Six strangers ran to help Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in his moment of need. His death made them comrades. What came after made them friends.


The heroes of October 22


By Julie Smyth and Jonathon Gatehouse


Six strangers ran to help Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in his moment of need. His death made them comrades. What came after made them friends.


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The paramedics hoisted Cpl. Nathan Cirillo onto the blue-blanketed gurney and wheeled it toward the ambulance, pumping vainly at his chest. The doors slammed shut, and then he was gone. Police were still fanning out through the streets of downtown Ottawa, weapons drawn, and the wail of sirens filled the bright fall air, but there was a lull at the National War Memorial. The six strangers who worked together to try and save the corporal had no idea what was supposed to happen next.


Martin Magnan, a bureaucrat, slumped down on the cold cement next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Col. Conrad Mialkowski introduced himself to the two other military men—Cpl. Kyle Button and Cpl. Anthony Wiseman—chatting long enough to establish they had all served in Afghanistan, then phoned his wife. Barbara Winters, a government lawyer, clutched the hands of Margaret Lerhe, a former nurse. It wasn’t until later that she noticed they were covered in blood.


A contingent of cameramen and photographers had arrived from nearby Parliament Hill. Office workers and tourists were also crowding the scene, snapping pictures on their cellphones. Lerhe approached a policeman to say she had seen the shooter with the long dark hair and the kaffiyeh-style scarf, but the cop, who appeared to be in shock, barely took notice. Other officers arrived and shooed away the gawkers. The six collected the purses, backpacks and briefcases they had left scattered around the monument and waited a while longer. Eventually, they were all put in squad cars and driven a few minutes down Elgin Street to Ottawa Police headquarters.

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

The six worked as a team to help Cirillo, following Button's terse instructions, before an ambulance took him away.

Magnan used the time to text his boss at the Department of National Defence to say he’d be unable to attend an afternoon meeting. Then figuring rightly that his picture was all over the news, he emailed his kids and ex-wife in Colorado, along with his parents and siblings in Alberta, to let them know he was okay. It was barely 10:30 in the morning.

At the station, the group was herded into a conference room with other witnesses—almost two dozen all told—and instructed not to discuss what had happened, or surf the Internet for more information. There were some tourists from France among them, so instead, the conversation turned to where to eat in Ottawa. They helped themselves to coffee and muffins left over from an earlier meeting. The minutes dragged into hours. Winters was teary. Lerhe was starting to feel overwhelmed too and went outside into the corridor to cry. No one paid her any attention.

The individual interviews were conducted in offices and interrogation rooms. Two or three detectives were taking notes, and asking the same questions over and over again. “They made me go over my story quite a few times and describe the distances and the position of the shooter,” says Lerhe. “Fortunately I was looking at him and not Cpl. Cirillo, so I didn’t see him fall.” Afterwards, there were short one-on-one sessions with trauma counsellors. They were advised to call their families and friends and talk about what had happened. And to return to their normal routines as soon as possible.

Martin Magnan and Barbara Winters

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It was almost 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2015—more than 6½ hours after the attack—when an officer drove Magnan back to the Byward Market where he had left his car. The streets were empty, still technically off-limits to civilians, but the 47-year-old took a couple of minutes to pause by the fountain near the U.S. Embassy. It was the spot where he had been coming all summer to call his son and daughter and talk through the issues surrounding the breakdown of his marriage. Zoé, his eldest at 19, was with her mom in the States and wanted proof that he was fine. Magnan snapped a selfie and sent it off. The smile was wan and not at all reflected in his dark eyes. “She joked, ‘You look like s--t, Dad.’ But at least she knew I was alive.”

Lerhe was still in the station when a cop she knows—a friend’s boyfriend—learned she was a witness and came to find her. She called her husband, Connor, for a ride and sobbed again, in sorrow and relief, on the phone. Their police friend directed him to park down the block and then led her out a back door so she could avoid the waiting media. Lerhe didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to any of the others, as they’d been kept apart post-interviews. “Our little band had exchanged names, but not numbers,” she says. “And I left there thinking, I’m never going to see [them] again. And that actually made me very sad.”



Button says the events of Oct. 22 'are going to stick with me forever.' He is back at the cenotaph for a month.

There have been a half-dozen, separate official reports on the Ottawa terrorist attack. None of them make more than a passing reference to the strangers who tried so hard to save its only victim. A year later, those six people still struggle with the fallout from that morning. Others may choose to forget; they are bound to remember.

Kyle Button recalls thinking that it looked like a toy gun, a make-believe cowboy rifle he and his brothers might have played with when they were growing up back in Newfoundland. Standing at the far edge of the plaza, he had already pegged Michael Zehaf-Bibeau as a potential troublemaker. The long-haired young man in the trench coat was getting too close to Nathan Cirillo and Cpl. Branden Stevenson, the friends and fellow reservists from Hamilton’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Part of Button’s job overseeing the ceremonial guard at the War Memorial was making sure that the public didn’t get too interactive. He was preparing to say something when Zehaf-Bibeau raised the .30-30 Winchester to his waist and pulled the trigger.

His first two shots hit Cirillo in the back, and the 24-year-old fell to the cement on the east side of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Button ran toward the gunman and screamed at Stevenson to take cover as Zehaf-Bibeau turned to fire again. Instincts, honed during two tours of duty in Afghanistan, took over for the 27-year-old corporal. “The reaction to being shot at before . . . I just wanted to get down. I dove,” says Button. Then he popped back up and sprinted for cover on the far side of the monument. Investigators later determined that there was a fourth shot, but Button doesn’t remember it. He was waiting for Zehaf-Bibeau’s next move. “I was either going to run at him, or run around [the memorial]—just play this weird ring-around-the-rosie game,” he says. The shooter was already gone, however, on his way to sow more mayhem inside the Centre Block.

Button ordered Stevenson to descend into the Plaza Barracks, a ready room below the cenotaph, and find help. Then he made his way over to Cirillo, started first aid, and screamed for someone to call 911.

Margaret Lerhe was making the best of a cancelled meeting and a beautiful morning, taking the time to walk between the two downtown sites where she worked as director of learning and development for Bruyère Continuing Care. She was crossing the road toward the memorial when she heard the shots and saw Zehaf-Bibeau. At first, she thought it must be some sort of drill—a reaction to the death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. The 53-year-old had been run over, and another soldier gravely injured, in a parking lot in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., just two days before, victims of another self-styled jihadi attack. Her confusion lasted only a few seconds. This was all too real.

As the shooter fled, the 62-year-old ran toward Cirillo, flung down her backpack and asked what she could do. Button told her to put pressure on the wound on the corporal’s left side. He was already busy trying to staunch the flow of blood from the hole on the right.

Martin Magnan had ducked out of the office to meet a friend for coffee at the Starbucks in the Rideau Centre mall. He heard the first two shots, and had started running toward the memorial by the time the third one rang out. When he got to Cirillo, Button instructed him to raise the soldier’s kilted legs to keep the blood flowing in his torso. The corporal was a big man, and Magnan found the weight hard to hold. He crouched down and rested the white-spatted boots across his thighs. Then he reached out and grasped Cirillo’s right hand. There was a faint squeeze in return.

Kyle Button and Margaret Lerhe

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Conrad Mialkowski was stopped at a red light just past the plaza, on the way back to his office at the Department of National Defence. The colonel heard the first bang and knew exactly what it was. He had served in Croatia and Bosnia in the mid-1990s and spent 10 months in 2011 as the commander of Canada’s 1,300-strong battle group in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The 47-year-old caught some movement in his rearview mirror, turned in his seat and saw Zehaf-Bibeau shoot Cirillo the second time. “I was filled with surprise and rage,” he says. He pulled a quick U-turn—narrowly missing an oncoming OC Transpo bus—and gunned the engine of his little Nissan Versa. “What we look to do first is neutralize the threat, so I had it in my mind that I was going to take my car and I was going to drive over that gunman.” It soon became obvious that the compact would never make it past the cement bollards surrounding the plaza, so he abandoned the car on the edge of the sidewalk and ran to join the efforts to save Cirillo.

Anthony Wiseman was sitting in a government SUV, parked across Elgin Street, waiting for his boss, then chief of Defence staff Gen. Tom Lawson, to finish a meeting in the neighbouring Langevin Block, home to the Privy Council and Prime Minister’s offices. At first he mistook the shots for construction work on Parliament Hill. Then he saw Button diving for cover and Zehaf-Bibeau running away. The 28-year-old lit out in pursuit, dodging oncoming traffic as he crossed to the plaza. The attacker reached his own car, left parked in the middle of Wellington Street, started the engine and threw it into reverse, backing toward the corporal at speed. Wiseman leapt over a bench at the edge of the memorial, falling into a bush. By the time he regained his feet Zehaf-Bibeau was gone.

Barbara Winters was on her way to a meeting along Sparks Street. She had already passed the monument, stopping just long enough to snap a couple of photos of Cirillo and Stevenson on the digital camera she happened to have in her purse. “The Argylls were very striking in their kilts and it was such a beautiful fall day,” she says. She heard the shots, turned around and saw other pedestrians ducking. Her own instinct was to return to see if the soldiers were safe. “I don’t run that fast, but in my head, that’s when I kicked it into full gear,” she says. The only space left around Cirillo was at his shoulders, so Winters dropped down, loosened his tie and began to recite the Lord’s Prayer. “I’m not even religious. That’s just what came to mind,” she says. Mialkowski had been encouraging the soldier to stay with them, and Winters picked up the theme. “I kept telling him that he was loved. That he was a good man and a brave man. I just kept repeating that.”

Lerhe noticed that Cirillo had stopped breathing and upon checking, no one could find a pulse at his wrists or neck. Mialkowski started mouth to mouth, and Winters began doing chest compressions. After a few minutes, Wiseman took over and Winters sprawled out across the Tomb on the Unknown Soldier to deliver more words of comfort and encouragement directly into the soldier’s ear. “I told him that his family loved him and his military family—I meant his brothers-in-arms—loved him and that his military brothers were right there with him, and that they were working to help him, and all these strangers,” she says. There was desperation, but no panic. They all worked intently as a team, following Button’s terse instructions.

Master Cpl. Anthony Wiseman and Col. Conrad Mialkowski

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The Afghan vet was keeping one eye on the growing crowd. He worried the bystanders might actually be spotters—setting them up for a more complex ambush. Lerhe just made them out for the worst kind of people. “I was so offended by them standing there, creeping closer and closer with their phones taking photos,” she says. One woman was almost on top of them as she strained to get a clear view of the wounds. “All I could think of was this soldier would be recognized [by his family]. You could clearly see his spats and his uniform and they would know who he is.” Lerhe asked a police officer and other soldiers to move the crowds back and clear a path for emergency crews. It felt like it was taking forever for the ambulance to arrive.

Back in Seal Cove, N.L., Button’s mother, Michelle Murphy, was standing in the local grocery store when her cellphone rang. It was a friend telling her about the shooting in Ottawa. She knew Kyle was on duty at the War Memorial and tried to call his cell, and text him, but there was no answer. When she got home, she went online and found a photo of him leaning over Cirillo. “I knew he was okay, but that someone else was hurt,” Murphy would later tell the Conception Bay South Shoreline News. It wasn’t until that evening that Button was able to call—for a minute only. He was headed to meet Nathan Cirillo’s family, and the military had put him on communications lockdown. “I ask myself sometimes, ‘How is this possible? How could this have happened?’ ” Michelle told the local paper. “He’s been in Afghanistan twice . . . and then to be a target in your own country while wearing a uniform? I think that’s what a lot of people are asking themselves.”


Barbara Winters told everyone she was fine and just wanted to recover quietly at home with Daisy, her yellow lab. Her sister and nephew came over anyway. “She helped me get dinner and breakfast ready for the next day,” says Winters. “In the immediate aftermath I couldn’t think straight. I found myself sort of spinning around. I had to iron a shirt and it took me 40 minutes.”

Before leaving the police station, Col. Mialkowski had given Winters a hug and taken down her phone number. “I got a little worried about her,” he says. “I had been in other stressful situations. I know the stages and how people deal with things.” He called to make sure she was doing all right. The next day, Thursday, Winters gave an emotional interview to CBC Radio’s As It Happens, about the group’s efforts to save Cirillo. Maclean’s and other media outlets followed up. Global Television wanted to do something on camera. Winters found Lerhe’s phone number and reached out to see if she would come along and share the burden. They agreed to tape the segment at Global’s studios near the War Memorial on Friday.

A plan had been hatched to remount the ceremonial guard early that afternoon. Mialkowski had tracked down Magnan, who was working as a communications adviser at the DND, to touch base and let him know. The colonel arrived early and went down to the room below the monument where he knew he’d find Button. The corporal was wearing a brand new uniform—his blood-soaked one had been seized as evidence by Ottawa Police. (On the way to pick up the dress kit, the day before, Button and an accompanying sergeant had witnessed a traffic accident and stopped to help three injured people. He was amazed by how many people just passed by.)

Afterwards, Mialkowski went outside and saw Winters and Lerhe walking hand-in-hand through the growing crowd with a reporter and cameraman in hot pursuit. The colonel went over, gave each a big hug and ushered them behind the VIP barrier.

Magnan hadn’t been sure he was ready to return to the scene but ended up “drifting by.” As he walked through the throng, a woman in her 20s approached him and said she had seen him on TV. “You were there. I recognize you. Thank you.” Magnan was too overwhelmed to say much in response. He turned away, hiding his face so she wouldn’t see him cry. Soon he bumped into the others and there were more tears and embraces. Wiseman arrived with the chief of Defence staff for the ceremony. As they stood chatting—a few feet from the pile of flowers, flags and stuffed animals that marked where they had first come together—a staffer from the PMO recognized the group and hurried them over to meet Stephen Harper. They decided then that they would all travel together to Hamilton for Cirillo’s funeral. (Minus Wiseman, who was scheduled to take his pregnant wife, Amy, to a doctor’s appointment.)

Cpl. Cirillo's mother, Kathy (below), and his then-five-year-old-son, Marcus (above), wearing the same Glengarry cap his father wore on duty, attended the regimental service in Hamilton

They left early on the Monday, the day before the full-military service on Oct. 28. Mialkowski rented a white Dodge mini-van, picked up Magnan at his apartment, then the others at the Cartier Square Drill Hall on the banks of the Rideau Canal. The colonel’s wife, Nancy, had made a bunch of gourmet sandwiches and packed a cooler with drinks and individualized “goodie bags,” filled with granola bars, chocolate and chips. “It was like we were kids again,” Lerhe recalls with a smile. The chatter on the five-hour trip was mostly getting-to-know-you stuff. Magnan and Winters realized that they have both served in the same naval reserve unit in Vancouver a couple of decades back, but somehow their paths had never crossed. A friend of Mialkowski’s turned out to be another common connection. Lerhe was also in Vancouver at the time, with a brother in the Navy, and used to pass by the base on her runs. They shared experiences and talked about their upbringings. Lerhe and Mialkowski were both “military brats”—his dad spent 38 years in the artillery and her father, a Second World War vet, made the Air Force his career, eventually retiring as a major.

In Hamilton that evening, the group had dinner, then a private meeting with Cirillo’s family. Kathy, his mother, had heard they were coming and wanted to express her thanks. Nathan’s older sisters, Nicole and Natasha, were there. So too was his five-year-old son, Marcus. “I think it was beneficial for everybody, because we were able to at least give Kathy and the remainder of the family an understanding of his last moments,” says Mialkowski. That night, the five from Ottawa repaired to the bar at the Sheraton Hotel. There were more than 4,500 politicians, military personnel and dignitaries in town to pay their respects, but they looked across the room and saw a face they all recognized—Anthony Di Monte, the first emergency responder to reach the cenotaph. Di Monte, the chief of the Ottawa Paramedic Service, was in his car leaving a city hall meeting on Ebola preparations when he got the call. He was on the scene 45 seconds later. They introduced themselves properly, then sat together and shared some drinks.

The funeral was both draining and inspirational. Marcus Cirillo marched with the cortege through downtown Hamilton’s streets, wearing a red poppy and his father’s regimental cap, waving a Canadian flag that was almost as large as he was. When the group arrived at Christ’s Church Cathedral for the service, they were surprised to be ushered to a pew directly behind the Cirillos. It was the family’s wish. “It was almost like a bonding of sort, between us and the family,” says Mialkowski. “And just an honour to be able to stand there with them in that time of pain in order to bid farwell to Nathan.”

The drive home, afterwards, was the first time the group really discussed what had happened on that morning less than a week before. Their recollections were jumbled and sometimes contradictory. “Everything happened so fast,” says Button. “It was such a traumatizing event, you don’t see what you think you do.” Lerhe had a confession to make. At the police station, in the midst of describing the shooter, she suddenly realized it was Magnan’s bearded face that had popped into her mind. They laughed about that, and other things. One chance moment had made them comrades. Now they were becoming friends.



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Normal didn’t feel like normal anymore. Magnan was having trouble sleeping, gaining weight, and finding it difficult to concentrate. He was back at work, and had resumed his daily routine, but was mostly going through the motions. “I had stacks of mail I didn’t read for a month,” he says. “I would go to the mailbox, collect it, and just put it in a pile. I don’t even recall thinking about it.”

Winters was still easily moved to tears, and she felt nauseous all the time. Some friends, relatives and neighbours took up the challenge to listen and help. Others stayed away. Few truly understood. “Some tried to compare the situation to a death in their own family. I have watched my parents, and others die, but it’s not the same,” says Winters. “Nothing compares to the trauma of hearing gunfire, running toward it, seeing a solider shot and then desperately trying to save his life.”

By early November, Lerhe was also in distress, the effects of the tragedy compounded by the cancer struggle of a good friend’s son. One Sunday, when it all became too much, she called a support hotline. The crisis counsellor asked if she had been in touch with the rest of the group. “She said, ‘You must. These are the only people who understand what you’ve been through.’ ” Lerhe emailed everyone suggesting a get-together. She had only one night left before she was scheduled to fly out to B.C. for a couple of weeks on a work-related course. They all joined her at a local pub for burgers and beer, despite the short notice. Just being together again was a comfort. “It was important for us to connect,” says Lerhe.


On Remembrance Day, those who remained in town returned to the cenotaph together. Cpl. Branden Stevenson was back on duty as the guards closed out their seasonal service. He released a statement to the media—to date, his only public remarks about the tragedy. “Nathan Cirillo was my friend, my best friend, my brother. I will miss him forever,” it read. “I now have to learn to live without someone who was closer to me than I can put into words.” After the solemn ceremony, there were drinks with the members of the sentry program, including Stevenson, at the Lord Elgin Hotel across the street. Then, once the crowds had cleared, they returned to the plaza and laid their poppies atop the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

A few weeks later, Button and Stevenson accompanied Kathy Cirillo on a quiet visit to the War Memorial, then a trip to Parliament Hill to meet with Kevin Vickers, the former sergeant-at-arms who is credited with having fired the shot that killed Zehaf-Bibeau. He presented her with the Canadian flag that had been flying atop the Peace Tower on the morning of Oct. 22. Afterwards, Nathan’s mother and the two corporals joined the rest of the group for brunch. She had presents for them all—small silver clocks, engraved with a special message. “The inscription has significance and meaning,” is all Mialkowski will say. The group has made a decision to keep most of what has gone on between them and Nathan’s friends and family private. Still, it’s clear they were deeply moved by her gift. The colonel keeps the clock on his desk as a daily reminder. Magnan put his in his kitchen. Lerhe placed hers in her home office. Lerhe had something to give in return that day—baby clothes for Nathan’s sister, Nicole. Kathy had been blessed with another grandchild to cherish the day following the funeral, after her heavily pregnant daughter walked the entire length of the procession with Marcus and the rest of the family.

Mialkowski took command of 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group in Petawawa, Ont.

The group’s story and the power of the images of military and civilians working together to try and save the fallen corporal inspired all sort of responses, from disturbing to heartfelt. Elaborate videos popped up online suggesting they were paid actors and part of a government-led conspiracy. Internet trolls left obscene comments and speculated about their personal lives. Odd and inexplicable, since most Canadians were so obviously touched by their efforts. Winters received a big bouquet of flowers with an anonymous thank-you note. She called the florist and tracked down the sender—a woman in Manitoba. They had a nice chat on the phone. Another lady sent her a hand-knit purple, green and blue shawl, along with some heartfelt prayers.

The get-togethers continued through the fall and winter and into the spring. Lerhe, the social convenor, took to calling them “Team Nathan” in her emails. Sometimes it was just a couple of them meeting up for a glass of wine. On other occasions all six would gather at a steakhouse for dinner, or head to Magnan’s favourite Mexican place for fish tacos. The conversation was now about dogs, shoes, food and television—almost anything other than that October day. In December, Lerhe and her husband hosted everyone at their house for a lasagna dinner, including a vegetarian one for Magnan. He brought everyone a little gift and they exchanged Christmas cards. At Easter, there was another meal. Magnan brought his kids. Mialkowski came with his wife and daughter. And Button arrived with a friend. It was an opportunity to enlarge the circle.

They’ve come to lean on one another. Magnan and Lerhe have become close. When he was going through a particularly rough patch, she gifted him her old knapsack. He used it everyday for nine months before passing it on to his daughter. The colonel keeps an eye out for the soldiers. During a group interview with Maclean’s last December, he was the one who stepped in and announced he was taking Wiseman “off the hotseat” when the young corporal—a strong and silent type—visibly struggled with a question about how things had changed since the attack. During that same interview, Mialkowski was at Winters’s side, providing comfort. “To me, it’s the difference between being able to cope, and not to cope,” she says. “If this wasn’t such a spectacular group of people, I think I’d be very traumatized.”

Lerhe went on a yoga retreat in Costa Rica at the end of January to help recentre her emotions and clear her mind. Button took a trip to Panama and Colombia for three weeks with some American friends. “It was good to go and just hang out at a beach nowhere in the jungle and relax.” Magnan started seeing a psychologist. It helped. “I’ve gotten over my little demons,” he says. “We learned that life is fragile. We learned that no matter what—you’ve got to just keep going.”

In June, (from left) Wiseman, Winters, Mialkowski, Magnan, Lerhe and Button were awarded the St. John Ambulance Service gold medal

Their seasons are now defined by the cenotaph. Magnan and Winters were there when the ceremonial guard was remounted, and the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge commemorated on April 9. In June, the group again returned to the plaza for a morning service of remembrance that was the prelude to a medal ceremony that afternoon in the Senate chambers on the Hill. The St. John Ambulance Service awarded its highest honour—the gold Life Saving Medal—to the team. “These six individuals, uncertain if the shooter would return, if he was accompanied by accomplices, or how the situation was unfolding around them, with no regard for their own safety, rushed to the side of the fallen soldier,” read the proclamation. There was a prolonged standing ovation after the decorations were pinned to their chests. And then the Ottawa Police Chorus sang Let There Be Peace on Earth, and a rousing, gospel version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

Afterwards, they all posed for photos in front of the royal thrones on the Senate floor. In an antechamber outside they gathered for another interview with Maclean’s. Winters talked about Aboriginal spirituality and the belief that your elders watch over you. The group had tried, to the best of their abilities, to do that for Cirillo. But their failure wasn’t the story. “Oct. 22, should be remembered for all the good that lies in people,” she said. Mialkowski concurred. The corporal’s death was an undeniable tragedy, but its legacy isn’t all sorrow. “I’ve got five new best friends in my life.”

Lerhe is now in the Central African Republic with Médecins Sans Frontieres

Things have changed for the group over the past year. Mialkowski took command of 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group and its 4,000 troops in June. Posted at CFB Gagetown, Button became a master corporal. So too did Wiseman, who moved on to a new posting at CFB Petawawa after Gen. Lawson retired. He and his wife welcomed a son, Maxwell, in May. (Winters organized the joint present, a big teddy bear and a gift certificate from a baby store, and had it delivered to their home.) Magnan is now a spokesperson for Erin O’Toole, the minister of veterans affairs. Lerhe retired from her job and signed on for a nine-month stint as a volunteer with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in the Central African Republic. Since May, she has been overseeing supplies and logistics at a camp in Zemio, near the borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. She sends the group regular email updates from the conflict zone, along with photos. One recent snapshot documented her daily yoga practice—a headstand on the dirt floor of a thatched-roof hut. Lerhe had wanted to make the leap for a long while, but Cirillo’s death gave her the push. “I was dithering and driving people crazy,” she says. “But this was a galvanizing moment.” Lerhe moved to make what had once seemed like an “overwhelming dream” a reality. “I think Nathan has helped guide me,” she says.

Deprived of her organizational skills, the group hasn’t been seeing quite as much of each other. A plan to participate in Ottawa’s annual Army Run in September as “Team Nathan” sort of fell apart. The two younger soldiers were working. Magnan waited too long to register and ended up having to borrow someone else’s identity and bib. In the end, they ran the five-kilometre course that boxed the War Memorial separately. Mialkowski, his wife and their nine-year-old daughter crossed the line in a time of 32 minutes; Magnan a leisurely nine minutes later, to the strains of What a Feeling from Flashdance pumping over the loudspeakers. Winters, who had originally signed up to walk, was given bib number 24,089, and was the last to start and finish. She and Magnan finally found each other in the aftermath and hugged. They had arranged to meet the colonel for a post-race coffee, but got trapped by the beginning of the half-marathon and missed their chance.

Magnan and Winters met up at the end of the annual run in Ottawa in September

Yet all of them (with the exception of Lerhe) are planning to be in Ottawa, at the cenotaph for the first anniversary of the attacks. On Sept. 23, Button started a month-long rotation there, bringing the guards up every hour. Some members of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders are back on rotation as sentries. There is talk of an official ceremony, but even if it doesn’t happen, those who were there for Nathan Cirillo’s final moments will gather again to pay their respects. It has become both a matter of duty and honour.

During Mialkowski’s time in command in Afghanistan, 10 Canadians were killed. Some of the soldiers he never knew, others were familiar, one was a close friend. He now counts Cpl. Cirillo among the fallen from that war. “To my mind the connection is quite clear,” he says. “He was serving his country in an honourable and noble manner—as were all who were killed or wounded overseas. To me, the only difference was the location.”

Button also knows that death is part of military life. He lost a friend and roommate during one of his Afghan tours. The events of last Oct. 22 are “going to stick with me forever,” he says. But there has also been comfort in what flowed from them. A member of the Army since he graduated from high school at 18, the master corporal has discovered an unexpected connection with the civilian world. He can talk to Lerhe, or Winters or Magnan and share the sort of things that were once only reserved for fellow soldiers. “You could never really have [those] conversations with ex-girlfriends or your family,” he says. There’s also been some lessons learned about trust. “You find you can rely on people, complete strangers,” says Button. He jokes about having found two more mothers. The women tease him about someday attending his wedding.


They all still struggle, to varying degrees, with the attack; their memories, fears and regrets. Winters wonders what compelled them to run toward the gunfire, and work to save Cirillo out in the open when it wasn’t clear if the danger had passed. Was it training, or a sense of duty, or just compassion? In her case, perhaps it’s genetic. Her late father, a blacksmith, pitched in as a rescuer when an Ottawa bridge collapsed in 1966, spending a day and night cutting trapped and injured construction workers from the wreckage. And when she was 18, working as bank teller, she stared down a robber, calling his bluff when he took her hostage. “I think you are either a strong person or not,” she says. “But that does not mean that being strong does not take an awful toll on you.”

The photos of Cirillo and Stevenson that Winters snapped that morning have never been made public. She says there’s not much that is special about them, besides the timing. Still, she made prints and had them framed, and gave them to Nathan’s family, his close friends, his regiment, the rest of the guards who were on duty that day, and the other members of the team.

Magnan sometimes thinks about how odd it is that a man he never knew has had such an effect on his life. He tries extra hard to be in the moment, to appreciate friends, his kids and other family, and embrace joy wherever he finds it. “Nathan Cirillo is like a little friend inside my head. I talk to him just about every day,” he says. When he’s out on his bike, or driving around, and comes across a nice view, or a beautiful sunset, it’s the smiling, kilted corporal who comes to mind. “You’re missing this,” thinks Magnan. And there are the small rituals that now bookend his days. As he walks past the War Memorial on his way to work, he wishes Nathan, “good morning.” In the evening, on the way back home, he bids the fallen soldier “good night.”


The October shooting — and its aftermath: http://www.macleans.ca/tag/ottawa-shooting/

More Maclean's long reads here: http://www.macleans.ca/tag/longreads/



Reporters: Julie Smyth and Jonathon Gatehouse Editor: Dianna Symonds Managing editor: Sue Allan Director of photography: Liz Sullivan Art director: Stephen Gregory 
Digital production editor: Amanda Shendruk Video producers: Hilary Dean and Liz Sullivan Photographers: Bill Curry, CP, Blair Gable, Reuters Videographers: Patrick Doyle, Blair Gable, Cole Garside, James Park, Sylvain Renaud and David Zelikovitz Video editor: David Zelikovitz
Published: October 8, 2015