With a call to attention and the bellow of bagpipes, police officers from across the country joined the families of three slain Mounties for a regimental service that was the wrenching culmination of a week marked by violence, fear, shock and resilience.
A Moncton arena played host Tuesday to thousands of men and women who serve – a sea of red, blue and green – united by a sense of duty and camaraderie in the wake of the June 4 shootings that left three RCMP officers dead and their families facing a new and stark reality.
Each wife was presented with her husband's Stetson, a uniform keepsake symbolizing the life lost. After the service, one of the men's daughters put on her father's hat, her two sisters hugging teddy bears in iconic Mountie garb.
The men's caskets were draped with the Canadian flag, placed in front of their photographs to denote the dead: Constables David Ross, Douglas Larche and Fabrice Gevaudan.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the head of the Mounties offered their condolences, as did RCMP Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown, whose voice faltered as he gave his fallen officers one final order: "To your post, dismissed."
It was on June 4 that a heavily armed gunman terrorized this New Brunswick city, killing three officers and injuring two more. Justin Bourque has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder, following a 30-hour manhunt and lockdown.
Local officers, some of whom responded to the shootings, are recovering from the trauma and grieving. The Globe and Mail has learned that upward of 200 Codiac Regional RCMP officers and support staff have been relieved by members from other detachments for two weeks for "mental health reasons."
"Together, we struggle for answers. We ask what in God's name happened here, and why. We may never know," Mr. Harper said. "With three men dead, cut down in their prime doing their sworn duty to serve and protect their nation, we don't need a verdict to know that what happened here is an outrage."
Constable Gevaudan's spiritual adviser invoked a cleansing ritual called a smudge ceremony, wafting the smoke from burning sage around the officer's flag-draped casket and enveloping his family in it, too.
Several young children and a baby due in September are without their fathers, whose lives were marked Tuesday with prayers from spiritual leaders, eulogies from relatives and song selections from their wives. Constable Larche's wife, Nadine, chose Reba McEntire's If I'd Only Known – a song lamenting a loss unforeseen.
There were stories of homes recently bought, anniversaries just celebrated, engagements, quirky habits and, in Constable Ross' case, of a duty dog left without his handler and a pregnant wife, Rachael, without the love of her life. He always told her she was beautiful, his brother-in-law recounted.
Constable Larche's brother, Master Seaman Daniel Larche, spoke of his shock at eulogizing his younger sibling. "I want him back so badly so I can tell him that I love him and I'm proud of the great man he's become," he said with a trembling voice.
Assistant Commissioner Brown thanked the officers' wives and children for standing by them as they undertook their duties. He also used the unfortunate opportunity to tell his force how proud he is of each and every member.
"I only wish," he said, gathering his words, "I only wish that I could have told Doug, Dave and Fabrice that in person."
The nearly three-hour service culminated with what's known as a Last Post ceremony, a traditional final salute. The bugler marks the death, followed by a moment of silence. The piper plays to demonstrate the sorrow. A trumpeter sounds the reveille to mark hope of resurrection and reunion with a loved one.
"We will always remember that these heroes – your husbands, fathers, sons, brothers friends and colleagues – sacrificed their lives so that others could be safe," said RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, who saluted the dead at the end of the service on behalf of all those in uniform.
"I am proud of them. All of Canada is grateful to you. May they rest in peace."