There is little glamour or gratitude in toiling as a court security officer. During the mid-morning hours, when all the courts are in session, officers stand next to metal detectors, shifting their weight from boot to boot, swapping stories to ward off the boredom.
It was during one of these morning lulls on Friday that a man concealing a handgun walked through the front doors of A. Grenville and William Davis Courthouse in Brampton, Ont. He didn’t say a word, said witnesses, who offered conflicting accounts of how the man tried to slip past officers on duty. According to one witness who spoke to The Globe and Mail, he attempted to bypass the metal detectors by walking through the staff entrance. Another witness said he strolled through the metal detector without stopping, even as the unit’s alarm sounded.
What is clear is that Constable Michael Klarenbeek, 53, isn’t one to let tedium turn into complacency. The 29-year veteran of Peel Regional Police approached the man, who wore a white Tilley-style hat, according to witnesses.
“Sir, we need to search you,” one witness, Ravi Hayer, recalled Constable Klarenbeek saying.
But the man in the hat appeared not to notice. He brushed past the security table and turned right. Witnesses said Constable Klarenbeek’s intervention may have prevented something far worse.
“He had a plan to go straight in and nobody was going to stop him,” Mr. Hayer said. “He knew where he was going. If those cops didn’t stop him, who knows? He was going to do some damage.”
Constable Klarenbeek and another officer caught up with the man a few feet beyond the metal detectors.
What took place next happened so quickly Mr. Hayer can barely remember the sequence. He heard several officers yell, “Get down. Everyone get down.” He saw a black, shiny gun in the hand of the man in the white hat. The shots came in quick succession from several directions. “He just started shooting everywhere,” Mr. Hayer said. “I was about five feet away and everyone just started running.”
Another man close to the scene, Arslan Hanif, sprinted from the melee and heard five to seven shots behind him. He took cover and looked back to see the man on the floor of the 14-year-old courthouse with a chest wound.
“He was bleeding, face-down, and a few officers ran up to him. One sat on top and tried to handcuff him,” said Mr. Hanif, who took several photos and videos of the scene.
In one clip, a female officer can be heard calling in the desperate situation: “A police officer is down. He’s shot in the abdomen. There’s blood coming through.”
Soon emergency personnel were performing CPR on the gunman. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The fight to save Constable Klarenbeek was only just beginning. Escorted by several police cars, paramedics took the officer to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. On Friday night, Peel Regional Police Chief Jennifer Evans said he’d had surgery and was in good condition.
Colleagues called Constable Klarenbeek a devoted family man who is perennially upbeat regardless of the dreary demands of the job. He had just returned to work after a knee operation, according to lawyer Gary Batasar.
Constable Klarenbeek started with the force in January, 1985, following two years of law enforcement and security studies at Sheridan College. One colleague said he’d served in several units, including the elite tactical squad, before settling into the court posting around five years ago.
Less is known about the shooter and his intended target. The massive courthouse building consists of 50 courtrooms on four floors, conducting numerous cases each day. Police cordoned off a car in the court parking lot shortly after the shooting, but would not confirm whether it belonged to the gunman. A Peel police spokesman would only offer that the man was from Brampton.
The Special Investigations Unit has taken over the investigation, deploying 15 investigators and three forensic specialists. The agency probes all incidents where a police officer may have been involved in a shooting, death or assault.
Even as Constable Klarenbeek was being ushered to hospital, the courthouse remained in a panic. Shortly after the gunfire, court officers had run down hallways telling staff to lock all the doors. For two hours after the shots rang out, hundreds of people huddled in courtrooms as tactical and K9 units checked and secured the building room by room.
Lawyer Saadia Bokhari was in the cafeteria, a short distance from the security gate where the shooting occurred, when she heard shots fired. She said some people were passing out in panic.
“I thought that I was going to be dead,” she said. “The most painful thing was to see the body lying there. We were shut off, we couldn’t go out, but we could see through the doors the body was there.”
Some members of a school group that was at the court for a mock trial sprinted out a side door to escape the melee. “They were just running out,” said defence lawyer Baqa Rashdi, who was entering the building when the shots rang out. “I thought they were playing or something, but then I saw a second batch of children run out and they were crying.”
By the afternoon, tributes began flooding to Constable Klarenbeek from influential well-wishers. “My thoughts and prayers are with the Peel police officer injured in #Brampton today and his family, friends, and brave fellow officers,” tweeted Premier Kathleen Wynne.
With files from Colin Freeze and Allie Coulman