Hamilton

Fallen Hamilton soldier Nathan Cirillo remembered 5 years after deadly attack

Corporal Nathan Cirillo was gunned down five years ago today while standing guard on ceremonial sentry duty at the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa. 

'We've never forgotten Cpl. Cirillo,' says regiment's honorary colonel

Photographer Cody Slavik took this image of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo as he was guarding the National War Memorial in Ottawa hours before he was shot and killed on Oct. 22, 2014. (Cody Slavik)

Corporal Nathan Cirillo was gunned down five years ago today while standing guard on ceremonial sentry duty at the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa. 

The 24-year-old reservist from Hamilton was mourned across the nation and his death garnered international attention.

Half a decade later, on the anniversary of his Oct. 22, 2014 death, the fallen soldier is being remembered as "brave" and the fatal attack being condemned as "senseless."

The attack was considered a serious security breach in Ottawa, which led to gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau exchanging fire with police officers and parliamentary security personnel in the Centre Block of the parliament buildings.

Zehaf-Bibeau was eventually killed by the gunfire. The downtown core of Ottawa, along with a majority of schools, were locked down as police searched for additional threats.

The fatal attack against Cirillo came just two days after a different man drove his car into two Canadian Armed Forces soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. 

Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, died from his injuries, while the other soldier survived.  

Armed RCMP officers head towards the Langevin Block on Parliament Hill following a shooting incident in Ottawa on Oct. 22, 2014. (REUTERS)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had attended Cirillo's Hamilton funeral in 2014, issued a statement today to mark the five-year anniversary of the attack. 

"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.

"Today, as we honour the courageous Canadians in uniform who defend our values and freedom at home and around the world, we are reminded of the responsibility we all share to denounce hatred and promote inclusion in our communities."

CBC Ottawa also spoke with the mayor of that city, Jim Watson, who reflected on the five-year anniversary of the Parliament Hill shooting, saying proceeds from the sale of commemorative prints by artist Katerina Mertikas have been put into a trust fund for Cpl. Cirillo's now 10-year-old son, Marcus.

Mayor Jim Watson reflects on the five-year anniversary of the Parliament Hill shooting, saying proceeds from the sale of commemorative prints by artist Katerina Mertikas have been put into a trust fund for Cpl. Nathan Cirillo's son.  0:38

Ron Foxcroft, the honorary colonel of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada regiment, says the the memory of the attack is "etched in the regiment's minds" and that he'll "never forget that tragic day."

"We felt at the time it was the worst possible emotional event because his son Marcus was five years old," he said. "No one should lose their father that age."

"[Cirillo] symbolized what a reservist should be in Canada — brave, passionate, dedicated and a wonderful family man to his son, mother, and two sisters."

Many also took to Twitter today to remember his death. They shared pictures, condolences and circulated a poignant illustration by the Halifax Chronicle-Herald's Bruce MacKinnon.

Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon depicts soldiers of the war memorial offering a helping hand to fallen soldier, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. (Bruce MacKinnon/Halifax Chronicle-Herald)

Collective silence and grief

Thousands of Hamiltonians lined the streets in silence on Oct. 24, 2014 as Cirillo's body was returned to his hometown regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

It was a solemn welcome, as CBC reporter Adam Carter observed at the time. Many in the crowd wore Canadian jerseys, or had wrapped themselves in the flag — but there was "nothing to celebrate."

"Motorcycles passed, and the hearse appeared. People started to applaud – again, not in a way I had ever heard applause before. They clapped with a restrained sorrow, and a wish that things hadn't come to this," Carter wrote.

Cirillo's funeral took place a few days later. The procession of an estimated 4,500 military members — as well as police and emergency service members — made its way from Bayfront Park to Christ's Church Cathedral on James Street North.

The coffin of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo is towed on a gun carriage during his funeral procession in Hamilton, Ont. on Oct. 28, 2014. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Thousands of onlookers silently paid their respects all along the route. Many of them wept.

Members of the regiment helped Cirillo's mother Kathy to her seat in the church, as she sobbed, overcome with grief as her son's flag-draped casket was carried inside.

Marcus, Cirillo's five-year-old son, followed stoically behind his father's casket, wearing the regiment's cap.

Marus Cirillo, 5, attends the funeral procession for his father, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in Hamilton, Ont., on Oct. 28, 2014. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

A flag pole was installed and a Canadian flag raised on July 1 of this year at the Nathan Cirillo dog park in Ancaster, Foxcroft said, which is one of the many ways the regiment has honoured the soldier's memory. 

"We've never forgotten Cpl. Cirillo," he said. "At the funeral it was pledged by Commanding Officer Lawrence Hatfield that Cirillo will never be forgotten by the regiment. That holds true today."