New Brunswick·Opinion

Cathy Donaldson: Moncton is 'still adjusting to that new normal'

Moncton's Cathy Donaldson writes about her experience of living near the lockdown on June 4 and how the community has dealt with the tragedy in the last year.

Moncton woman describes living through the lockdown and the aftermath of the June 4 shootings

There aren't too many days I remember as vividly as June 4, 2014.

That evening after supper, I went upstairs to my office while my younger daughter started homework and my husband ran errands.

Emergency response officers check a residence in Moncton on June 5, hours after three RCMP officers were killed and two others were injured in a shooting in the city. (Andrew Vaughan/Associated Press)
Not long after my husband returned, my daughter shouted for us to check the news. There were reports of shots fired in the north end. Sure enough, social media sites were abuzz about a heavily-armed shooter.

We set up what felt like a mini command post on the kitchen counter, our eyes glued to laptops trying to figure out what was going on.

A lone shooter was apparently wreaking havoc just a few kilometres away and our street was near the police lockdown zone. Even though we were outside the perimeter, we closed our blinds and stayed indoors.

I should mention I'm not the greatest in stressful situations. In fact, I'm currently writing a book about my struggles with anxiety.

When news of the shootings broke last June, I tried to keep calm but my worry monster had other plans.

I'd felt safe since we moved to the community 16 years earlier but now police officers — the very individuals who contributed in part to that sense of security — were being gunned down.

A woman watched from her window on June 5 while her Moncton neighbourhood was on police lockdown. (Submitted by Daniel St. Louis)
"How can this be happening?" I wondered, pulse quickening.

The panic levels inched upward as I tried to contact my older daughter about how she'd get home from work that night.

With streets around us closed, it didn't seem a plausible trip. If she did drive, I (of course) feared the worst and envisioned her coming face to face with the shooter.

Luckily, a friend whose daughter worked with mine returned both girls safely. My daughter has never been hugged so tightly.

Family 'hunkered down together'

For the rest of Wednesday evening and a very long Thursday, my family hunkered down together, waiting for news updates and hoping for a swift resolution to the nightmare.

Cathy Donaldson says she agrees with Daniel St. Louis, a Moncton photographer, who said the city lost some of its innocence after the shootings. (CBC)
When the shooter was detained and we could finally leave our homes, neighbours gathered to debrief, hug, cry … just breathe again.

The days, weeks — even months — that followed were rough. The usual upbeat Maritime spirit was replaced by sadness, shock and anger.

We grieved with the families and friends of the RCMP officers who gave their lives for our community, constables Dave Ross, Douglas Larche and Fabrice Gevaudan.

We prayed for the injured, constables Darlene Goguen and Eric Dubois. Our thoughts turned to all first responders involved and anyone traumatized by the killer or his rampage.

Many area residents tried to keep busy to get through those early days, writing notes to RCMP, leaving flowers at memorials or taking in out-of-town visitors who were attending the funerals of the slain officers. Some in the community found their grief eased attending walks or informal get-togethers.

As a community, we're still adjusting to that new normal. At least I am.- Cathy Donaldson

And then there were those like myself who did all of the above and still had moments when emotions hit hard for no apparent reason.

Tears could roll if I just drove by one of the "Thank you" signs business owners posted to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Heck, I could get choked up spotting a police cruiser, even someone in uniform.

I wasn't at all surprised to learn that in the weeks after the killing spree, some residents phoned 911 to report what they thought was gunfire, sounds that turned out to be a dump-truck gate slamming shut or other false alarm.

Totally understandable in my opinion.

A loss of innocence

Donaldson said citizens in Moncton have thanked RCMP officers in their own ways following last year's shootings. (Submitted by Daniel St. Louis)
As local photographer Daniel St. Louis said at the time, the incidents took away some of our innocence. Indeed they did.

But with the leadership of amazing people like then-Codiac RCMP superintendent Marlene Snowman, a shift towards healing began.

As Snowman said of her detachment not long after the tragedy, "there will be a new normal and we'll adjust to that."

As a community, we're still adjusting to that new normal. At least I am.

One of the most heart-warming parts of that process has been witnessing the public gratitude to the first responders, especially our fallen heroes.

No place did I witness that appreciation more poignantly than last Father's Day, when thousands showed up for a run/walk/bike event organized to honour the slain officers.

Donaldson says she has watched people honour the police officers at many community events since the June 4 shootings. (Submitted by Daniel St. Louis)
I had a few tears in my eyes as I shuffled along the route, more when it was time to shake hands with Mounties in their red serge who lined downtown streets. There were so many things I wanted to say.

A blubbery "thank you" was all I could muster.

As I watched other event participants high-five or hug the officers gathered, I somehow knew our community would be OK, that while we would never forget those who served so bravely, we would move forward.

Almost a year later, I attended another event, a tree planting on Hildegard Drive, part of the shooter's path. I chatted with folks in the crowd as they keenly shovelled earth and tenderly installed saplings that will make up a living memorial.

The next day, when the shovels had been put away and the crowds dispersed, I drove down Hildegard and smiled as I looked at the beautiful work that had been accomplished, each tree standing tall.

Resilient. Strong. Moncton strong.

About the Author

Cathy Donaldson is a Moncton resident, who lives near the zone that police locked down last year during the June 4 shootings.

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