Aftermath was 'loneliest moment of my life,' hero of Parliament Hill … – National Post
The morning after his daring heroics — diving from behind a pillar to shoot dead a gunman who had just killed a soldier — Kevin Vickers awoke before dawn and wept
The morning after his daring heroics — diving from behind a pillar inside the House of Commons to shoot dead a gunman who had just killed a soldier — Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers awoke before dawn and wept.
“It was the loneliest moment of my life,” he said Monday, his voice faltering.
And as accolades and tributes to his fortitude and strength in protecting the centre of Canada’s democracy flooded in after the Ottawa attack last October, Vickers himself retreated to his family’s log home in Miramichi, N.B., where he called his parish priest and — while holding his young grandchildren — prayed for Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the gunman he killed.
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He told the gripping account of the aftermath of the terror attack on Parliament to graduating students at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., on Monday, when he was awarded an honorary degree.
Vickers, 58, drew a direct line from growing up in Miramichi under the influence of his mother and father, through his career with the RCMP to his confrontation with a killer in Parliament’s Hall of Honour on Oct. 22, 2014.
He said he knew what he wanted to do with his life when, walking past the courthouse as a young boy, he watched three members of the RCMP walking out in their red serge uniforms. He spent 29 years in the force.
“One of the things that struck me during my career is I obtained 17 confessions from men who’ve killed people,” Vickers told graduates and faculty.
“The reason that I was able to get those confessions and facilitate those men telling me their stories was what my father, Bill Vickers, instilled in me way back when: regardless how repulsive the crime, you always respect the dignity of their person.”
That philosophy has always guided him, he said, and his faith in it was again tested after the shooting.
He took the job as director of security at the House of Commons in 2005 after retiring from the RCMP. On his way to the job interview he saw a father playing Frisbee with a boy on the lawn outside Parliament.
“I was instantly enamoured with the place and I wanted to protect it. I wanted to keep it safe from harm,” he said.
He became sergeant-at-arms the following year, promising in his job interview, “If you people make me the sergeant-at-arms, there will be no walls built around Canada’s Parliament buildings.”
He was largely seen by the public only as a ceremonial fixture in the arcane traditions of Parliament, wearing an archaic hat and carrying the ceremonial mace into the House of Commons before each sitting.
“My career as sergeant-at-arms went by very quickly and then on Oct. 22 came that day, that tragic day,” he said, his voice betraying emotion.
That morning, Zehaf-Bibeau used a hunting rifle to kill Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a soldier from Hamilton who was standing ceremonial guard at the National War Monument, and then dashed into the Centre Block, where he shot and injured a security guard who tried to stop him.
Inside, Zehaf-Bibeau exchanged shots with security and police as he moved through the Hall of Honour.
“I found myself on one side of the pillar and a gunman on the other side of the pillar. His gun was right there,” he said, motioning an arm’s-length in front of him.
“There was a moment when I thought I’d just reach out and grab the gun.”
The day did not end that way.
“He shot and fired and the moment he shot and fired I dove through the air (and) landed on the floor just beneath him. As my friend, Craig Oliver from CTV, said, I bumped up against a moment in history.
“That day was a blur to me. I went home that night and I had a hard time going to sleep and I woke up around 5:30 in the morning and I was crying. It was the loneliest moment of my life.
“The morning came and who called? My mother.”
His game face returned and he told his mother, “I’m doing just great, Mom.” Seemingly knowing him better than he knew himself, she said he should come home to Miramichi, for his adult children might need him.
“Mom, they’ll be fine,” he said. She made the suggestion each day for several days until he climbed into his truck and drove from Ottawa to Miramichi.
“And that night I said to myself as I was driving, ‘What is it with these men — the men that I obtained confessions from and the gentleman, the individual, I met in the Hall of Honour’ — and I said to myself, and thinking of my father, ‘respecting the dignity of people. I should pray for them.’”
Arriving at his log home at 4:30 a.m., he immediately called his family priest, asking if he would lead a mass at his home that morning. The priest agreed and Vickers then phoned his family and asked them to join him.
After the mass, Vickers’ mother, Monica, prayed; first for Kathy Cirillo, the soldier’s mother, and then for Suzanne Zehaf, the gunman’s mother.
“And it kind of occurred to me that God, after he was crucified, the first person he let into the kingdom of heaven was the man crucified next to him, a convicted criminal.
“So with my grandchildren in my arms I said a prayer for Michael.”
It was an important part of his own reconciliation with killing a man, and bringing the philosophy espoused by his father full circle, back in Miramichi.
“I was OK now and it’s all thanks to Mom having organized and got me back home because she knew it wasn’t they — my children — that needed me home it was Kevin Michael who needed to be home.”
He told students that each of them would face a test in life — “your Oct. 22” — and that mothers were a tremendous source of support and understanding.
Vickers was appointed as the ambassador of Canada to Ireland in January 2015.
He was one of four people awarded an honorary doctor of law degree from Mount Allison. Joining him were author Lawrence Hill, Acadian writer France Daigle and playwright Matthew Jocelyn.
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