WATCH ABOVE: Thousands line the streets in Hamilton as Cpl. Nathan Cirillo’s procession arrives. Peter Kim reports
TORONTO – Hundreds of Canadians gathered along Ontario’s Highway of Heroes on Friday to pay their respects to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian soldier who was shot dead this week while guarding the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
A procession carrying the fallen soldier left Ottawa Friday afternoon to make the six-hour trip along Hwy. 401 back to Cirillo’s hometown of Hamilton, Ont. People lining the overpasses along the highway broke into renditions of ‘O Canada’ as the procession carrying Cirillo drove past.
When the motorcade arrived in Hamilton, Ont., it was greeted by crowds that applauded, burst into song and waved Canadian flags.
Meanwhile, Cirillo’s family made their first public statement since the soldier’s death. Standing next to Cirillo’s stepfather Victor Briffa, Capt. Robert Andrushko of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders read a statement thanking the country for its support.
“Nathan would have done his duty, even if he knew this tragedy was coming,” read Andrushko, who was Cirillo’s company commander.
“Nathan was Canada’s son. He belonged to all of us.”
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The family also said it was grateful for the nation’s support, including the tributes to Cirillo during sports games.
The outpouring of sympathy has made the loss “almost bearable,” the family said, adding that they take comfort in knowing Cirillo has made Canada proud.
“We always thought we lived in the best country in the world; the people just proved it,” read Andrushko.
Honouring the fallen: The route of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo’s final journey home
The 24-year-old was shot and killed after a gunman opened fire in the nation’s capital Wednesday.
The unarmed reservist, with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, was guarding the National War Memorial when Michael Joseph Zehaf-Bibeau opened fire on the monument before storming Parliament Hill.
Cirillo is being remembered as a “proud soldier,” a loving father and a dog lover.
Friends, strangers and dignitaries paid their respects in Hamilton Thursday at a makeshift memorial outside of the John W. Foote VC Armoury in Hamilton where the soldier began his career at 13 years old.
A friend of the Cirillo family, who had known the fallen soldier since he was two years old, said Cirillo loved what he did.
“I actually worked with the mother for ten years in a restaurant. She had three beautiful children, loved her children,” Carmela Giglia said. “He was so proud to be a soldier, and she spoke so highly of him. He loved it. And to die this way is just horrible.”
Cirillo leaves behind a son and two dogs.
“My heart breaks for the family, my heart breaks for the soldiers that knew him, my heart breaks for his son. It’s awful,” said Giglia.
Barbara Winters, a lawyer, was on her way to a meeting Wednesday near her office at the Canada Revenue Agency when she passed the National War Memorial, moments before the fatal shooting.
Moments after Cirillo was shot multiple times at close range, Winters ran towards the war memorial to the soldier’s aid.
Several people were tending to the injured solider who was still conscious at the time as they waited for an ambulance to arrive.
Winters, who served as a medic during her 17 years in the Naval Reserve, spoke with the soldier as others worked to save him.
“You’re a good man, you’re a brave man,” she told him. “You are loved. Your family loves you. You’re a good man.”
Cirillo died in hospital a short time later.
A funeral will be held Tuesday in Hamilton.
-With files from Andrew Russell and The Canadian Press