New Brunswick

Retired navy vet, firefighter from Norton among victims of N.S. shooting

When Tom Bagley saw smoke coming from his neighbour's home in rural Nova Scotia, he "went running" to help. It would be the last fire he would ever respond to.

'He will be remembered as a hero,' daughter says

Veteran and retired firefighter Tom Bagley, who would have turned 71 on Tuesday, was among at least 20 people killed by a gunman who rampaged across rural Nova Scotia last weekend. (Jeff Flanagan)

When Tom Bagley saw flames and smoke pouring from his neighbour's home in rural West Wentworth, N.S., his reaction was to "go running" toward the fire, said his daughter, Charlene Bagley.

The navy veteran, retired firefighter, and father of three knew a thing or two about saving lives. 

Bagley, who grew up in Norton, N.B., "had seen a lot  of tragedy and a lot of deaths on ships, bad accidents and the like," said his sister, Mary Karen Creighton.

"If he came across an accident on the road, he'd be the first one out of his truck and helping because he had all the paramedic training."

Police block the highway in Debert, N.S., a 30-minute drive from Bagley's residence in West Wenworth, on Sunday. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

But that fire at the home of Sean McLeod and Alanna Jenkins would be the last call Bagley would answer.

He was one of more than 20 people killed when a gunman rampaged across the back roads and hamlets of rural Nova Scotia on the weekend in one of the deadliest mass shootings in Canadian history.

How the daughter and friends of Tom Bagley, a New Brunswicker killed in the Nova Scotia shooting, will remember him. 2:30

Instead of celebrating his 71st birthday on Tuesday, loved ones across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are mourning Tom Bagley as a hero — a man who ran toward danger to help his friends. 

'The way country people are'

From the time Bagley was a little boy growing up in Norton, about 55 kilometres northeast of Saint John, he "wanted to see the world," said his sister, Mary Karen.

As a youngster, he saw a picture of HMCS Bonaventure — the last aircraft carrier in service with the Canadian Armed Forces.

"He said, 'I'm going to be on that boat' — and when Tom set his mind to something, that was it."

He joined the navy in 1966, when he was only 17. True to his dream, he went on to serve on the Bonaventure with his childhood friend Wayne Wilkins.

Bagley's childhood friend, Wayne Wilkins, who he first met in elementary school in Norton, N.B., and went on to serve with in the Canadian Armed Forces. (Credit: Brigitte Chenier)

"We would hitchhike together until we could afford a car and start travelling together from Halifax to Norton," Wilkins said.

"When he was in Chatham he met his wife [Patsy] there."

He'd come home every weekend "and usually brought friends with him," his sister recalled. 

"That's the way country people are. You accept everybody and anybody, and you bring them into your home and treat them like your own. 

"He would help anybody with anything they needed."

A special bond

While Bagley forged a career in the strait-laced world of the Canadian Armed Forces, he also had a "twinkle in his eye," his sister recalls. 

He was a proud Harley Davidson motorcycle owner, well-known for his storytelling and love of a good party. 

"We had a special bond," his daughter said. 

"When I was younger, when I would be acting up and just being foolish, he would always tell me to 'quit acting the fool' and 'do as I say, not as I do,'" she said.

Bagley's daughter, Charlene, with her husband and two children. Her father was a well-loved man with whom she shared 'a special bond,' she said. (Submitted by Charlene Bagley)

"When I got a speeding ticket — I was too scared to tell my mom. He understood and he said, 'Jeez, don't tell her!' I remember a few times getting caught drinking, he would go out of his way to get me in the house without mom knowing. 

"He was a very social person, he loved to be around people, he loved to party. He was the life of the party, always."

"He was so good."

Went for a walk, didn't return

Charlene Bagley was on the phone with her parents on Sunday morning around the same time the fire was reported on Hunter Road.

"I usually start my mornings talking to them," she said.

But after she hung up, her mother Patsy immediately called back.

"She was all panicked," Bagley said. The house down the road, which belonged to Sean McLeod and Alanna Jenkins, was on fire. Patsy "could see the smoke and hear explosions."

Bagley's daughter Charlene, with whom he shared a 'special bond,' remembers her father as a born storyteller who loved his motorcycle and a good party. (Submitted by Charlene Bagley)

Tom had "gone for a walk around ten to nine and hadn't come back yet," her mother said. The fire was reported to police around 8 a.m.

"Mom said there was a guy on the loose and said they were telling people to stay inside. I knew she was by herself.  I told her to call up one of the people close to her, and get them there so that she wasn't there by herself."

"I said, he's probably at the house mom. You know he's there. He would have seen the flames when he was on his walk."

"I just had this sick feeling that something wasn't right. I knew," his daughter said. 

Bagley's body was found at the burned-out home at 2328 Hunter Rd.

Homeowners Sean McLeod and Alanna Jenkins were also found dead at the scene. 

'He was a hero'

Years ago Charlene Bagley and her now-husband were invited to a BBQ held by the Harley Davidson group her dad belonged to.

When they got there, she said, "my dad gets up in front of hundreds and hundreds of people and starts talking."

"Everyone was listening to every word he said. He just spoke so amazing. 

"I'll never forget that. It was a very impactful moment about the person he was."

She wants to remember her father that way — in front of an audience, with a twinkle in his eye, celebrating his passions in life.

Tom Bagley's Harley Davidson motorcycle - one of his prized possessions, his family said. (Submitted by Charlene Bagley)

Bagley will be cremated, his sister said, with a funeral service to be held in Nova Scotia after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in the province. 

He will be buried in Sackville, N.S., to be closer to his daughter.

As for his legacy, Charlene said, "he will be remembered as a hero."

"That is the overwhelming response that I am getting from people, saying what he meant to them. The way he left us just goes to show how much he really was a hero."

"I am so unbelievably proud. I know he would be proud too."

About the Author

Julia Wright

Information Morning Saint John host

Julia Wright is a born and raised Saint Johner, and the host of Information Morning Saint John on 91.3FM. She has been with the CBC since 2016.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now