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Ontario Provincial Police Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala was shot while responding to a call to a vehicle in a ditch just west of Hagersville, about 45 kilometres southwest of Hamilton.HO/The Canadian Press

An Ontario Provincial Police constable who was shot and killed while responding to a seemingly routine call in a rural part of the province Tuesday afternoon was a rookie out on his first patrol as a full-fledged officer.

Constable Grzegorz Pierzchala, 28, had just learned that morning from his supervisor that, after close to a year with the service, he had passed his probationary period. During his shift that afternoon, a solo patrol, he responded to a call about a car in a ditch – which he did not realize at the time was stolen, according to police.

Almost as soon as Constable Pierzchala got out of his cruiser, he was ambushed and shot, OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique told a news conference on Wednesday.

Two suspects fled, taking off in a second vehicle that police allege they stole from a good Samaritan who had also stopped to provide assistance.

The two alleged assailants, Randall McKenzie, 25, and Brandi Stewart-Sperry, 30, were arrested a short distance away. They have been charged with first-degree murder. Court documents show that Mr. McKenzie had previously been ordered by multiple judges not to own weapons.

Commissioner Carrique told reporters that in 2018 Mr. McKenzie was prohibited for life from possessing any firearms. Last year, he was charged with several firearms-related offences, including assaulting a police officer. He was released on bail. But, when he failed to attend court this September, a warrant was issued for his arrest.

“Needless to say, the murder of Constable Greg was preventable. This should never have happened,” Commissioner Carrique said.

“I’m outraged by the fact that McKenzie was out on bail.”

Commissioner Carrique described Constable Pierzchala – who before joining the force was a special constable at Queen’s Park, and also a member of the Canadian Armed Forces – as an “exemplary officer,” who had dreamed of becoming a police officer since he was five years old.

The site of the shooting, at the intersection of Indian Line and Concession 14, lies three kilometres west of Hagersville, Ont., along a rural stretch of road running through farm fields and dotted by the occasional house and gas station.

On Tuesday afternoon, police had cordoned off two kilometres along Indian Line, which marks the southern boundary of the Six Nations and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation reserves. As of Wednesday evening, roadblocks were still in place as police continued their investigation.

An on-duty Ontario Provincial Police officer was shot dead in Hagersville, Ont. Community members and local politicians visited the scene of the shooting to pay tribute to the 28-year-old officer.

The Canadian Press

The shooting sent shock waves through the small town of just a few thousand people.

Hagersville resident Bob Richardson recalled speaking with Constable Pierzchala at the town’s Tim Hortons on Friday, when the officer came in to pick up an order and Mr. Richardson noticed from his uniform that he was a recruit.

“He was very friendly, and said he grew up as a kid wanting to be a police officer,” Mr. Richardson said. “It’s a damn shame for this to happen, especially so soon after Christmas, and especially after just becoming a full-fledged cop that day.”

The town had just begun to recover from the loss of another officer, Sergeant Andrew Harnett, who grew up in Hagersville and died in the line of duty in Calgary, when he was dragged to his death during a traffic stop on New Year’s Eve, 2020. A downtown Hagersville park was renamed in his honour, at a ceremony in early September.

“That was already fresh in our minds, and now this, but nothing like this has ever happened in our community,” Shelley Ann Bentley, the mayor of Haldimand County, which encompasses Hagersville, said.

“It’s very devastating. We are all grieving and trying to cope and realize what’s happening today.”

Ms. Bentley said no official memorials in Hagersville are planned, because Constable Pierzchala’s family has asked for privacy and needs time to grieve. But she said “we’ll be coming together as a community.”

Blue ribbons hung on many trees and utility posts around town Wednesday, reminiscent of past tributes to Sgt. Harnett.

For that officer’s family, the pain of this most recent death was particularly acute. Early reports on social media that an officer had been shot “set off alarm bells” for his brother Jason Harnett, who saw multiple police vehicles and ambulances race by as police helicopters circled overhead.

“It’s just surreal that another police officer killing is impacting this community of 3,000 people that had been mourning Andrew,” he said. “There are no words.”

Mr. Harnett said his family got some measure of closure when a teenager was found guilty of manslaughter in his brother’s death last month. However, sentencing in that case isn’t expected until May. He said he feels for the Pierzchala family, as they begin that same long and painful process through the justice system.

Police have released few details about what happened before or after Constable Pierzchala’s alleged interactions with Mr. McKenzie and Ms. Stewart-Sperry. Commissioner Carrique said the constable did not discharge his firearm.

The two suspects said little during separate video appearances in a Cayuga, Ont. court Wednesday, other than to confirm that they understand the charges against them.

The pair will return to court on Jan. 17.

Constable Pierzchala is the fourth police officer in Ontario to be shot and killed on the job in the past four months.

On Sept. 12, Toronto Police Constable Andrew Hong was shot and killed in what police described as an unprovoked attack at a Tim Hortons in Mississauga – the first in a string of shootings that also left two others dead, including the suspect, and three people injured. In October, two officers with the South Simcoe Police Service were fatally shot inside a home in Innisfil, Ont., in a confrontation that also left the 23-year-old suspect dead.

“Our members go to work every day to serve and protect the citizens of Ontario,” OPP Association president John Cerasuolo said in a statement Wednesday. “Greg’s service and sacrifice will never be forgotten,” he added.

“This situation demonstrates that there is no such thing as a routine call in policing.”