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It started out as a great evening. Taking pictures of the lead singer of one of Canada’s most famous rock bands.
Rik Emmett was playing at the Capitol Theatre on May 14, 2004. It was more of an acoustic event than anything. But it was really cool to meet this legend of guitars.
Who knew just a few hours later a police officer would be murdered just a few blocks from my home.
It’s been 16-years since Cobourg Police Constable Chris Garrett was murdered in the line of duty while attending a phoney robbery call at the former hospital located on Chapel at D’Arcy Street.
Life goes on, memories fade, but for those who were part of that night, those who were there, I believe, like war, it is up to them to teach others about a victim who became a hero.
From what I knew of Garrett, he never wanted accolades, wasn’t interested in promotion.
He liked the road, liked catching bad guys. He wasn’t perfect, as is no one I’ve ever met. But he was a great cop. One that others trusted, respected and looked up to.
Often over the years I’ve stated, if it happened to Chris, it would have happened to anyone. That I’m 100% sure of.
It was around 3 a.m. on May 15, 2004 when a robbery call came in to 9-1-1 dispatch at the Cobourg Police Service.
A person called in to Cobourg Police stating they’d been robbed at gunpoint at the former hospital on Chapel Street at D’Arcy Street.
Garrett was Acting Sergeant for the shift that evening. Sgt. Pete Mclean had taken the night off.
Also working with Garrett was Constable John Roughly, Constable Andy Taylor along with Constable Christine Allen who had only been a police officer for four-months.
Garrett was in the dispatch centre of the police station with Karen Stoker and Tracy Vanlaere when the call for the robbery came in.
“I just got attacked by someone,” stated the caller to 9-1-1 dispatch at 2:59 a.m.
“He took off – he had a knife. And he took my wallet and my ring.”
The caller remained calm talking to 9-1-1, but described how the assailant had a knife.
But this was all a ruse.
The person who was placing the call was actually an 18-year-old who had planned an elaborate killing spree. But no one knew. The dispatchers, the officers, no one had a clue that in a short time one officer would be dead and the hunt for a killer would change the community forever.
It wasn’t uncommon for Garrett to be the first to respond.
In the 9-1-1 call, you can hear the dispatcher Stoker say to Garrett, “some guy just got robbed at knife point. They took his wallet and ring.”
Within seconds, Garrett had left the police station on King Street and was on scene with the “victim” taking a statement.
First on scene, Garrett radioed to the other officers a description of the “suspect.”
“Dispatch to the other units, male white, late teens, 5’8″, 5’9″ thin build wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, and Rancid written in white letters across the chest. He’s got dirty blonde, curly hair. Armed with a butterfly knife. That’s all we have right now. Unknown pants or foot wear.”
“The suspect made off with a Scotiabank debit card if that’s of any interest to anybody,” were the last words said by Garrett.
The three officers started checking out the areas where there were local atm machines.
A short time later, dispatch started receiving 9-1-1 calls reporting gunshots.
Dispatch tried contacting Garrett, but there was no answer.
Stoker came over the radio and stated, “can you check the area of the hospital and check out 221’s status. We’re getting numerous 9-1-1 calls. We’ve had four from the Chapel Street about numerous gun shots being heard. At least 8-10 shots being fired.”
Taylor was first on scene.
“I don’t know where Chris is. I got his light on the ground. I have no idea where he is,” referring to his flashlight that was in the middle of the parking lot.
Moments later Roughly who was badge number 235 found Garrett.
“235 rush me an ambulance. 235 rush me an ambulance – officer down.”
Roughly was a police officer who always maintained composure no matter the situation.
Just by his tone – you knew it was bad. Really bad.
“235 you need to make as many calls as you can and get some officers here. I need as many officers as you can get at this hour. There will be no refusals.”
Paramedics arrived as quickly as possible. Fire Department also responded, but they were turned away before arrival – Garrett was gone.
Who did it?
Were there others out there?
Arriving on scene, a short time later, you could see it in the officers faces.
Knowing all of them, you could tell. The shock – it was in their eyes. But at all times they remained professional.
I’d mentioned something to Taylor and he was short with me. Of course I thought nothing of it at the time. But Taylor did. He was and is the consummate professional. He remembered and approximately a week later there was a knock at my door. He stopped in to apologize for the way he spoke to me. It was one of the many times I broke down to think he remembered that during a night of hell.
Speaking to Roughly at the scene, I only said, “I’m sorry John.”
His response, “I know you are Pete.”
Three officers had just lost a friend, a colleague to a killer.
Now it was about finding and catching the person/s.
Police officers came from everywhere. OPP, Port Hope, Durham Region, canine, tactical officers. Road blocks were set up. One on King Street just east of Division Street.
Officers did everything they could to capture a killer.
In the end.
Garrett was the one who stopped a rampage from happening.
Court records showed Garrett was likely taking notes from the “victim” when he was slashed across the throat.
Mortally wounded, Garrett didn’t seek help for himself.
He went after his killer firing his service weapon in the process.
Evidence would show it was Garrett’s last shot that found its mark before he collapsed and died.
The killer was hit in the right leg. He used a sawed-off shotgun to get away.
That shot by Garrett would save countless lives.
The killer phoned his mother who picked him up outside the Centre for Individual Studies on D’Arcy Street and drove him to Northumberland Hills Hospital where he was treated for the gunshot wound to the leg.
When all officers were called in, ironically, it was Mclean who had taken the night off that arrested the killer who was later found guilty of first degree murder in February 22, 2007.
Evidence showed the killer had a manifesto of what he had planned, “chaos is coming” he wrote in a list of things that were planned.
Among the items seized in warrants from his home were notes.
· bomb bags to shed
· extra weapon to shed
An elaborate drawing showing where to carry gun and knives.
Homemade napalm made from searching the computer.
Aerosol cans with nails duct-taped around the can.
The killer planned to kill others while they exited the police station.
Blow up a gas station.
He’d planned to go out in a hail of bullets at Northumberland Mall. To make his last stand.
An image from the 2003 movie, The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise was on his computer for his parents to find.
In the last scene of the movie Cruise charges into a hopeless battle.
It stated they couldn’t have done anything to stop the onslaught.
But one cop did.
Badge #221 stopped a killing spree in the town of Cobourg that evening.
Officers have lived with that evening since.
Wondering the “what if’s?”
All officers that were on that evening have moved on.
Taylor is with Toronto Police Service, Allen is with Durham Region Police Service and Roughly has retired.
Mclean has also retired along with the dispatchers.
Remembering back, to that night and the days following, through dark times comes light.
There was an outpouring of support for Garrett’s family and fellow police officers.
Students stopped by the police station to offer support. Signs all over town were changed to support Garrett’s family and police officers.
The funeral was one of the largest at that time for a police officer.
From the Lions Community Centre on Elgin Street to near the Fellowship Baptist Church officers stood three deep on both sides of the road.
Speaking with Roughly in the years following, I’d stated that it’s hard to get it out of your head.
Roughly said, he didn’t want to get it out of his head.
No one should forget the sacrifice of Cobourg Police Constable Chris Garrett – badge #221.
We remember our fallen who travel along the Highway of Heroes.
For everyone that stands along the bridge, they will remember the soldiers and families who have passed underneath.
And this tragedy of the cold-blooded killing of a Cobourg Police officer is something we never should forget in this community.
Any one officer would have been a victim that night on May 15, 2004.
The murderer didn’t have a record, wasn’t known to police.
Garrett was ambushed without knowing.
He was doing what all police officers do – responding to a 9-1-1 call for help.
Mortally wounded, Garrett did what he did best. He was the reason many others weren’t killed.
COVID-19 made it impossible to gather at Chris Garrett Memorial Park today, but that doesn’t mean that each of us shouldn’t remember.
In fact, we should never forget.
Garrett was a victim that early morning, but because of his actions he will forever be remembered as a hero.