Fallen officer 'the best dad': widow

The widow of slain Toronto police officer Sgt. Ryan Russell says she is able to find comfort in the face of tragedy when she looks at her young son, in whom she sees so much of her husband.

The widow of slain Toronto police officer Sgt. Ryan Russell says she is able to find comfort in the face of tragedy when she looks at her young son, in whom she sees so much of her husband.

The funeral for the 35-year-old officer got underway at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre at 1:55 p.m. Tuesday after a delay of almost an hour because of the overwhelming turnout.

Russell, 35, was killed Jan. 12 when he was struck while trying to stop a stolen truck equipped with a snowplow that was being driven erratically through the city.

"Ryan always put others before himself. On January 12, this cost him his life," said his widow, Christine. "Ryan, we are all so proud of you."

Christine Russell fought back tears as she delivered a tribute to her "amazing husband," who she called the "best dad."

"I find so much comfort when I look at my little boy [two-year-old Nolan] because I see so much of Ryan in him," she said.

Earlier, friends and colleagues remembered Russell as a gregarious family man who led by example.

"I don't think that there's a heart in Toronto so strong that it has not been touched by the images of Ryan Russell, husband and father, embracing his wife and his child," police Chief Bill Blair said.

"It is an image that has defined the man for us. And it has helped us to understand the full extent of his sacrifice, this was most assuredly a man who loved his family."

Supt. Hugh Ferguson, the unit commander at 52 Division where Russell worked, said his friend played baseball and hockey. He loved stray cats, and brought one home to make it a part of the family, Ferguson said.

Russell was the "first one in, first one out the door, leading his troops into the fray and standing tall in the face of danger, a fighter to the end," Ferguson said. "Ryan was a perfectionist and he was a great leader. He led from the front and he pulled others with him, challenging them to perform at the best of their abilities."

Toronto police Staff Supt. Jeff McGuire made opening remarks during which he called Russell "a hero in life, not death."

An expansive flower arrangement adorned the front of the hall, Hildebrandt reported, and a table bedecked with memorabilia and photographs of Russell and his family was also set up.

Russell is shown in a family photo with his son, Nolan, and his wife, Christine. ((Toronto Police Service))

Russell was an avid hockey player, so a Bauer goalie stick, with a goalie mask hanging off the top, was stacked against the table. Two paddles marked "Toronto Police" also stood crossed in front of the table, while shelves near the table were lined with stuffed animals.

Police had originally expected up to 10,000 people would want to attend the funeral, which is open to the public. But they estimated about 12,000 people showed up for the service, being held in the South Building of the convention centre on Front Street West.

Before the funeral, officers from across North America, led by Blair, marched in a 2½-hour-long procession from University Avenue at Dundas Street West to the convention centre.

'Sense of pride'

RCMP officers, Canadian military members, Canadian border services officers, police from the United States, Halifax and Quebec all came to Toronto to take part in the solemn march.

"It's a very sad, sad occasion to come out for, obviously," said Const. Peter Kelly of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the family and our fellow officers involved."

Over 600 Peel Regional Police officers also attended, said Chief Mike Metcalf.

Police officers line the streets of downtown Toronto as the funeral procession makes its way to the service for Russell. ((Eric Foss/CBC) )

"There is an air of sadness, but also there is a sense of pride," he said.

"We want to show our respect for the family — basically all of our colleagues here in Toronto and the citizens of Toronto."

Another attendee, an officer with York Regional Police, said the public support at such funerals is reassuring for officers.

Sgt. Elaine Morash, 45, a 24-year veteran of the force, said, "There's an acceptance of what we do, a lot of kindness we see from the public, whether it's a smile or just people coming up to us thanking us for the job we do. It also makes officers proud of their chosen career."

The Ontario Provincial Police estimate that around 8,300 officers took part in the procession.

Officers wear pin with No. 7686

A number of officers were wearing pins bearing an inscription of Russell's badge number, 7686. The pins will be sold for $10 apiece and the proceeds will go to a trust fund for Russell's son, Nolan.

A Toronto police officer moves among the ranks of the RCMP as they prepare for the funeral of Russell in Toronto on Tuesday. ((Chris Young/Canadian Press))

Russell died of severe head injuries after being knocked down by the stolen snowplow near Avenue and Davenport roads.

Richard Kachkar, 44, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with Russell's death. He was released Tuesday from hospital, where he was treated for bullet wounds suffered during his arrest.

He will be held in custody in Milton, Ont., until a court appearance later in the week.

Anyone wishing to donate to Nolan's trust fund can go to any CIBC branch and make a deposit into the following account:

  • Transit number: 04392
  • Account number: 00-18139
  • Bank number: 010

With files from CBC's Amber Hildebrandt and John Lancaster