In April of 1989, a man named Charles Yacoub hijacked a bus with 10 passengers at gunpoint in Montreal. He forced the driver to take him to Parliament Hill. I was one month into my career, a cub news reporter at CJOH, the local CTV station in Ottawa. This would be the first major story I'd cover.
The bus ended up on the front lawn of The Parliament Buildings, right in front of the Peace Tower. It would sit there for five tense hours, with Yacoub and the hostages inside. He would eventually surrender—and in a very strange trial I covered—somehow get acquitted of the most of the charges, including hostage taking (this was my initiation to our justice system).
Those images of the bus on the lawn of our Parliament, Yacoub pacing back and forth inside with his gun, were surreal for Canadians. Especially an idealistic Ottawa boy who grew up thinking Parliament Hill was the symbol of our peaceful country. And the place we went for long, boring field trips in elementary school.
They locked down the Hill that day, too. I stood with a group of reporters just outside the police perimeter, grabbing streeters (quick interviews) with stunned citizens who all said exactly what we were thinking:
"How could this happen in Ottawa?"
We said the same thing six years later, this time through tears, when sportscaster and former NHLer Brian Smith, a friend and local legend, was shot dead as he walked out of our building after doing his 6pm sportscast.
The bus hijacking had been shocking, but Smitty's death was unfathomable. It couldn't happen in our safe, wonderful, city. No way.
But it did. A very sick man named Jeffrey Arenburg thought the media was broadcasting messages through his head. So he drove to our station and shot the first person he recognized. And everybody in Ottawa knew Smitty. Arenburg would be found not criminally responsible for Brian's death, and put in a mental institution. He was released a few years later (my re-initiation to our justice system).
I thought about both those awful incidents Wednesday, as the frightening--then heartbreaking--news from Ottawa broke piece-by-piece, tweet-by-tweet. It felt familiar in the worst possible way. But not shocking. That word slipped away after 9/11. We almost expect these horrific acts to happen now. It's only the when and where that catch us off-guard.
Our parent's generation grew up fearing wars. We fear being at the wrong place at the wrong time, when some lunatic decides to make his statement.
Nathan Cirillo knew there was risk when he became a soldier, but not today. Not in Ottawa and not standing in front of a monument with an unarmed weapon, ready to smile and pose with tourists.
We feel sick for his family. His friends. We tweet condolences, which never feel like enough.
I cover sports for a living. I won't attempt to offer an opinion on the issues that stem from what happened today—terrorism, politics, religion, national security, etc. You can find plenty of that elsewhere. What I do know is that when that bus hijacking happened in '89, and more so when Smitty was killed, we felt like Ottawa would never be the same…like it was somehow tarnished. But those feelings fade in time. And they will again.
I was back in town this past weekend for the Senators opener and Homecoming at Carleton University. It was spectacular. I took my parents for breakfast at Daly's, my favourite buffet right across from Parliament Hill. I drank beer with old friends, and screamed my lungs out with students dressed as Penguins (I have no idea) at the Ravens' game.
My hometown is hurting tonight and there are a lot of questions to be answered. But don't question this: Ottawa is a great city with great people. It was this morning. It is tonight. And it always will be.