OPP officer dead, two injured, man charged with first-degree murder
An Ontario Provincial Police officer who died early Thursday was "ambushed and shot" along with two others when they arrived at a home east of Ottawa, the force said, as local residents expressed shock at the violence in their typically quiet community.
Sgt. Eric Mueller, whom the OPP described as an exemplary officer, was killed after responding to a report of a disturbance at a home in Bourget, Ont.
Alain Bellefeuille, a 39-year-old Bourget resident, has been charged with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in the case.
OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique said Mueller will be remembered as a well-respected officer and a "family" man. The OPP Association said the officer had a wife and two children.
"Our hearts are broken," Carrique said at a news conference, noting Mueller was a 21-year veteran of the force.
"He's described by his colleagues as a coach, a mentor, someone that everybody looked up to, the glue that held his shift together, the best leader that many people ever had the privilege of working for."
Mueller and the two other officers went to the home in Bourget at around 2 a.m. Thursday after residents reported hearing gunshots, police said. For some reason, they called for backup before they approached the house.
"Upon arrival, three of our officers were ambushed and shot," Carrique said.
One officer was seriously injured and is in hospital while the other injured officer has since been released and is recovering at home, police said.
By the time a second group of officers arrived, they knew that their colleagues who got there first had stopped answering radio calls.
They arrested Bellefeuille at the home without injuring him, and he appeared to be alone at the residence, police said. A long gun was found at the scene, Carrique added.
Thursday's deadly shooting unsettled what residents described as a picturesque community about 50 kilometres east of Ottawa, where many young families raise children and conversations slip between French and English.
"Something like this ... you don't think could happen so close to you, and it really makes you re-evaluate things," said Madison Bach, who lives in a house down the street with her husband and their six-month-old daughter, Ava.
Bach and Ava sat out on a picnic blanket for most of the morning Thursday as OPP vehicles came and went.
Helicopters flew over Bourget and OPP vehicles blocked a long laneway to a house along Laval Street, where police say the shooting took place.
A small forested lot stands between Thalia Cloutier's home and the property where the officers were shot. Neighbours often walk their dogs and take their children for bike rides through the well-worn paths next to the property, which were blocked off with crime-scene tape Thursday.
Cloutier said her heart stopped for a moment when she heard the gunshots in the middle of the night. The sound isn't uncommon in the area, given the popularity of hunting — but not at two in the morning, she said.
She said she stepped outside to investigate the noise, but heard only silence so we went back to bed.
Cloutier said she has never had any concerns about her safety in the community. But after hearing the news of what happened, she said she won't even let her dogs out of the yard. She already had plans to move away next month, but said she's now planning to leave sooner.
"It makes me question why I live here with a child," she said. "I'm getting out of here."
Dan Brown, who lives about six kilometres from the scene, said he was awake at around 2 a.m. when he heard the sound of police sirens and a series of low pops. A member at the nearby firing range, Brown said he immediately recognized the sound as gunfire.
"I knew right away what was going on," he said. "It was like somebody's getting shot, or was shooting."
Ashley Butler said she woke up to the sound of screeching car tires followed by gun shots. Butler, who lives about 100 metres down the road, said she ran to her daughter's room to make sure she was safe.
"I was terrified," she said. "But the first thing that goes through a parent's head is, you know, 'Is my kid OK?'"
It was only later on Thursday morning that she learned what had happened.
"It rocked me a little bit," she said. "It kind of shook me to know that happened so close to home."
Robbyn Annett-Laub said she slept through the noise, but woke up to an OPP car outside of her home about half a kilometer away from the property where the shootings occurred. A hat with the OPP symbol was left on the windshield. She watched as a tow truck pulled the car away from the curb at about 10:20 a.m.
Jaclyn Young also said the shooting put her family on edge.
"It's nerve-racking," she said. "An officer lost his life in our town due to protecting our community."
The OPP Association said it was "devastated" by Mueller's death.
"There are no words to express the pain we are all feeling regarding this recent tragedy," association president John Cerasulo wrote in a statement. "This situation demonstrates that there is no such thing as a routine call."
Mueller is the fifth police officer to be fatally shot in Ontario since September. His death comes after the names of the other four officers were added to Ontario Police Memorial on Sunday, as part of an annual remembrance ceremony.
Toronto police Const. Andrew Hong was shot in what police described as an ambush on Sept. 12 at a Mississauga, Ont., Tim Hortons. A month later, South Simcoe Police constables Devon Northrup and Morgan Russell were killed after they responded to a disturbance call in Innisfil, Ont.
On Dec. 27, OPP Const. Greg Pierzchala was fatally shot in an ambush while responding to call for a vehicle in a ditch.
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was working with his ministers of justice and public safety to look at ways to protect officers given the rash of deadly shootings.
"This has to stop. We need to be there to protect the people who put their lives on the line every day to protect the rest of us. That’s something we continue to look at," he said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford extended his thoughts to the family of Mueller, who he said was "senselessly killed in the line of duty."
"It's also another reminder why it's so important that we support and recognize our police officers every chance we get and ensure that they're treated with the respect and dignity they deserve," Ford said at an unrelated announcement in Brampton, Ont.
North of Bourget, flags were lowered to half-mast Thursday at the Rockland city hall, the seat of the local municipality.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2023.
— With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa and Sharif Hassan in Toronto.
Laura Osman in Bourget, Ont., and Jordan Omstead in Toronto, The Canadian Press