Family man, exemplary officer: thousands pay tribute to OPP officer killed on the job
OTTAWA — Sgt. Eric Mueller's casket was placed gingerly before a crowd of thousands in Ottawa on Thursday, who gathered to pay tribute to the 10th police officer killed on the job in Canada in the last eight months.
The crowd included the Ontario Provincial Police officer's widow, family and friends, but also police from across Canada who had never met him.
Dignitaries at the podium called him a gentle giant, a mentor, a coach and a hero.
"As heartening as this is, these are a fraction of what Eric was to his family and to those who loved him," Mueller's brother-in-law, Chris Wood, told those gathered for the funeral at the Canadian Tire Centre, a hockey arena in Ottawa.
Ontario's premier, lieutenant-governor and the OPP commissioner all spoke at the ceremony too, sharing their shock and disbelief over yet another death of a police officer in Canada over such a short period of time.
Wood, however, spoke of his brother-in-law as a loving father to his daughter, nearly two years old, and his son, who is just nine months. He described the great joy Mueller found in the simple pleasures of life with his wife, Marie-France Ethier: gardening, building projects around his family's home, cooking meals and gathering with family.
"He was able to bring instant comfort with one hug, share his approval with one cheeky smile and found humour in life's imperfections," Wood said.
Const. Steve McDade, his friend and colleague, shared stories of office pranks and how Mueller belted out Christmas carols from his cruiser throughout December.
Last week, Mueller and two other officers were shot after they approached a house at 2 a.m. on May 11 in the small town of Bourget, east of Ottawa, after neighbours complained about the sound of gunshots.
Mueller died later that day in an Ottawa hospital, while the other two officers survived with injuries. One of them remains in serious but stable condition.
Mueller's casket was carried in a procession from Rockland, a community near Bourget, to Kanata, in the west end of Ottawa, where his life was celebrated and mourned at a ceremony at the arena.
Members of the public stood on highway overpasses to pay their respects.
Officers wearing badges from all over Canada marched in unison through the streets around the arena in a sombre parade. They saluted the funeral procession as it arrived. The sound of bagpipes was drowned out by the helicopters circling overhead.
Mueller is the 10th police officer to be killed on the job in Canada since September 2022, and the fifth to be fatally shot in Ontario during the same time period.
"We need to ask ourselves, 'If our police officers, the very ones we rely upon for our safety and security, are not safe then who is?'" OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique told the mourners gathered Thursday.
Police officers are questioning their willingness to risk their lives while others have become fearful of entering the profession, he said.
"We need to restore respect for authority, the rule of law," he said.
"We need to maintain trust and confidence in the police by opposing those who unjustly vilify the very protectors dedicated to, and in some cases giving their lives to, serving and protecting us."
Ontario Premier Doug Ford told Mueller's fellow officers at the ceremony how sorry he was for their pain.
"I want you to know, attacks against police officers will never ever be tolerated in this province," he said.
At the end of the ceremony, Carrique presented Mueller's wife with the Ontario flag that was draped over the casket and the cap Mueller he had worn in uniform.
Mueller joined the OPP in 2002 as a special constable responsible for transporting offenders in Ottawa. He was officially hired as a recruit in 2006 and was promoted to sergeant 2018.
He was recognized for his bravery in 2015 with the Commissioner's Citation for Lifesaving after helping to lift a burning vehicle to rescue an injured suspect.
OPP have repeatedly described the incident that led to Mueller's death as an ambush, but have not provided any further details about what happened after he and his fellow officers arrived at the house.
Alain Bellefeuille, a 39-year-old Bourget resident, is charged with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in the case. He made a brief appearance in court by video conference Thursday in L'Orignal, Ont., about an hour east of Ottawa.
The Special Investigations Unit, which operates as a police watchdog, is investigating after the OPP's forensic team discovered evidence that one of the surviving officers shot his gun at some point after they arrived on scene.
Mueller's detachment in Russell County is finding the loss particularly difficult to cope with, OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson said outside the Canadian Tire Centre Thursday morning.
"Russell County detachment was such a family operation, like they're so, so close. I can't imagine how they are going to come back from this in a hurry," he said.
"It's going to be a long recovery for all of them."
After the service, members of Mueller's detachment lined up as an honour guard for a final salute while his casket was transported from the arena back to Rockland.
The funeral service was closed to the public, but streamed online.
The OPP also arranged to livestream the service at a community centre in Bourget, where Mueller was killed, and plans to set out a book of condolences for local residents to sign.
Messages of sympathy have poured in to the OPP since news of Mueller's death reached the public last week.
In online posts, mourners describe shock and sadness at the death of yet another police officer in the line of duty, while others share their thanks for his service and sacrifice.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2023.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press