When they began to realize it was gunshots they were hearing just outside in the hallway, Red Deer MP Earl Dreeshen and fellow Conservative members quickly began to take defensive action.
Dreeshen, speaking on Thursday about the previous day’s dramatic attack and killings in Ottawa, said at first he thought the noise outside their caucus meeting room in the House of Commons was construction.
At that point, caucus members had no idea that a man had just shot 24-year-old Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial, minutes away from the Parliament Buildings Centre Block where the House of Commons is located.
“(Construction) is going on all the time around here so you don’t really think too much of that. But then we heard some people yelling, so that kind of caught your attention. Then shots were being fired.”
Dreeshen, 61, lives on a farm in Central Alberta. He knows the sound of gunshots.
“Then more shots and more yelling, so you know something was happening.”
“At that stage we went into a defensive position. We took chairs to barricade doors, we made sure people were away from the doors in case someone was coming through them. We were all part of it.
“I was a school teacher for many years and we’ve always gone through drills for intruders, and what I could I see we were following all of the proper things.
“We have many people who have military and law enforcement experience who are (caucus) members. … Therefore you know what they were doing was right. At least I knew that that was what we were supposed to be doing, and yeah, so from that perspective we were doing something that we felt was going to help our colleagues.”
“It was instinctual” Dreeshen said.
“You were running on adrenalin. … So that was kind of the first part. … Once the shooting had stopped, of course we had no communication with the outside world until we were starting to get a few emails. That was when we heard that someone had been shot at the War Memorial.”
The shooting that Dreeshen and fellow MPs heard turned out to be between House of Commons security staff and the gunman, since identified as Michael Zehaf Bibeau.
Kevin Vickers, the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons, is being hailed as hero for helping shoot the lone gunman. Zehaf Bibeau had rushed to the Centre Block after killing Cirillo at the National War Memorial.
After the shooting in the Centre Block stopped, “Then somebody knocked on the door and said they were RCMP but we wanted proof,” Dreeshen said, chuckling a little bit.
“Shortly after that, security did come in and they told us what had happened. … We had put up a TV feed so we were hearing what was happening outside. Of course, anything coming by the media was all speculation. We had a different concept of some of the emergency but nevertheless I think more than ever we weren’t really thinking about ourselves there, it was just this horrendous act that had just taken place at the War Memorial.
“Once we found out that had happened, we were locked down for 10 hours.
“First of all, right in front of us was a crime scene.
“Beyond that, each and every one of the rooms in all of Parliament had to be checked. They were not going to have people wandering around and leaving in any kind of a disorderly fashion. And of course all of our offices were also locked down, even my office here in Confeds (Confederation building).”
The ordeal began just before 10 a.m. and Dreeshen was out of lockdown at 8 p.m. (Ottawa times).
Soon after the shooting, Vickers did address them, said Dreeshen.
“You know … he had done his job. So many people look at it as a ceremonial position you know as a sergeant-at-arms … that is his responsibility.
“Quite frankly, someone who is going to come in and barge through a door, is going to come in with a gun, you know the person who was trying to stop him did his part.”
When asked how he could have prepared for something like this, Dreeshen said: “That’s the difficult thing. These are Canadians who are doing this to our country and to our fellow Canadians. So we will have to look into in the future and make sure that we continue to be vigilant and kind of go from there.
“We spent a long time together yesterday, and to be able comfort each other and to be able to think our way through about some of the issues that had been presented to us, presented as a nation. …
“The prime minister spoke with us in later in the evening after he had made his address. People from all political parties were there so we know that we have to work together on this, all parliamentarians.
“It’s something that we will do, and we don’t need to inflame the rhetoric, we just have to get down to work and make sure we do what we have to.”
Dreeshen was glad to be back to work on Thursday.
“This morning the prime minister was there at the War Memorial to lay a wreath and we all came together. Our main focal point was the sergeant-at-arms Vickers.
“For those of us who were aware of the situation, we understand just how important he is to all of our security.”
Dreeshen said it is unfortunate that it doesn’t get reported very often that all members of Parliament “actually all do work together in the House of Commons.
“Things like this do bring people together. There always has been a lot more positiveness … than sometimes the media suggests.
“I’m OK. I’m OK. You know, I didn’t sleep very much (Wednesday) night but I feel there are so many people who had sent messages to my staff and via email and text. Unfortunately my Blackberry went dead,” he said laughing.
“So anyway, I know that there were a lot of people who were supportive of myself as an individual but also of our nation. That’s made me feel very good, so we’ll just continue on from there.”
Dreeshen was able to reach his wife, Judy, when he was in lockdown.
“That was the best part. From that at least she knew that we were safe.”
As for the long-term impact of the shooting: “I don’t really have an answer for that that I want to present right now. I think it’s important that we realize Canada is standing together as a nation, and that we will be strong and we won’t be intimidated. That would be my message.”