Selflessness cost Toronto police officer his life, widow tells hushed mourners

Allison Jones and Colin Perkel
February 04, 2011
By Allison Jones and Colin Perkel
Jan 18 2011 TORONTO - The widow of a police officer choked back tears Tuesday as she told a hushed crowd of thousands how her husband's selflessness led to the death of a man whose legacy lives on in their young son. In a laboured voice at Sgt. Ryan Russell's memorial service, Christine Russell praised her husband for his courage and bravery.

Jan 18 2011

TORONTO - The widow of a police officer choked back tears Tuesday as she told a hushed crowd of thousands how her husband's selflessness led to the death of a man whose legacy lives on in their young son.

In a laboured voice at Sgt. Ryan Russell's memorial service, Christine Russell praised her husband for his courage and bravery.

"Ryan always put others before himself; on Jan. 12, this cost him his life," Russell said.

"I find so much comfort when I look at my little boy because I see so much of Ryan in him."

Russell, 35, was killed last week when he was hit by a stolen snowplow he was trying to stop.

His death - the first Toronto officer killed in the line of duty in almost a decade - sparked a huge outpouring of public support.

As citizens lined downtown streets, about 12,500 uniformed police officers and other emergency personnel from across Canada marched in a blocks-long funeral procession to the cavernous convention centre, where the televised memorial was held.

"It is with Ryan's courage and his bravery, and along with all of you and your support, I am able to stand here," Christine Russell said, her image projected on four giant screens.

Earlier, flanked by family, Russell walked hand-in-hand with the couple's two-year-old son Nolan into the hushed hall, which was filled to capacity.

Nolan, dressed in a dark suit, his blond hair newly cropped, fidgeted, climbed on seats and talked innocently as his father's casket was laid on the podium and his mother stroked his head.

"Where's my candy?" he asked at one point.

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 then-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.

As the service got underway, Nolan was taken from the hall by relatives, while his mother listened to praise, prayers and songs for her husband.

A composed Christine Russell nodded in agreement as speakers heaped accolades on her husband, even managing a brief laugh at a story of how he had 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.

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 was out of hospital and being held at a detention centre.

Earlier in the day, a sea of police, most in blue uniforms, stretched more than one kilometre long as the procession wound its way down normally busy financial district streets.

Hundreds of citizens lining the way fell silent as the officers moved past. At times, all that could be heard was the sound of marching footsteps.

A pipe and drum band led the motorcade that followed the procession. Members of the public burst into applause as the hearse drove past.

"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."

As she watched the procession, one woman's eyes filled with tears, too emotional to put into words why she was so moved.

Inside, the hall, 10,000 chairs were set out, yet hundreds more lined the walls of the cavernous room. Still more were directed to an overflow hall.

Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley said Ryan represented the virtues of courage and character.

"Our outpouring of respect for him is a large part of who he was as a person and who we are as a people," Onley said.

Blair presented the family with Russell's forage cap and the Toronto Police Service flag, which the family carried behind the casket as the ceremony ended.

Russell, whose father was also a Toronto police officer, had been with the force for 11 years. He was promoted to sergeant six months ago after serving on the guns and gangs task force.

At 52 Division, officers hugged each other Tuesday morning.

Const. Brenda MacIntosh, a police officer from Cornwall, Ont., said she came to support the "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."

The service was broadcast on the big screen at the mid-town Yonge and Dundas Square and outside the Air Canada Centre.

Canadian tenor John McDermott performed "Wind Beneath My Wings," while a family friend sang an original piece composed for the memorial, "Ryan's Song."

The city's landmark CN Tower was lit blue Tuesday night in Russell's honour and as a tribute to Toronto police.

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