By Allison Jones and Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press | The Canadian Press
TORONTO – Sgt. Ryan Russell‘s widow says the fallen officer always put others first, and that selflessness cost him his life.
Christine Russell, with a laboured voice and through tears, addressed thousands of mourners Tuesday at her husband’s memorial service.
“It is with Ryan’s courage and his bravery, and along with all of you and your support, I am able to stand here,” she said.
“I find so much comfort when I look at my little boy because I see so much of Ryan in him,” she added.
“We will love you forever and always.”
Russell was the first Toronto officer to be killed in the line of duty in almost a decade. The 35-year old was fatally struck by a stolen snowplow that led police on a wild chase through Toronto streets last Wednesday.
Russell’s widow walked hand-in-hand with the couple’s son, Nolan, as the memorial service for the fallen officer began at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Nolan, dressed in a dark suit, his blond hair newly cropped, talked innocently as his father’s casket was laid on the podium and his mother stroked the little boy’s head.
Staff Supt. Jeff McGuire told those assembled he first met Russell just one day before he was killed, on Yonge Street where police were dealing with a report of an armed man in a car.
McGuire said Russell, as the officer supervising the situation, smiled and was happy, and was clearly “in charge of his people.”
Christine nodded in agreement during accolades heaped on her husband and managed a brief laugh at a story of how he brought home a stray cat that turned out to be pregnant.
“I don’t think that there is a heart in Toronto so strong that it has not been touched by the images of Ryan Russell, husband and father, embracing his wife and his child,” police Chief Bill Blair told the service.
“It is an image that has defined the man for us. And it has helped us to understand the full extent of his sacrifice.”
Former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino, now a federal cabinet minister, called Russell a “modern day hero.”
The officer was a “remarkable person,” added Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley.
“In life and death, Ryan represented the virtues we admire most as a city, as a province, as a nation. The virtues are courage and character,” Onley said.
“Our outpouring of respect for him is a large part of who he was as a person and who we are as a people.”
Earlier Tuesday, hundreds of people lined the streets of Toronto to watch the funeral procession — clapping as his hearse moved past.
A pipe and drum band led the motorcade, which was preceded by a procession of 12,500 officers in full dress uniform from acrossCanada and the United States.
The massive turnout delayed the service, which was to begin at 1 p.m., for nearly one hour. Some 10,000 chairs were set out, yet hundreds more lined the walls of the cavernous convention centre. Still more were directed to an overflow room.
Chief Blair was to present the family with Russell’s forage cap and the Toronto Police Service flag.
Members of the public who watched the procession to the convention centre said the police support citizens, so it’s important to support them in a time of tragedy.
“They serve the country and it’s an honour to be here,” said Hamilton resident Linda Court.
“I was bothered to see how he died. It was tragic.”
One woman’s eyes filled with tears watching the procession go by, too emotional to put into words why she was so moved.
At the front of the huge convention hall above a display of plush bears and between several bouquets, there were photographs of Russell with his wife and infant son.
In front of one baby picture of Nolan was a small floral arrangement, with a white ribbon draped across it. On the band was just one word in gold letters: Daddy.
Officers gave each other hugs Tuesday morning at 52 Division, where members of the guns and gangs task force — Russell’s old unit — also gathered.
Const. Brenda MacIntosh, of Cornwall police, said she came to support the police “brotherhood” in a time of grief.
“We all feel that we’re part of one big family,” she said. “It’s overwhelming to see the sea of officers that are here.”
Det.-Const. Sheldon Steinke of the Regina police said he was “in awe” of the sight of thousands of uniformed police officers marching through the streets. He said he came a long way, but it’s important to show solidarity within the policing family.
Canadian tenor John McDermott performed “Wind Beneath My Wings,” and a family friend sang an original piece composed for the memorial, “Ryan’s Song.”
The service was broadcast on the big screen at the mid-town Yonge and Dundas Square and outside the Air Canada Centre.
Justine Olmstead, a 24-year-old Humber College police student, showed up to lend her support. She said the tragedy has not deterred her from wanting to join the police force. If fact she is even more encouraged to do so.
“It’s brought a lot of joy to me to see how Toronto shows so much respect for the police force,” said Olmstead.
“This could be me one day. Hopefully I would have the same respect shown back to me.”
A 44-year-old drifter, Richard Kachkar, who was shot and seriously injured by police when arrested, faces first-degree murder charges and was expected in court Friday for a bail hearing.
Toronto police said Tuesday that Kachkar is out of hospital and being held at a Milton, Ont., detention centre.