On a cold March day in 2005, Anthony Gordon and Leonide Johnston were on routine assignment at a farm just north of Mayerthorpe, Alta.
The RCMP constables were guarding the property of James Roszko, who had fled the scene earlier when other officers had arrived to seize his truck. A marijuana grow-op and stolen car parts were discovered on the site.
When constables Peter Schiemann and Brock Myrol also arrived on the scene, the four officers made their way into a storage building. What they didn’t know was that Roszko had secretly hitched a ride back to his farm. Shots rang out. Within minutes, all four constables were dead. Roszko then shot himself.
It was the worst loss of life for the RCMP in a century, and left the force and the public reeling. How could this have happened? What went wrong? It seemed unimaginable.
And yet, less than a decade later, here we are again. Three RCMP officers dead and two injured in Moncton. The culprit? A lone, angry gunman.
It’s easy to get complacent about the work of police officers. They often don’t get the respect they deserve. In fact, when police mishandle a situation, it can stay in the headlines for days.
The RCMP, in particular, has come under considerable scrutiny in recent times, both for actions in the field and for misbehaviour within the ranks. All these events deserve to be highlighted, analyzed and, ideally, fixed. Even tragedies such as Wednesday’s shooting will spur a painful investigation into how such carnage could happen. Again.
But now it is perhaps more appropriate to reflect on one important distinction between us and them, between police officers and the rest of the citizenry.
When we are told to avoid a certain area, to stay inside and lock the doors, when we are evacuated from a violent crime scene, or understandably flee on our own terms — these are the men and women who place themselves between us and the barrel of a killer’s gun.
There is no other job like it.
Last year, one of the widows of the Mayerthorpe officers was asked how she was coping with the loss of her husband.
“Sometimes it seems like forever since I’ve seen Brock and the next minute it seems like yesterday,” Colleen Myrol told the Edmonton Sun. “Some things bring back memories and it can be the strangest thing. Even the weather can bring back the memory, the moment, that type of thing.”
Three families in Moncton now face that enduring grief. And all the tributes and camaraderie and solemn ceremonies will only go so far in comforting them. Forever is a long time.
Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when thousands of Allied soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, like lambs flocking to their slaughter. The families of those who died will never forget their loss, and those who survived will forever be haunted by the violence they experienced.
It’s not too much to ask that while we pay tribute to those who gave and risked their lives in Europe so many years ago, we might also spare a thought or two for those at home who venture out on the streets every day, not knowing whether they’ll return home at night.
They are heroes, all.