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‘There is a shooter on the loose!’ First-hand account of Ottawa shooting aftermath

Weapons and personal belongings are pictured at the National War Memorial as police secure the area near Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday Oct.22, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – “Everybody should go home. Hug your family.”

The police officer was blunt, but how could he not be?

We were standing on a cordoned-off downtown street, digesting the aftermath of a horrific incident witnessed minutes ago.

I had just gotten to work when I heard about a possible shooting on Parliament Hill.

I ran outside and across the street I saw a soldier laying on the steps of Ottawa’s war memorial, as paramedics pumped vigorously on his chest.

READ MORE: Soldier killed in Ottawa identified

Two women lay beside him, crying, looking lost.

The soldier was laid onto a stretcher, and wheeled into an ambulance as a medic continued to perform CPR.

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I didn’t know he was a 24-year-old reservist from Hamilton, or that his name was Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.

I didn’t know then that the soldier would die.

All I knew was something was terrible had happened. And it wasn’t over.

Soon word spread about a shooting in Centre Block – the epicentre of our democracy.

READ MORE: What we know about suspected shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau

“There is a shooter on the loose!” a police officer screamed, as he pushed us away from the deadly scene.

One woman who witnessed the war memorial killing held her hands to her head when she heard about the second shooting in Centre Block.

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“Oh my god,” she sighed.

“I’ve got to get out of here before I get killed.”

I felt my stomach drop. I looked skyward, suddenly feeling very unsafe. Ambulance sirens blared in the background.

The woman described what she saw on her way to the art gallery that morning.

“All of a sudden a man – he was tall and thin with black hair, and he had, it looked like a black and white scarf on his head and a gun, rifle…it was huge, and he ran around and he shot…“

Follow our live blog here for the latest updates on the shooting in Ottawa

Police whisked the woman away.

We were pushed south on Elgin St., one of Ottawa’s major downtown streets, as police conducted a frantic investigation in real time.

At one point a security guard from a nearby building approached police and told them a man had come in to ask about their security protocols.

The guard asked what the man meant, and the man laughed, saying: “This was all done in the name of freedom.”

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We don’t know if that meant anything.

Like much of Wednesday, it was a blur of mixed messages and unconfirmed reports. Were there multiple shooters? Is one still out there? Who would do something like this?

Police refused to say.

We later learned the identity of the suspect, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, from American media reports.

There are still so many questions, in a town where the only weapons are usually just words hurled at politicians.

But that police officer had one thing right.

”This is not a safe environment. Everyone should go home. Hug your family.”

And I will.

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