Nova Scotia RCMP Const. Francis (Frank) Deschênes, who was killed while helping stranded motorists change a tire last week near Memramcook, was "one of the golden ones," his friend Dave Connors said during an emotional regimental funeral in Moncton on Wednesday.
"Frank touched each and every one of us in a positive way, which made us all better for knowing him," said Connors, his voice breaking as he delivered the eulogy in the packed St. Bernard's Catholic Church.
Several hundred Mounties, police officers, first responders and military personnel from across the country gathered to pay their respects to the 12-year veteran of the national police force.
Connors described "Frankie" as a "great man" and "incredible police officer;" someone he looked up to.
Deschênes "absolutely loved his job, and it showed every time he put on his uniform," Connors said.
"The most important thing to Frank was to be there, to be the one that helps people that need help. To be the one that can turn the negative into a positive for complete strangers.
"We lost Const. Deschênes doing exactly that — helping someone that needed help."
Deschenes, 35, a native of Sainte-Anne-de-Madawaska in northern New Brunswick, died last Tuesday night when he pulled over on the Trans-Canada Highway to help two people in an SUV.
A cargo van collided with his marked police cruiser and the SUV, RCMP have said.
The man who was allegedly driving the van was arrested but later released. No charges have been laid, but the New Brunswick RCMP are investigating.
The 2 p.m. funeral was closed to the public, although mourners lined Moncton's downtown streets to watch the procession along Assomption Boulevard, up Downing Street to the church on Botsford Street.
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Chantal LeBlanc was among them. She didn't know Deschênes but felt it was important to show support.
"It's awful what happened," she said. "If it wasn't for these guys here — like these guys are our protection. So I feel it's very important for people to be here today."
RCMP estimated at least 600 military, police and first responders would be marching. Several streets were closed, starting at 10 a.m.
Members of the RCMP's traffic services, which Deschênes served with in Amherst, rode their motorcycles, and two Mounties on horseback led the hearse to the church.
Many people took photographs. Some construction workers at a nearby site also stopped to watch.
Eight Mounties dressed in their red serge uniforms carried the casket, draped in a Canadian flag, into the silent church. One officer then gently placed Deschênes's Stetson hat on top.
His widow, Savannah (Bennett), hunched over and wept as she placed a red rose on the casket. She and Deschênes had married in the same church just four months ago.
"Sav, you were his world, his rock," Connors said. "You made him the happiest man when he got to make you his wife."
Daniel Dubeau, the RCMP acting commissioner, offered condolences to the family.
"I know the pain we are feeling as Frank's friends and colleagues cannot compare to the enormous loss you are feeling," he said.
"Like you, I am struggling to understand why this happened and to make sense of this senseless loss.
"One thing is certain, Frank did not die in vain."
He died as he lived, in service of others, said Dubeau.
And while Deschênes's life and his calling were cut short, the "consummate Mountie" accomplished a great deal during his career, and was "deeply committed" to keeping roads and highways safe, he said.
The outpouring of support the family and RCMP have received since his death is a testament to that, said Dubeau, sharing a story about a young boy who visited the Bible Hill detachment where Deschênes used to work and offered his entire collection of Pokémon hero cards "so that every Mountie could have a hero to protect him."
'He was the guy who did the right thing when no one was watching and that is exactly what Frank was doing when he lost his life.' - Brian Brennan, assistant commissioner N.S. RCMP
Deschênes will live on in the hearts and minds of everyone he knew and every time someone stops to "give someone a hand," they will keep his spirit alive, said Dubeau.
"We will not forget him."
Assistant commissioner Brian Brennan, the commanding officer of the Nova Scotia RCMP, said he did not know Deschênes personally, but feels he knew him through his actions and how he lived his life.
"He served his country and was committed to something much larger than himself of which there is nothing more honourable," said Brennan.
"He was the guy who did the right thing when no one was watching, and that is exactly what Frank was doing when he lost his life."
Deschênes served unselfishly with integrity and respect and touched many people's lives in ways others will never know, said Brennan, noting thousands have shared their condolences through books set up at several detachments, or via email.
He said one woman wrote, "I will never forget you Const. Deschênes, it was a brief exchange but what you did for me that day changed my life forever."
About 60 members of the Defenders motorcycle group Deschênes belonged to travelled from as far away as Ottawa to attend the funeral.
"There's a lot of what we call man hugs going on, a lot of broken hearts, but it feels better to be together," said friend Randy Thurber of the Defenders, whose members include Canadian military, RCMP and Coast Guard personnel.
They started their ride "with a little wave by where Frank's spirit may have left," he said, referring to the highway crash site.
Several dignitaries attended the service, including: New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy-Vienneau, Nova Scotia Attorney General Mark Furey, Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold and Amherst Mayor Davig Kogon.