HAMILTON, Ont. — Some brought flowers, others dropped off cards and many wiped tears from their eyes as a steady stream of mourners took a moment on Monday to pay their respects to the young soldier gunned down at the National War Memorial in Ottawa last week.
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was standing guard at the monument when he was shot by a man who went on to open fire on Parliament Hill before being taken down in a hail of bullets.
The attacks shocked the country and hit particularly hard in Hamilton, the southern Ontario city that Cirillo called home.
Many residents got a chance to express their grief and pay tribute to the 24-year-old reservist at a public visitation held at a funeral home in the city on Monday.
“He died for our country, that’s why I came here. This is the first time something like this has happened in our town, since I’ve lived here for 42 years,” said 67-year-old Narkewal Grewal, whose eyes brimmed with tears. “It was really hard for me.”
Emil Zamora, who attended the visitation with his wife, expressed a similar sense of shock at the soldier’s death.
“It really hit home, it was very personal,” he said. “We’re from this area, he’s from this area, this is our way to honour him. Our prayers are with him and his family.”
Two police officers on black horses flanked the doors leading into the funeral home while a number of other officers monitored those who entered the building.
Photographs from Cirillo’s childhood and youth were placed in the halls of the funeral home while wreaths, cards and bouquets of flowers lined the walls in the room where his open casket was placed.
Cirillo lay in full regimental garb, his white-gloved hands crossed on his chest, as two members of his regiment stood guard on either side of his casket.
It was a moving sight for many mourners, triggering sobs from some and quiet tears from others.
“It was a powerful moment standing there,” said Kimberley Kerr, a 16-year-old high school student who admitted she had never attended a visitation with an open casket before.
“I felt shaky and some tears came, but all in all it was a nice moment, it was very peaceful.”
Kerr’s Hamilton school, Hillfield Strathallan College, has a long-standing association with Cirillo’s regiment — the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
“Coming today was about paying respects to Canada,” she said. “It made me proud to be here today.”
Ben Kornya, another student at the school, agreed.
“It was a very powerful feeling,” he said of attending the visitation.
“It makes me happy to see that so many people are coming together for such a scenario. It’s unfortunate that it has to be under such circumstances but I was definitely proud. I felt like he definitely represents everything a Canadian should be.”
The visitation was also attended by a number of police officers and members of the military in uniform.
Capt. Richard Towey, of the Royal Regiment of Canada in Toronto, was among them and described the visitation as “touching and heartbreaking.”
He noted, however, that it was important that Canadians go on with their lives, despite the horror of last week’s attacks.
“I think that the best way that we can deal with this and to remember Cpl. Cirillo and support his memory is to carry on as normal,” he said. “Not let this slow us down in any way.”
A private visitation for the fallen soldier, which was held Sunday, was attended by dignitaries, friends and relatives, including Cirillo’s young son.
The soldier was brought back to his hometown via the Highway of Heroes on Friday, with thousands of people — some holding supportive signs or waving the Maple Leaf — paying their respects to him along the way.
Cirillo’s family issued a statement Friday evening thanking Canadians for their support.
A regimental funeral is scheduled for Tuesday, and Cirillo is to be buried in a field of honour at a Hamilton cemetery.