help. 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.
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?
BW: 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.
A letter to constituents:
The following information would normally be under a strict protocol of caucus confidentiality and security, but has been revealed in dribs and drabs to various media in the last two days, so I am not breaching that protocol reporting to you information already made public.
I should start by saying that the first responsibility of any government is to protect its people. That comes before commerce, education, healthcare… anything.
I commit to you to do my utmost as your MP to keep you and your family safe. I’ve had many conversations with my caucus colleagues in the last three days and can verify that all government caucus members feel the same way.
However, all the experts are telling us that Jihadists are fighting a new kind of war, and the actions of lone wolf terrorists, taking direction from Jihadists in other countries or here in Canada on the Internet, are very difficult to predict and protect against. The danger is here; it is real and is not going to go away in the near future. We must be vigilant.
Wednesday about 180 MP’s and Senators attended our regular Wednesday morning caucus, including the Prime Minister. While someone was speaking at the front we heard two explosions, which we originally thought were from construction underground in the West Block. Then we heard over forty rapid fire guns shots right outside our caucus door behind us.
I was always told that gun shots don’t really sound like they do in the movies, they make a popping sound. That is not true. These shots sounded exactly like the movies, except louder, thundering in the hallway. Caucus members began moving immediately towards the doors. There was no panic. We just moved quickly. The Prime Minister, who has been trained on what to do in such a case, moved to the door to our right where his two RCMP security guards always stand outside, and exited.
Four MP’s who sat near that door got out ahead of him and were up a staircase outside the door in no time. Many people were behind him. The doorway was crowded. Someone shouted out directions to exit by that door, although that turned out to be poor advice, as the terrorist was about 80 feet down the hall to the right.
Gloria and I have discussed such a possibility and my promise to her was always to get to a safe place right away. Since the doorway on my right was crowded and the shooter being right behind I went straight ahead to a low platform which holds up our projection screen and lay down behind it out of sight. No one joined me. Later I learned that was the right thing to do – hit the floor.
However, perhaps twenty of my colleagues had gathered in the same corner as me, some going behind the 9×6-foot translation booth. I got up almost immediately as I felt awkward lying on the floor when my colleagues were standing and sitting next to me. We could hit the floor quickly if need be.
Having heard over forty shots in the hall outside our door we assumed there were several terrorists in the hall with automatic weapons that were battling security guards. We would be next.
The decision was made for the Prime Minister to come back into the room and be secured in a small utility room in the corner which had a door that appeared to be part of the wood paneling – not easily visible.
Mercifully, we have seven former police officers who are MP’s in our caucus whose training and bravery kicked in. I assisted as they began to pile chairs in front of the doors. One former high school principal knew from his Code Blue training to lock the doors, block them and find a weapon. He began with others to take apart the twelve flag poles to use as spears, and six MP’s manned each side of the three doors, including one who was not a former officer. A former OPP officer announced in his booming voice: “Gentlemen we want one man on either side of those doors. If anyone comes in, be prepared to take one for the team.” There was silence. We all understood that to mean, you may die to protect all of us. And they were all prepared to do that.
There were long periods of tense silence. It is amazing how in a crisis some people rise to the occasion. This was more than training. This was bravery and sacrifice for others in action. I have never been so proud to be a member of this group of fine people. There are many other stories of kindness and courage in that room that morning. I was particularly struck by our female caucus members. Their courage and dignity was inspirational. One used her iPad to send a note to my wife Gloria to say I was alright. Others chatted calmly, despite the tension. One smiled and even laughed a little. Everyone was dignified and brave. We were essentially waiting for what we thought would happen: armed terrorists to come into the room and start shooting. As I write this to you it still impresses me.
Then two RCMP officers came in and took the Prime Minister out the opposite door, to applause, immediately hushed as a precaution.
Of course there was a risk that terrorists could find us by any noise. It was like a scary movie as the handle to the door at the back began to rattle in the silence. A security guard who had made it into the room went over and asked through the door and piled up chairs “Who is it?” “The RCMP.” As he went to pull back the chairs perhaps fifty people said “Nooo!” If it was a terrorist, that’s what he might say. However, the guard had a radio earphone and recognized the voice I guess, and the RCMP officer had a key for the door anyway. To our chagrin the door opened out, not in!
Then after a total of about fifteen minutes of tension the sergeant-at-arms, Kevin Vickers came in, stern and tense. He walked to the microphone in his dignified way and told us a gunman had entered the building and had shot a guard in the leg. “I shot him with my revolver. He is dead.” You may read variations of this statement and I may have it slightly wrong. Things were happening quickly. However, it was clear to us that the level of threat was lower and the shots we heard were the guards shooting at the terrorist. He was dead. We all applauded.
We stayed in that room due to an abundance of caution until five p.m. There were reports and fears of another gunman in the building. There was also the possibility of a second wave attack or a suicide bomber.
We found out later the terrorist was hit by many bullets, but had a bullet-proof vest on. He was not killed until the Sergeant-at-Arms rolled over towards him and shot him in the head. I also heard that Mr. Vickers goes weekly to a shooting range to keep highly trained for such an occasion. He is a hero, no doubt.
This was the closest you can get to a bloodbath without there being one. An armed terrorist on a suicide mission came within seventy feet of our Prime Minister, Ministers and caucus, and on the other side of the hall, the official opposition. If he knew which way to turn, you can imagine the deaths.
If he’d had a bomb, or a few other terrorists with him there would have been an unimaginable tragedy. The security people all did their jobs well. They stopped the killer, but we were not properly prepared.
This was as real as it gets and we were very lucky it was not worse, but be assured there will be many changes in security in Parliament in the coming days and weeks, and in Canada.
I believe we need new charges to empower police to stop the Jihadists from recruiting on the Internet, and new tools related to detention and arrest to help our security services keep us safe from this new warfare.
I’m a dad of four kids, so the dad in you kicks in and, okay, well, you don’t want to put yourself at risk, but you also want to make sure you take care of your colleagues and do what you can to prevent it getting any worse. We were all standing at different positions and doors, [so] that we weren’t going to give the guy an easy shot at it. So some of us would have pulled him down or took him out.
We were in Israel this summer, and it was a very similar experience in a lot of ways when the rockets were coming. There’s a heightened level of awareness, but I’m a Christian, so I’m not afraid to go, I guess you could say, or I’m ready to go . . . It was more just, okay, let’s keep the situation as safe as we can in terms of, if guys are going to come in, let’s do what we have to do to make sure that they don’t hurt anybody else. Fear wasn’t really there.
Hearing the rapid gunfire . . . we didn’t know. The vision of four people walking in with AK-47s is what went through my mind. And that’s why we needed people at every door, because if there’s a volume of these guys . . .
I called my wife just to say, you know, everything’s okay, and my wife, she’s a pretty low-key person and she said, “Okay, you’re good, that’s good.” That was all.
The thing that I regretted is that I was doing so much on Twitter and responding on Twitter and Facebook to different people, saying, “We’re okay,” that I ran out of battery and I couldn’t call when my kids were getting home from school. So the first I got to talk to them is when I drove up at about 9:30 at night.
Everybody on the scene had a story. We want to hear yours. Where were you when the crisis unfolded, what did you see, and what stands out from those harrowing moments? If you have a story to tell, fill out the form below.