Ottawa shooting: Nurse Margaret Lerhe tried to save Nathan Cirillo

Ottawa nurse Margaret Lerhe doesn't consider herself a hero for rushing to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo's aid, moments after he was shot at the National War Memorial on Wednesday.

'I'm uncomfortable with the term hero. It was everybody focused on him,' Lerhe says

RAW: Rushing to Cpl. Cirillo's aid

9 years ago
Duration 1:05
Hear from one of the heroic people who came to the aid of the fatally wounded soldier in Ottawa

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was unresponsive when Ottawa nurse Margaret Lerhe rushed to his aid moments after he was shot at the National War Memorial on Wednesday.

The corporal who has standing guard with Cirillo, "never wavered" as she came to offer help, she told CBC News.

"He said, 'Put pressure here. He's been shot twice.' I followed his command. It was just instinct," she recalled. 

Cirillo was not breathing, so the veteran nurse instructed others who had gathered around to start CPR, check his pulse and do compression, she said.

"There were four or five people around this fallen soldier working as a team. I'm uncomfortable with the term hero. It was everybody focused on him," she said.

One woman, who wasn't trained in medicine, consoled Cirillo as he lay bleeding at the foot of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, she said.

"Saying, you know, 'Help will be on its way," she recalled. "She was truly amazing. Everybody was working together trying to save this young man's life. I don't consider it heroism. I just think it's doing what you should do in the time of crisis."

Thoughts of the shooter slipped away — Cirillo was the focus, she said.

"It never even entered my mind. I never even thought of myself in an unsafe situation until the police asked me, did I feel safe, a few hours later," she said. "I think we just assumed they got the guy."

'They're having a drill,' she thought

Lerhe was en route to a meeting on foot when she was startled by gunshots at the National War Memorial just before 10 a.m. on Wednesday.
Ottawa nurse Margaret Lerhe gave CPR to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo until an ambulance arrived at the National War Memorial on Wednesday morning. (CBC)

"I was just crossing the crosswalk at Elgin and heard a shot, two shots, and it was very clear that it was a gun. And by now, I'm right there, at the memorial, and I look up and I see the shooter, but I thought it was a mock [exercise]," she said.

News about the hit-and-run attack on two soldiers in Quebec on Monday, killing one of them, was fresh in her mind, she said.

"I thought, 'It stands to reason, they're having a drill.' Then I thought, 'They're having a theatre piece,' because the shooter, with his long gun, it was so incongruous. It didn't look real at all," she said. "I saw him fire, he was in a firing position. I did not see the soldier fall."

Even after she heard someone shout "Call 911," she was still not convinced the violent scene playing out before her was real.

"I looked to see if there were people filming this theatre, this drama, and there wasn't," she said. "That's just when I ran forward to help."

The shooter was already headed off in another direction, toward Parliament Hill, where he would open fire in Centre Block before being shot dead.

'I'm not going to let this change who I am'

The shooting's prominent location, which draws tourists and passersby, became even more crowded as journalists arrived to report on the shooting. Lerhe was disturbed by the cameras pointed in Cirillo's direction.

"I felt the soldier was very identifiable. He was wearing a kilt. He had white spats. All I could think was, 'His family will see photos of this,'" she said.

"That's one of the things that upsets me the most. There are people who respond and do the right thing and I don't understand taking photos of a crisis like this."

The shooting has raised questions and concerns about safety in the capital, but Lerhe says she refuses to let the horrible events of one day stop her from enjoying life.

The day after the shooting, she found herself walking past the National War Memorial on her way back to work from a meeting.

"I'm one of these rare people — I don't have fear," she said. "Snakes — I'm not crazy about snakes — but, I'm just not fearful. I'm not going to let this incident change who I am. I'm going to still continue to run at night. I'm going to still continue to walk home in the dark. I'm still going to do everything."