After the gunfire stopped it got quiet, eventually. The streets nearest to Parliament Hill were filled with police and emptied of people. The tourists were cleared out of the War Memorial, all the mothers pushing strollers, and the security perimeter was established. It was pushed one block from Parliament Hill, then two, three, strung with yellow police tape every time, sometimes in a hurry. It got quiet.
The shooting in the nation’s capital Wednesday morning paralyzed parts of the city, then more, then more. On the roof of the U.S. Embassy, a block away from the secured zone, snipers in camouflage were visible, adjusting their perches. On the roof of the Department of National Defence, the flag was already at half mast.
And then Ottawa waited in the silence, interrupted by the ringing of the Peace Tower bells. At the edges of the barricades media gathered, and some bystanders, too. One man who appeared to be in his early 50s wanted to talk to reporters about what happened.
“I’ve researched this ever since the first WTC bombing,” he said to anyone who would listen. “I know all about their indoctrination techniques. Now, they can radicalize you on the net.”
A few blocks away, on the edge of the security cordon, the Second Cup on Metcalfe St. was one of the few shops open all day, and it was full and warm. Owner Khoder Ibrahim had been there since just before 4 a.m., and his lone remaining employee, Gabrielle Phaneuf, arrived around 7. Ibrahim gave his employees the choice to go home, but he stayed.
“To be honest, it wasn’t about the business,” said Ibrahim, a bear of a man who was born in Libya. “I was pissed off that everyone closed. They want us to scurry away, hide. Not me. I’m not going to be scared. We had a pregnant lady in here, she fainted when some police ran by. If we’re not open, she faints out there. We had moms with kids in here. If they’re not in here, they’re out there.”
At the other end of that coffee shop, Jason Ho sat on a heater, surrounded by colleagues. He had been walking to work at the CBC past the War Memorial on Wednesday morning, headphones in, and he heard some pops; he had just been through training for work in hostile environments just a week before.
“I turned around, and he was holding his gun in the air,” said Ho, a CBC producer. Amid the chaos, he watched people attempt to give CPR to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the reservist from Hamilton who had been shot.
In the police station Ho, from Toronto, sat with some 15 other witnesses, including the woman who had tried to resuscitate Cirillo, and someone checked a phone; someone learned that Cirillo had died. The woman began to cry. Ho did, too. In the coffee shop later, he found tears rolling down his cheeks again, unexpectedly, and the CBC’s Catherine Cullen put an arm around him.
“Maybe a drink later,” he said.
“Maybe a lot of drinks,” she said. They both got back to work.
People managed. The Parliament Hill day care sent out an email to parents that read in part: “We are still in lock down but the children have played, have been fed and the toddlers are now all asleep. The preschoolers are still following their normal routine except in cramped quarters. They are having a ball and they have no idea anything stressful is happening . . . . We will let you know when all is clear and when you can come pick up your children. For now stay where you are and stay safe.” Rosanne Dore Lefebvre, an NDP MP from Quebec, was in the room next to where much of the Parliament Hill shooting took place; she texted her partner, NDP spokesman George Soule, to go get their daughter Madeleine. Madeleine was taken somewhere safe, in lockdown. She watched cartoons.
People followed directions, mostly. People were calm. An office manager was smoking outside his building on Albert St., just before the police let people leave the buildings downtown. He was alone on the sidewalk, and he took a drag on his cigarette, and exhaled. “The next question,” he said, “is what about tomorrow?”
The quiet lifted, for a while. People were evacuated from various buildings and streamed down sidewalks, as though it was another commute. Normand Gagnon, who works in the Press Gallery, told a story about how he and some others escaped from the cafeteria thanks to some construction workers who moved scaffolding over to a window. Buses ran. At a press conference, Ottawa mayor Jim Watson pointed out that this was only the fifth murder in Ottawa this year. On a near-deserted street, two police officers met at a barricade, and embraced with a thump.
As darkness fell the lockdown was reinstated, in places. It was described as a fluid situation. It was lifted, later, and the daycare kids finally got out. If you walked around there were people out in the usual bars and restaurants that are open on a Wednesday night in Ottawa, and there was Anderson Cooper doing a standup next to Confederation Park, near a field of TV trucks parked on a sidewalk. People walked their dogs, or waited for buses home. Ottawa was quiet, in mostly the same way that Ottawa is always quiet. If you didn’t look too closely, Ottawa felt more or less the same.