Greg Ritchie ID'd as man shot and killed by police at mall

Relatives of the 30-year-old Indigenous man fatally shot by Ottawa police on Thursday say he was mentally ill and was heading to pick up medication when the altercation happened.

Relatives say he was on his way to get medication

A portrait of a man in a suit.
Greg Ritchie, 30, was fatally shot by Ottawa police on Jan. 31, 2019. (Submitted by Chantel Ritchie)

Family members of the 30-year-old Indigenous man fatally shot by Ottawa police on Thursday say he was mentally ill and was heading to a pharmacy to pick up medication when the altercation happened.

Greg Ritchie, a member of the Saugeen First Nation near Owen Sound, Ont., had been struggling with mental illness from a young age, said his sister-in-law Chantel Ritchie.

She and her husband Nick Ritchie — Greg's brother — had recently moved to Ottawa from Kitchener, Ont., and had invited Greg to live with them.

"We've been trying to help him. We've been at the Wabano Centre [For Aboriginal Health] … and they've been helping us. It was taking time, but they were getting things going for his medical intake," Chantel Ritchie said in a phone interview Thursday night.

Early that morning, Greg Ritchie was in good spirits after getting his Ontario Disability Support Program payment and buying coffee nearby, Chantel Ritchie said.

He was excited about the day and his brother asked him what his plans were.

"He's like, 'I'm going to go back out. I want to get my medication because I'm feeling like my head really hurts and it's not feeling right. I feel like I need my medication,'" she recalled, adding that he was recovering from a concussion.

A close-up photo of a man sitting in a car.
Greg Ritchie was a member of the Saugeen First Nation near Owen Sound, Ont. He was mentally ill and had been heading to an Ottawa pharmacy to pick up medication when he was shot, his family told CBC News. (Submitted by Chantel Ritchie)

'A loud, blood-curdling scream'

Nick Ritchie told his brother to put on his jacket and go ahead, and reminded him that the pharmacy — where the victim had been a regular customer since moving to Ottawa — didn't open until 8 a.m.

At 7:53 a.m., Ottawa police were called to the mall for a report about a "suspicious incident." The responding officers have now been identified as constables Thanh Tran and Daniel Vincelette.

Audio from Broadcastify, an online service that provides access to emergency dispatch calls, indicated a man was seen walking into the mall holding a knife in his hand.

Ontario's police watchdog later confirmed the man was holding a weapon, but did not specify what it was. The agency also said a police officer suffered minor injuries during the altercation, and sources told CBC News the officer was cut on the forehead.

Not long after Greg Ritchie left, the couple heard a commotion outside, and Nick Ritchie got up to look.

"He looked out his window but he couldn't quite see that area [of the parking lot where the altercation took place]," Chantel Ritchie said.

"And then, not too long after, he hears a very loud yell, with a loud, blood-curdling scream like someone is fearing for their life. And then we hear the gunshots immediately afterwards. I won't put a number on it, but there were more than two ... and we heard it from our apartment building."

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Nick Ritchie got up to check the stairwells, where his brother would often get some exercise because he was afraid of going out, but he wasn't there. He then called the pharmacy to ask if his brother had shown up, and they said he hadn't.

Chantel Ritchie, meanwhile, moved to the living room, where she could see police attending to someone on the ground. Her phone wouldn't let her zoom in enough to see who it was, so she got a video camera out.

"We were just praying that … he got told to get off the premises or something, and that's why he didn't make it [to the pharmacy], but I think Nick knew [what had happened]," she said.

"When I zoomed in, they were putting someone on a stretcher and it looked like it could be him."

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'The very fear we had happened today'

The couple went outside to speak to police, who confirmed who the victim was and led them to hospital, where Greg Ritchie was pronounced dead.

"It just breaks our heart because the very fear we had happened today, and we heard it, and we saw it, and there was nothing we could do about it, and we were right there," Chantel Ritchie said Thursday night.

It just really hurts that we weren't there to be able to calm him down because there's no way that any of this would have happened if we were there.- Chantel Ritchie, victim's sister-in-law

"And the thing is, that's not the kind of guy he is. He gets scared … and that's the saddest part. We know that he was in complete and utter terror in a moment like that. He's scared of just going into a grocery store … of just being in a crowd, because he's afraid that people want to do something to him or don't like him because of the way he looks," she said.

"And honestly, we've seen it. People just take one look and that's it. He's First Nations, he's been homeless before, and he is afraid. People just take all of that in one look and then make assumptions and then act on it. And it just really hurts that we weren't there to be able to calm him down because there's no way that any of this would have happened if we were there. There's no way."

Arrowheads and artifacts 'make him feel safe'

Nick and Greg Ritchie, both Ojibway, were taken from their mother as children and placed into the care of a "great" foster family who worked to include their mother in the children's lives, Chantel Ritchie said. Greg Ritchie had symptoms of mental illness early on, which progressed.

"His symptoms had gotten worse, and then around the age of 11 he tried to commit suicide, just from the pain of all his mental illnesses that were starting to afflict him," she said.

He was eventually moved out of the foster home and into another before being moved to a group home. Chantel Ritchie met him for the first time in 2012.

"I could tell right away he suffered from mental illness, but when he was around family he was very happy. He was very into his culture and learning about his ancestors. He did sometimes exhibit that he feels the pain of what happened to his people … but he was just happy to be around family and to be at powwows and helping at those events," she said.

He was sometimes hired to keep sacred fires going at ceremonies, and spent time in woods and rivers looking for arrowheads. It also comforted him to recreate arrowheads and other artifacts, she said.

"Those things he keeps on his person because it makes him feel safe. We always tell him, don't bring it with you anywhere, because we were afraid of this very thing happening," she said.

Ottawa police declined to comment Friday, citing the ongoing SIU investigation.

Greg Ritchie was shot by police during an altercation just before 8 a.m. on Thursday. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)