The sound of ceremonial bagpipes was drowned out by helicopters overhead Thursday morning as thousands of police officers saluted the funeral procession of Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Eric Mueller, the 10th officer killed on the job in Canada in the last eight months.
Officers from across the country gathered in Ottawa and marched in unison in a solemn parade to a funeral held at the city’s main hockey arena, where provincial officials expressed shock and disbelief at the loss of yet another officer.
“Today we gather again in the wake of a profound tragedy, an injustice, an incomprehensible loss,” Ontario Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell told the officials, family and friends who gathered to pay tribute to the fallen officer.
She told them that grief is the price of love.
“Now, after loss after loss, it seems a price that has become much too heavy,” she said.
Last week, Mueller and two other officers were shot after they approached a house at 2 a.m. on May 11 in the small town of Bourget, east of Ottawa, after neighbours complained about the sound of gunshots.
Mueller died later that day in an Ottawa hospital, while the other two officers survived with injuries. One of them remains in serious but stable condition.
Members of the public stood on highway overpasses to pay their respects as Mueller’s body was transported from a funeral home in the nearby community of Rockland to the Kanata, in the west end of Ottawa, where his life was celebrated and mourned at a ceremony at the Canadian Tire Centre hockey arena.
Mueller was honoured as an exemplary officer, coach and mentor to fellow officers, as well as a husband and the father of two young children.
“He was a big guy,” OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson said outside the Canadian Tire Centre Thursday morning.
“Everybody looked up to him, but that’s not just because of his stature. That’s because of the person he was.”
Mueller joined the OPP in 2002 as a special constable responsible for transporting offenders in Ottawa. He was officially hired as a recruit in 2006 and was promoted to sergeant 2018.
He was recognized for his bravery in 2015 with the Commissioner’s Citation for Lifesaving after helping to lift a burning vehicle to rescue an injured suspect.
Mueller’s detachment in Russell County is finding the loss particularly difficult to cope with, Dickson said.
“Russell County detachment was such a family operation, like they’re so, so close. I can’t imagine how they are going to come back from this in a hurry,” he said.
“It’s going to be a long recovery for all of them.”
Mueller is the 10th police officer to be killed on the job in Canada since September 2022, and the fifth to be fatally shot in Ontario during the same time period.
Premier Doug Ford told Mueller’s fellow officers at the ceremony how sorry he was for their pain in a sentiment that seemed to straddle the line between condolence and apology.
“I want you to know, attacks against police officers will never ever be tolerated in this province,” he said.
Dickson called the string of police deaths disturbing.
“For the most part, they set out to protect members of the public. They set out to serve the communities where we are, and for a police officer to then be ambushed or killed for doing their job, it’s just not right,” he said.
OPP have repeatedly described the incident that led to Mueller’s death as an ambush, but have not provided any further details about what happened after he and his fellow officers arrived at the house.
Alain Bellefeuille, a 39-year-old Bourget resident, is charged with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in the case. He’s expected to appear in court on Thursday afternoon in L’Orignal, Ont., about an hour east of Ottawa.
The Special Investigations Unit, which operates as a police watchdog, is investigating after the OPP’s forensic team discovered evidence that one of the surviving officers shot his gun at some point after they arrived on scene.
The funeral service was closed to the public, but streamed online.
The OPP also arranged to livestream the service at a community centre in Bourget, where Mueller was killed, and plans to set out a book of condolences for local residents to sign.
Messages of sympathy have poured in to the OPP since news of Mueller’s death reached the public last week.
In online posts, mourners describe shock and sadness at the death of yet another police officer in the line of duty, while others share their thanks for his service and sacrifice.
Police officers, dignitaries, family and friends paid tribute to Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Eric Mueller at the 10th funeral for a police officer killed on the job in Canada in an eight month period. The husband and father was also considered a coach and mentor among other officers in the police service.
The Canadian Press