Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
When the first loud bang reverberated inside the stone walls of Centre Block Wednesday morning, member of parliament Gary Schellenberger’s initial thought was it might be related to the construction and blasting happening nearby at the West Block on Parliament Hill.
The sickening reality of the situation set in just seconds later, however, when a succession of sharp sounds rang out just outside the room where he and other members of the Progressive Conservative caucus, including the prime minister, were meeting.
“I knew there was something wrong, and before you could even think there were more gunshots. It almost sounded like a machine gun because there were so many shots being fired."
The parliamentarians jumped into action, barricading the door with tables and chairs. According to some media reports, some fashioned spears from flag poles.
"No one knew what was going on," he said.
Schellenberger, the representative for Perth-Wellington, was sequestered with colleagues in the meeting room for over nine hours while security officials searched each floor of the building for a possible second suspect. Already dead was 32-year-old man who police now say acted alone in a brazen attack that started minutes earlier when he shot and killed a reservist who was standing guard at the national war memorial nearby.
Schellenberger said shortly after the firing stopped Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers came into the room and briefed the caucus members on what had happened. Security came in every 30 minutes after to provide further updates.
Schellenberger said he had no cellphone reception in the room, so it wasn't until around noon that he was able to leave a message for his wife Judy to tell her he was okay. He didn’t actually speak with her until 8:30 p.m. One of his staffers used Twitter to update the public shortly before 11:10 a.m., sending out a message that read: "Parliament Hill remains in lockdown. I am in a secure location."
Speaking from his Ottawa office Thursday afternoon, the veteran politician said he was grateful for the many people here who showed concern for his wellbeing by reaching out to his family or to his office.
"It's overwhelming. I can't say anything but a great big thank-you for all of those people in the riding who had my safety in their thoughts and prayers," he added. "It leaves you feeling in a way you can't describe."
Emotions were high again on Thursday when Parliament resumed. Vickers, who has been lauded for shooting the suspect, received a standing ovation as he carried the ceremonial mace into the House of Commons.
"(Vickers) had a very tough decision to make (on Wednesday)," said Schellenberger a little more than 24 hours later. "But he's a former RCMP officer, and he did what he had to do."
The shooting in Ottawa was the second attack on military personnel here in Canada in three days. On Monday, a man who authorities were monitoring for potential terrorist activity ran down two soldiers with a vehicle in a Quebec parking lot, killing one. The prime minister has similarly cited "terrorist" motives behind the Ottawa suspect's attack.
Schellenberger said it was important that the government got back to work immediately and showed it would not be intimidated by such actions.
"That's what you have to do with these terrorists who try to disrupt our way of life,” he said.
"We're not going to let this deter this great country from being what it is."
News of the shootings in Ottawa "shocked" the local military community as well, said Ken Albert, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 8 in Stratford.
The events over the last week have shook people’s sense of security at home, he noted.
Bob Cassels, provincial president for the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans, and a local unit member, said it's important at times likes these for all Canadians, and not just veterans' associations, to show their support for the armed forces. With Remembrance Day less than three weeks away, he suspects the killings will certainly be on many people's minds when they gather around the cenotaph.
"Everyone thought we were immune to this stuff. But this shows you it can happen anywhere in the world," he added.
The incidents will undoubtedly spark further debate about the need for greater anti-terrorism measures in Canada. Schellenberger, who currently serves on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, said law enforcement needs to have more tools at its disposal when dealing with people who pose a threat to our safety.
"Lots of time they can tract these people, might even charge them, but have no way to detain them,” he said.
He’s optimistic that, in light of this past week, there will be solidarity amongst members of parliament as for the need for tougher terrorism legislation. But he noted any laws passed by the government are only as strong as what the courts will uphold.
"I hope,” he added, “this is something that no one ever has to experience again in their lifetime.”