Moments after Corporal Nathan Cirillo was fatally shot while guarding Ottawa’s National War Memorial, a former reservist from the Beach was steps away.
Bob Norman retired two years ago after serving as a corporal in Downsview 32 Service Battalion.
Norman drove military vehicles in the reserves, and he was in Ottawa during the Oct. 22 shooting to drive a bus full of Seneca College students to a 9 a.m. tour of Parliament Hill.
“I know this stuff. I know, when we sign up, that there’s a threat level,” he said a week later.
“With a reservist standing guard by a monument, you’re thinking ‘zero.’ But at the same time, there’s always some element.”
Shortly before 10 a.m., Norman was driving north on Elgin Street to pick up the students when Cirillo was shot by a gunman now identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
The first thing Norman saw as he rounded the war memorial was paramedics performing CPR. He thought someone had had a heart attack.
But looking west toward the Hill, Norman saw police with guns drawn – Zehaf-Bibeau had already stormed Centre Block on Parliament Hill.
Traffic stopped. Soon it seemed as if every available emergency force was on scene: tactical police, a bomb squad, sniffer dogs, a military vehicle.
Meanwhile, the students Norman was supposed to pick up were close to exiting Centre Block’s front doors just as Zehaf-Bibeau rushed the building. Security staff quickly led them to a small room and secured the door.
“There were footsteps above them,” said Norman. “They heard everything.”
Local MP Matthew Kellway heard the same commotion from inside the NDP caucus room.
Speaking under lockdown on that afternoon, Kellway said a guard came into the room, secured the door and told them to take cover.
“It’s hard to describe, but I think everybody knew what was happening,” said Kellway.
Sheltering behind a wall, Kellway heard about 30 gunshots in the hallway outside, which runs from the Centre Block doors to the parliamentary library. Conservative MPs heard the same thing from behind a barricaded door across the hall.
The last shots they heard came from sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers, who managed to shoot Zehaf-Bibeau dead.
Slowly, Norman and the other drivers stuck on Elgin Street were directed east of the Hill. By the time he parked the bus in the Byward Market, he said the downtown streets were empty, the shops closed.
Norman got one text saying the students were safe inside, and that they would probably meet in a couple hours. But then all cell phone signals in the area were jammed.
“They didn’t know what was happening,” he said. It was a full 12 hours until the lockdown lifted, and a shuttle bus delivered the students off the Hill.
Rather than go straight back to Toronto, the students and their teachers stayed in Ottawa as planned.
By coincidence, their bus finally left downtown Ottawa just ahead of the procession carrying Cirillo’s body to Hamilton. All the way home, the Seneca students saw people waiting on highway overpasses draped with Canadian flags.
“They learned a lot,” Norman said.