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Remembering Hamilton’s Corporal Nathan Cirillo 5 years after Ottawa attack

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo's sisters look on as Cirillo's son Marcus places a wreath at a memorial plaque on the one year anniversary of his death.
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo's sisters look on as Cirillo's son Marcus places a wreath at a memorial plaque on the one year anniversary of his death. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

It was five years ago that Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed by a gunman while serving as an honour guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

The 24-year old Cirillo was a member of Hamilton’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement Tuesday to mark the five-year anniversary of the Hamiltonian’s death.

“Five years ago today, a senseless attack at the National War Memorial and Parliament Hill in Ottawa claimed the life of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a sentry at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and injured several others,” said Trudeau.

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READ MORE: Bill Kelly: Remembering Nathan Cirillo

The gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was shot and killed inside the Centre Block of Parliament.

It wasn’t the only tragic blow dealt against Canada’s armed forces at the time.

Two days before the attack that claimed Cirillo’s life, 53-year-old Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed in an attack in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec.

Trudeau’s statement on Tuesday also recognized Vincent’s death.

“As we remember these two brave members of our Canadian Armed Forces, we also thank the bystanders who provided first aid, as well as the first responders and members of our Parliamentary family who put their safety at risk to protect us.”

READ MORE: Cpl. Nathan Cirillo honoured on 1-year anniversary of his death

Glen Gibson, honourary colonel of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, reminisced on the fifth anniversary of the tragic events that took Cirillo away from his mother, Katherine, and his young son, Marcus.

Speaking on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show, Gibson said he had been teaching in the United States when he received the news. His first phone call was to then-honourary colonel Ron Foxcroft, followed by several more calls, at which point he learned Queen Elizabeth II — who is the colonel-in-chief of the regiment — was aware of what had happened.

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“She apparently caught the news over in England,” said Gibson. “She saw the dice socks on the Argyll soldier and she knew immediately it was one of her soldiers.”

Immediately following Cirillo’s death, Gibson said the regiment flew into action and came to the aid of his mother and his son. What happened next was an outpouring of support for Cirillo’s family, including a national funeral.

“Justin Trudeau was there, Stephen Harper, and it was an incredible situation to be in the middle of,” said Gibson. “The organization that went into it was very surreal.”

Click to play video 'Canadians leave poppies on Tomb of Unknown Soldier for Remembrance Day' Canadians leave poppies on Tomb of Unknown Soldier for Remembrance Day
Canadians leave poppies on Tomb of Unknown Soldier for Remembrance Day

One memory in particular, made Gibson choke up — remembering when he visited the funeral home and watched young Marcus walk up to the open casket.

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“It just hit me, as he was staring at his dad, just how powerful of a loss it was. And I’ve got grandchildren.”

“I just was thinking, ‘What’s going through this little guy’s mind?’ Unbelievable.”

READ MORE: ‘Parliament belongs to us.’ Megan Leslie remembers Parliament Hill attack one year later

One of the ways the city of Hamilton has honoured Cirillo’s memory is by naming one of his favourite places after him — the Nathan Cirillo Leash-Free dog park in the Meadowlands in Ancaster. The area was renamed during a ceremony in October 2015, one year after his death.

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On July 1 of this year, a Canadian flag was installed at the park. At that time, Gibson said he had an opportunity to speak with Nathan’s mother.

“She is surrounded with a wonderful family who are all raising Marcus,” Gibson said. “And the regimental family of the Argylls is around him and will be looking after him on the road ahead. And we hope for great things for Marcus, coming out of this tragedy.”

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