MONCTON, N.B. — People in Moncton came together Monday in a public show of support for the RCMP as they grieved the deaths of three Mounties shot dead in the line of duty last week.
Under a cloudless sky, people gathered at the Moncton Wesleyan Celebration Centre for a public visitation service for constables Fabrice Georges Gevaudan, Douglas James Larche and Dave Joseph Ross.
About 200 people were lined up as the doors swung open to a large auditorium, where three flag-draped coffins lay end-to-end near the front of the room. Atop each coffin was a Mountie’s brown Stetson and on a stage behind the coffins were several wreaths and large bouquets, most of them laden with red and white blooms.
In front of the wreaths were displays featuring framed photos of each of the victims and their brown leather boots.
“I really think there’s a need for us, the people of the city, to support the RCMP,” said local resident Elaine Gray, who dabbed her reddened eyes with a tissue as she emerged from the building.
“For me, I just wanted to say thank you again and again to these people. … (What happened) was so senseless and such a shame and such a loss. I didn’t know any of them personally. I know all of them now.”
As the crowd filed past, there were six RCMP officers in red serge there to greet them. There was a quiet murmur of voices and a few heavy sighs and sobs as each Mountie took turns shaking hands and accepting quiet thanks and personal tributes from the mourners.
The visitation service was held as the city prepares to welcome thousands of police officers from across Canada for an RCMP regimental funeral service Tuesday.
Mayor George LeBlanc said he expects between 5,000 and 7,000 police officers will attend the funeral at the Moncton Coliseum, which will be preceded by an RCMP parade. The service will be televised.
LeBlanc said the city’s outpouring of support for the families of the slain officers has been one of the bright lights within a dark time.
“If you just look around here today, it won’t take you long to see somebody coming up and shaking the hands of an RCMP officer,” LeBlanc said before attending the public visitation service. “That is the goodness of Moncton shining through.”
The city has set up at least five other sites where people can gather to mourn due to the number of people expected to attend the funeral. Residents have also been asked to volunteer their homes as billets for travelling police officers.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov.-Gen. David Johnston are also scheduled to attend.
Gevaudan, Larche and Ross were gunned down Wednesday evening after responding to a report of a man with firearms in a residential neighbourhood in the northwest area of Moncton. Two other officers — Constables Eric Dubois and Darlene Goguen — were wounded and have been released from hospital.
The shootings and the ensuing 30-hour manhunt for the alleged killer brought the city to a standstill until an arrest was made just after midnight Friday.
Schools reopened Monday and counselling services were made available to students, said Gregg Ingersoll, the superintendent for the Anglophone East School Board.
“It’s going to take us a little while to get back to that sense that everything is going to be OK,” Ingersoll said.
Books of condolence have also been set up at various city halls and RCMP detachments throughout New Brunswick.
Gevaudan, 45, originally of the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, was remembered in his obituary as an advocate of women’s rights who adored his wife and “Twin Flame,” Angela, and stepdaughter Emma.
“While he died protecting the lives of the individuals in his community, his spirit tells us he died as he lived — a happy man,” it says.
The obituary for Larche, 40, of Saint John, N.B., says he died while working as a plainclothes officer who “without fear or hesitation ran towards danger to protect his community and family.” He leaves behind his wife Nadine and three daughters and “little princesses” Alexa, Laura and Mia.
Ross’s obituary says the 32-year-old dog handler died doing what he loved. He is survived by his wife Rachael and son Austin, with another child expected in the fall.
LeBlanc said the deaths of the officers are difficult to fathom.
“It’s hard to accept that this is reality,” he said. “It’s hard to find words to describe it.”
Justin Bourque, 24, of Moncton is facing three charges of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. He made a brief appearance in provincial court Friday and he is scheduled to return to court July 3.