Const. Morgan Russell was known as a mentor to many during his 33 years with the tight-knit South Simcoe Police Service.
In his role as a recruiter, he was on the interview panel six years ago for a young man “who would turn out to be just like Mo,” a colleague recalled Thursday at the funeral for Russell and Const. Devon Northrup, who were shot dead in Innisfil, Ont., last week.
Colleagues, relatives and police officers from across Canada gathered in Barrie, Ont., for the service that remembered Russell, 54, and Northrup, 33, as funny, kind and dedicated front-line officers who loved their jobs and treated the community members they served with respect.
“Every one of you was touched by these remarkable officers, in every one of you will undoubtedly miss them,” Sgt. Leah Thomas, who described them as kind, compassionate and courageous.
“They showed respect to every single person that they came into contact with. These admirable traits are now their legacy.”
Russell passed over promotional opportunities and stayed on the job past retirement age out of his love for front-line work and a desire to spend time with his family, Thomas and others recalled, while Northrup made a mark during his six years with the force.
The service at the Sadlon Arena, which was attended by families, thousands of police officers, emergency responders and officials, reflected on the risks of the job in light of a string of police deaths that’s shaken forces across the country. Russell and Northrup were shot dead while responding to a disturbance call at a home.
Their families recalled the day they sent their loved ones off to work for the last time.
Const. Annie Romard, Northrup’s spouse who also serves in the small police force north of Toronto, recalled dancing in the kitchen with her partner that morning before saying goodbye, and texting throughout the day about their plans to see each other that night.
“As always, before one of us walked out that door, we said: stay safe,” she said. “Little did either of us know our lives would be changed forever.”
Other speakers remembered Northrup and Romard as a perfect match with complementary senses of humour.
Northrup came from a policing family — parents Ron and Heather, retired RCMP officers, spoke to their “unbelievably painful” loss of their son who had dreamed since high school of becoming a police officer, and loved spending time with family, friends and his hobbies related to fitness and cooking.
Marisa Russell, the widow of Const. Russell, recalled him hugging their family goodbye, before later getting the news that they had “lost our source of strength.”
“We were so lucky to have Morgan as a part of our family unit for as long as we did,” she said, remembering him as a front-line officer who took risks to protect community safety.
“Please respect our police. They’ve earned it.”
Russell was a trained crisis negotiator, while Northrup worked with the community mobilization and engagement unit and served as a member of the mental health crisis outreach team. The province’s police watchdog has said neither officer drew their firearms before they were shot. Both officers died in hospital after the shooting.
Bagpipes played as pallbearers carried the officers’ caskets to the front of the venue, where flowers and portraits of Russell and Northrup were on display. Folded Canadian flags and police caps were placed on top of the caskets.
Lt.-Gov. ElizabethDowdeswell opened the service with remarks about the two men, saying she had spoken to their colleagues about reflections that “leave no doubt that they were admired, valued and will not be forgotten.”
The deaths of Russell and Northrup mark three officers shot dead in Ontario in a month after the fatal shooting of Toronto Const. Andrew Hong in Mississauga, Ont., in mid-September.
Dowdeswell noted the string of deaths, saying the recent weeks have been “a devastating time for police and emergency services.”
“Perhaps we don’t say it often enough: thank you,” she said.
Premier Doug Ford, who became emotional at times as he spoke at the funeral, also noted the recent losses among police.
“We have seen too many days recently when these heroes didn’t return from their shift. That hits home,” Ford said.
“This police family will endure … You will do so with two guardian angels smiling down on you.”
Pallbearers carried the Canada flag-draped caskets out of the venue to bagpipe music at the end of the service.
The funeral also came two days after RCMP officer Const. Shaelyn Yang was fatally stabbed in Burnaby, B.C., during an altercation at a homeless campsite. Yang was a mental health and homeless outreach officer.
Earlier Thursday, uniformed officers lined the streets outside the arena to salute the funeral cortege as it passed. Community members also gathered at the side of the road to watch and pay respects.
Officers from Toronto, South Simcoe, York Region, and Barrie police services along with hundreds of RCMP and other police force members joined the morning procession as it moved through snowy Barrie streets.
In Innisfil, a short drive from where the funeral was taking place, a group of residents gathered at the main worship room at a local church to watch a livestream of it.
Pastor Susan Burston said the church wanted to open its doors to offer community members a place to gather after the tragedy.
“It’s a small community, and everyone wants to be able to come together,” she said after the service. “You didn’t have to know them to be incredibly touched by what happened today.”