Free from unknown terror, free from their locked homes, free to finally roam their streets again. In the wake of a horrifying triple shooting this week, the people of Moncton on Friday night gathered to celebrate the lives of three RCMP officers who died protecting their city.
Nearly two thousand people from the region came to a vigil Friday night at the RCMP's downtown office on Main Street to pay their respects to both the slain officers and the hundreds of officials from across the Maritimes who risked their well-being in the 30-hour search for suspect Justin Bourque, who was arrested in the early hours of the morning.
Three officers died in shootings Wednesday night in Moncton's north end: Constable David Ross, 32, Constable Fabrice Gévaudan, 45, and Constable Douglas James Larche, 40.
By 7:30, the crowd was breaking out into songs and chants, as mourners left flowers, letters, signs and candles on the staircase to the headquarters' main entrance.
"Moncton Spirit!" a man yelled, shortly before 8 p.m. to great applause. "Thanks, RCMP!" yelled a woman.
At the edge of the crowd, dozens of people waited in line to hug or shake hands with officers to thank them for risking their lives. "They did what they had do to without worrying about themselves," said Melissa Langille, who gave a hug.
"It's the least we could do," her friend Christina Nagle said.
"It's important for me to show my support to the city I was born and raised in," said Jessica Smith, whose sister-in-law is related to Constable Darlene Goguen, one of the two officers who were also injured in the shootings. This kind of violence, she said, doesn't make sense in Moncton. "I don't feel that's what our city is."
Tonight, instead, the city shone - not just from the hundreds of candles, but from the way people treated each other. As a woman moved aside to let a family lay down a bouquet, another woman turned and thanked her: "You're a good Maritimer."
Children, many still trying to grasp the gravity of the week, paid their respects too. Caitlyn Dupuis, 10, along with 9-year-old Bell Betts and 8-year-old Brianna Dupuis, left a sign at the vigil that said "Thank you for keeping us safe" and adorned with drawings.
"I'm thankful for the police and their help in all the hard times," Caitlyn said. For Brianna, the week was a reminder that "it's important to be nice."
"They would always be there for us," said Bell.
Marthe Gautreau brought cards for the families – "it's tradition" for her when families grieve, she says – wrapped in a plastic seal to protect from the rain that splashed over mourners on the grey evening.
Uniformed members of the military and emergency medical service personnel showed up in droves, forming a procession to the staircase at one point to thunderous clapping. "In this profession, we work hand in hand with fire and police," said paramedic Mike Robichaud. "They're very supportive of us, so of course we're supportive of them."
As rain drizzled on the quiet crowd outside, a line snaked through the foyer of RCMP headquarters, where residents waited their turn to pay their written respects. Three books. Three faces. Three men, in classic Mountie red, gone forever.
Outside, Elizabeth Bryback, the honourary colonel of the 8th Canadian Hussars regiment, collected funds for the RCMP Foundation to help potentially put the fallen officers' children through school.
One of the fallen, Const. Doug Larche, had a message dedicated to him outside, written on a white card among the mound of bouquets and flicker of candles: "Rest in peace, Doug Larche. Knew you for a short time but you were an amazing person."
With a file from Kathryn Blaze Carlson in Moncton