WATCH ABOVE: Ten years ago, four young men were murdered while protecting their community. Kendra Slugoski explains how their sacrifice is being honoured.
EDMONTON — On Tuesday, Albertans marked a tragic day in Canadian history. Exactly 10 years ago, four RCMP officers were shot and killed near Mayerthorpe.
“In ways it doesn’t seem like 10 years, in other ways it seems like forever,” says Margaret Thibault with the Fallen Four Memorial Society.
“It seems like we haven’t had any other life but this.”
The officers were killed while staking out property owned by James Roszko. Constables Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol and Peter Schiemann died on March 3, 2005, after being shot with high-powered bullets from a semi-automatic military assault rifle. Gunman James Roszko later shot himself after being wounded by an officer.
“We didn’t want it to define who we are,” says Thibault. “That’s not who Mayerthorpe is.”
The Fallen Four Memorial Park was created, she says, to have something positive to counteract the negative.
WATCH: The annual Remembrance Ceremony and memorial candle lighting took place at the park Tuesday evening.
“We want to remember our four guys,” explains Thibault, adding the vigil also pays tribute to anyone who’s worn a uniform.
“Those who step up to the plate everyday.”
Close to 200 people attended Tuesday night’s vigil.
“I came here tonight and realize how blessed I was to get through my service,” said retired RCMP officer Kathy Prentice. “There are four young men who will never get to retire. It brings out a lot of emotions.”
“I think it was very touching,” echoed Tina Prodaniuk, a crime prevention coordinator at the Whitecourt RCMP detachment. “The candlelight vigil is the perfect way to celebrate their lives.”
The names of 10 officers added to the honour list were read aloud and local students performed a special performance of ‘Love Can Build a Bridge’. In 2005, the Grade 1 class performed the song in sign language.
“It was absolutely profound,” Thibeault recalls. “The Grade 1s, they were our innocence, they were our future… everything we needed at the time. And now, this year, they’re in Grade 11.
“They’re coming back to do the song again … but they’ll be joined by this year’s Grade 1s.”
Tyler McComb is a Grade 11 student who performed alongside his younger sister who’s in Grade 1.
“Coming back today is just an eye opener,” he said.
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice said attending the funeral service in Mayerthorpe a decade ago changed him.
“It is difficult… The sheer magnitude of what happened I think is something that’s been left with all of us.”
“There are a lot of us in public service,” he added, “but there are a smaller number who, everyday put their lives on the line to protect us.”
Prentice said that devastating loss impacted the way he saw members of the RCMP.
“I never meet a Mountie now – since that day in Mayerthorpe – that I don’t thank them for their service to the country.”
What’s changed since?
“All internal and independent external reviews have determined that, given the circumstances, there was nothing the RCMP could have done to prevent this tragedy,” said Cpl. Sharon Franks, a communications officer with Southern Alberta RCMP.
However, she explained that the reviews have helped make enhancements to officer safety.
“Since this, we have provided Carbine rifles in the RCMP detachments across the province.”
Hard body armour is also available for officers at every Alberta detachment.
In addition, the RCMP revised policy related to the execution of search warrants and scene security and Alberta now has two fully-staffed Emergency Response Teams (ERT) to respond in instances where there may be a higher risk to the public or police.
“Each province would roll out their training protocols in a slightly different manner,” explained Franks. The training and equipment for officers is done on a province-by-province basis.
In the wake of the Moncton RCMP shooting, a review suggested officers there be provided with hard body armour and high-powered assault rifles.
“I think the most important part is the protection, the body armour and the equipment,” said Darryl Davis, a Carlton University professor who authored a report to RCMP following the Mayerthorpe shooting. Some of the same recommendations he outlined in 2005 were included in a review following the Moncton shooting.
“I think those are central to safeguarding the lives of our officers when they’re in that type of situation.”
Hard body armour was supposed to be distributed to RCMP officers across the country in 2012, but none of the responding officers in Moncton was wearing it. Davis stressed that needs to change.
WATCH: As is done every year, a candlelight vigil will be held at 6:30 at Fallen Four Memorial Park. Jessica Kent is there.
In Alberta, Franks says the RCMP is committed to providing employees with any support they need in the aftermath of events like these. She also says the support from across the country does not go unnoticed.
“The RCMP does appreciate the support it receives from Canadians in times of sadness… It tells the police that Canadians do appreciate the risk we take to ensure the safety of all of our communities.”
Tuesday will be an emotional day for many, especially for those in Mayerthorpe.
“You realize the importance of family and friends,” says Thibault. “You realize the importance of accomplishing whatever you can each day because you may not have another day. These tragedies show us that.
“In honour of them, we want to do the best we can with everyday we’re given.”
Province’s statement on Fallen Four anniversary:
Premier Jim Prentice:
“Ten years ago today, four young men gave their lives serving and protecting the people and the province of Alberta. My thoughts are with the families of Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol and Peter Schiemann on this sad day. I ask all Albertans to join me in expressing our gratitude to their families and, indeed, to all current and past members of law enforcement agencies across our province for their commitment to ensuring our communities’ safety and security.”
Justice Minister Jonathan Denis:
“I join all Albertans as we remember the four brave RCMP officers who made the ultimate sacrifice in Mayerthorpe 10 years ago. This tragic anniversary, like other recent, senseless acts of violence against police personnel, reminds us of the risks that all peace and police officers face while carrying out their duties every day. For that, they deserve – and have – our deepest gratitude and respect.”
Federal minister’s statement:
Canada’s minister of public safety, Steven Blaney, said:
“On this day ten years ago, Canadians across our nation offered their condolences and grieved with the families of RCMP Constables Anthony Gordon, Lionide Johnston, Brock Myrol and Peter Schiemann. These brave officers were slain in the line of duty, protecting the safety and security of their community.
“It is important that we pause to remember the sacrifices made by our law enforcement officers. In these moments, we are granted an opportunity to better appreciate the dangers faced by officers across Canada, and can truly reflect on how fortunate we are to have such a courageous and devoted law enforcement community.
“Our Government supports Canada’s law enforcement agencies with the legislative tools and resources they need to fight crime, and ensure the safety and security of our communities. We will continue to protect the rights of victims and ensure that criminals face the full force of the law.”
*NOTE: This article was originally published on March 2 and was updated on March 3 following the vigil.