Son of slain RCMP officer exchanges letters with the man who killed his father

Ricky Strongquill turned his life around when he wrote a letter to the man who murdered his father.

'Bring it to light' says Ricky Strongquill, who struggled with the 2001 death of Const. Dennis Strongquill

Ricky Strongquill. (Aidan Geary/CBC)

Ricky Strongquill turned his life around when he wrote a letter to the man who murdered his father.

He'd spent more than a decade living with addictions and the inner turmoil that was set in motion in December 2001, when Robert Sand shot and killed his father, Const. Dennis Strongquill, during a traffic stop for a routine violation.

Sand was later convicted of first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence in prison.

That's where Strongquill addressed the letter to him 13 years later, in 2014. A long road through addiction made him want to deal with the resentment and pain he was holding onto and find forgiveness.

"It's the only thing I know that kills darkness, is light," Strongquill said.

"And that's the whole thing, is bringing those dark things to the surface and talking about them."

A letter written by Robert Sand to Ricky Strongquill in 2014. (Submitted by Ricky Strongquill)

In his first letter to Robert Sand, Strongquill said he wrote that he was working on himself and he wanted to find forgiveness.

"I explained to him that I'm not speaking on behalf of my family. I'm speaking only on behalf of me. In fact, there are probably other family members that feel very differently about what I'm doing," Strongquill said.

"And it's not to get you out of jail quicker than what your sentence is, it's just, I need to do this for myself."

In the letter he got back, Strongquill said he could feel that Sand was working on himself, too.

"You and I have a couple things in common I noticed after reading your letter," Sand wrote. "I also haven't missed a day thinking about your father, my brother and everything that happend in those dark days.

"I've lived a life of many regrets but the loss of our loved ones and the widespread trauma I caused is by far my biggest."

A letter written by Robert Sand to Ricky Strongquill in 2014. (Submitted by Ricky Strongquill)

'Nothing but good'

Const. Dennis Strongquill, a 20-year veteran of the force, was 52 when he and a partner pulled over a truck for failing to dim its high beams in December 2001.

The occupants, Robert Sand and two others, had stolen the truck. Sand had a gun and started shooting. In the exchange that followed, Dennis Strongquill was killed.
RCMP Const. Dennis Strongquill, a 52-year-old father of 6, was killed in December 2001. (CBC)

Robert Sand's brother, Danny Sand, was also in the truck. He later died in a standoff with police.

​At the time, Strongquill was in his early 20s and already experimenting with drugs and alcohol. When his father died, he became addicted.

"After that happened, it just spiralled out of control. I just didn't care," he said. "I had the go-ahead to make this OK, to use and to drink, and nobody can say anything about that."

"I was at a point where I hated the world, found any excuse to do it, right?"

Multiple attempts to stop using brought him to treatment centres and programs that taught him about spirituality and self-improvement.

"That's where I got those teachings from, and I thought to myself, you know, 'The drugs and the alcohol aren't the problem here. It's me. It's the resentment and the hate that's bottled up inside me that just needs to go,'" Strongquill said.

"And so I decided, you know, to bring it to light one day and just forgive and let go, and since then it's been nothing but good."

A letter written by Robert Sand to Ricky Strongquill in 2014. (Submitted by Ricky Strongquill)

From Sand's letters, Strongquill said the words that stand out the most are the ones where Sand writes that Strongquill's father would have been proud of his son.

"I've heard that my entire life, even when my dad was alive. 'Your dad's going to be proud of you,'" Strongquill said. "After he died, I've heard that a few times, 'Your dad would be proud of you.' But reading those words — and still to this day, reading that letter, it brings tears to my eyes."

"It's funny that it had to be Robert to be the person to get that kind of response out of me. But it is what it is."

'That's the proof'

Two years after their first letters, Sand wrote Strongquill again following a visit from Strongquill's sister. She'd told Sand that Strongquill was struggling and had relapsed into drug use.

"Hearing this I wanted to do something to help, not knowing how I could, I decided to write," Sand wrote in a letter dated March 29, 2016.

"Ricky I hope that you won't give up on that sobriety and that happy and [joyous] life free from drugs and alcohol. I know that you have the strength to pick yourself back up."

A letter from Robert Sand to Ricky Strongquill, dated March 29, 2016.

The letter was encouraging, Strongquill said. He's been clean and sober for more than a year, and is about to graduate from culinary school.

He wants to be a chef in Winnipeg, and looks forward to mentoring young employees. After his own experience with grief and addiction, he wants to help other people.

When asked if he forgives Sand for killing his dad, he replied, "Absolutely, without a doubt."

The peace and healing he found through forgiveness were essential to making his life into what it is today, he said.

"There's things that are going on in my life that I've never had before, and I don't think that I would have accomplished them, hadn't I done what I did," he said. "So I guess that's the proof, for me."

With files from Donna Carreiro, Sarah Penton and Aidan Geary