MAYERTHORPE — The tiny community of Mayerthorpe paused for a few minutes Wednesday to honour the memory of four young Mounties who were cut down by a cop-hating gunman five years ago.
A crowd of about 150 gathered just after sundown at the Fallen Four Memorial Park, lighting candles and saying prayers for the young constables who were ambushed and shot dead on March 3, 2005.
“This memorial park has kept the community together,” said Frank Thibault, whose wife helped organized the memorial. “It’s done so much for the town as far as being able to get through this grief.”
“We’re not grieving any more, we’re celebrating the lives of those fellows.”
Constables Brock Myrol, 29, Anthony Gordon, 28, Leo Johnston, 32, and Peter Schiemann, 25, were killed by James Roszko, who later shot himself.
Roszko shot the Mounties, who were staking out a Quonset hut after a raid uncovered stolen auto parts and dozens of marijuana plants on his property.
Only one family member of the Fallen Four attended the memorial, but Grace Johnston, Leo’s mother, declined interview requests.
Other family members had told organizers in advance that they would be mourning in private as they marked one of the darkest days in RCMP history.
Colleen Myrol said the loss of her son is “still huge” for her family. They planned to spend time Wednesday with officers from the RCMP detachment in his hometown of Red Deer, Alta.
“It still fills our hearts with sadness,” she said. “You just are very shocked and dismayed that really five years have come and gone.”
But Myrol is grateful to the memorial’s organizers and the people who helped raise money for the commemorative statues.
“They’ve just shown such dedication and honour to our four boys. We are totally and forever in their debt for what they are doing for our sons.”
Rev. Don Schiemann, whose son Peter was killed, said he spent the day in Edmonton with his daughter and her young family.
“You can’t help but be drawn back to the events of that day and just kind of relive them,” he said.
“We’ll go out to the grave site … we just want a bit of a private time.”
Chief Supt. Fred Kamins was one of a handful of RCMP officers who attended Wednesday’s memorial service.
“I believe it’s the community’s way of demonstrating that they can rally from tragedy,” Kamins said following the 20-minute service.
“Rising from the ashes like a phoenix, they can come forward and they can have something very positive and very good come from a very tragic event.”
Sgt. Mark Mathias, commander of the Mayerthorpe RCMP detachment, confirmed earlier in the week that the force wasn’t organizing a separate memorial and wouldn’t have a major presence at the vigil.
“There may be people who show up on their own to pay their respects and remember the guys, but there’s nothing official that I know of,” said Mathias. “Everybody’s got to deal with it in their own way.
“It was a very sad day and a very eye-opening day for Canadians as a whole. If coming here to be at the memorial for a moment is their way of dealing with it, then I’m glad it’s there for them.”
Margaret Thibault was a key organizer of the memorial. She gave a moving reading as the crowd stood silent in the candlelight at the foot of four statues of the slain constables.
“The fabric of the comforting quilt of the world as we knew it was torn in half with the death of four extremely promising young men,” she said.
“Our country was shaken to the roots that such an incomprehensible tragedy could happen.”
Robert Knuckle, author of the only book written about the Mayerthorpe tragedy, said all Canadians should make a point of visiting the memorial site at some point.
“This place has become a destination. It’s not just people driving by on the highway,” he said. “People come there with their children and their grandchildren.
“I think Canadians should go and pay their respects … These were good, solid citizens who did everything they could to make our country a better and safer place to live.”
An estimated 15,000 people a year visit the memorial park in Mayerthorpe.