The officer and the MP: both tried to save lives, only one succeeded

Keith Palmer and Tobias Ellwood, both fathers and at one time soldiers, are both being praised for their heroism in Wednesday's attack in London.

British MP Tobias Ellwood personally touched a 2nd time by extremist violence in Westminster attack

Flowers and notes of tribute to London Police Const. Keith Palmer were laid Thursday at the National Police Memorial in the wake of the attack. (Nahlah Ayed/CBC)

Before any of it happened, the officer and the politician lived oddly parallel lives.

They both worked at Westminster. They were just two years apart in age. And at times in life they both carried the titles of father, and soldier.

When their lives violently intersected on Wednesday afternoon, Keith Palmer and Tobias Ellwood shared one other title: hero.

On the day of the Westminster attack, both men had tried to save lives. Only one succeeded. And now he is dead.

While panic spread inside Parliament and MPs and staff scrambled to get to safety, London Police Const. Keith Palmer, who was unarmed, sustained multiple stab wounds trying to keep the attacker out of the building.
People light candles at a vigil in Trafalgar Square Thursday evening in London. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Their confrontation ended with both attacker and policeman dead. Khalid Masood was shot by Palmer's colleagues. Palmer succumbed to his extensive injuries.

The tragedy of a premature end to a full life has since been coloured by the valour of his final act.

"He was every inch a hero," Prime Minister Theresa May told the Commons. "And his actions will never be forgotten."

Strangers stop everything

Though his act was singular, Palmer was not alone that afternoon.

In the aftermath, Westminster Bridge was strewn with brave acts: complete strangers — ordinary people — stopped to comfort the injured. Nurses from a nearby hospital rushed over with blankets.
Const. Keith Palmer is shown in an undated handout photo. (Metropolitan Police/Associated Press)

And an MP pushed in to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to Police Const. Palmer.

The image of Ellwood, his face blotched with blood, was Wednesday's preferred, front-page depiction of the shock of that day. Ellwood's desperate attempt to save Palmer — and the officer's final act — became a comforting strand to a story about wanton violence.

"Yesterday, we saw the worst of humanity, but we will remember the best," May told the Commons on Thursday. "We will remember the extraordinary efforts to save the life of PC Keith Palmer, including those by my Right Honourable Friend, the member for Bournemouth East."

Ellwood listened tearfully, nodding to the cheers of his fellow MPs.

He said nothing.

The junior foreign minister hasn't spoken publicly since the ordeal, though in comments published in the Daily Mail, apparently just after the attack, he described his efforts.

Britain's prime minister and Parliament colleagues have commended MP Tobias Ellwood, seen listening to a House of Commons speech, for his selfless actions. (Parliament TV via Reuters)

"I tried to stem the flow of blood and give mouth to mouth while waiting for the medics to arrive but I think he had lost too much blood," he is quoted as saying.

It must have been devastating for someone whose life had been touched by an extremist attack. Ellwood's own brother was killed in the Bali bombings of 2002.

Seen as a selfless public servant

Now in another tragic parallel, Palmer's family too is devastated.

"Keith will be remembered as a wonderful dad and husband," they said in a statement. "A loving son, brother and uncle … A friend to everyone who knew him. He will be deeply missed."

Palmer had been a police officer for over 15 years, and had just joined the security team in Parliament under a year ago. He was married with a five-year old daughter.

Conservative member of parliament James Cleverly pays an emotional tribute to friend police officer Keith Palmer as a 'strong, professional public servant' in the House of Commons on Thursday. (PA via AP.)

Another MP, James Cleverly, who served with Palmer in the reserves, had known him for 25 years.

"He was a strong professional public servant, and it was delight to meet him here again," he said tearfully in the house.

A woman called in to a radio show yesterday to say Palmer had saved her life after a car accident.

"I owe him everything," she told LBC radio.

'We are all so connected'

At a permanent National Police memorial, and in several pockets near the attack site, colleagues and members of the public left flowers and messages praising Palmer.

"Forever in our thoughts, may you rest in peace – from your police colleagues at Royal Parks," said one message.

Colleagues began a fundraising campaign, which quickly far exceeded its target. Palmer's death cut close for serving officers.

"I found it tragic, I won't lie to you. I shed a tear when I got up," Ken Marsh, chairman of the police federation and an active officer, told CBC News.

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd, centre, seen with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, left, and acting police commissioner Craig Mackey during the vigil in Trafalgar Square in London, said Britain won't be cowed by Wednesday's attack. (Andy Rain/EPA)

In a country now consumed with the identity of the killer, Palmer's story is an antidote, forever linked with Ellwood's and seared in Westminster's memory.

"It reminded us all of how we are all so connected," home secretary Amber Rudd told a crowd gathered for a vigil in Trafalgar Square last night, "especially when the random victims on the bridge of different nationalities, tourists going about their business, also mowed down in a terrible way.

"But they will not win."


Nahlah Ayed

Host of CBC Ideas

Nahlah Ayed is the host of the nightly CBC Radio program Ideas. A veteran of foreign reportage, she's spent nearly a decade covering major world events from London, and another decade covering upheaval across the Middle East. Ayed was previously a parliamentary reporter for The Canadian Press.