Michelle Flannery and her husband Dave Wells have been at the starting line on a few occasions every September to cheer on the participants in the annual National Peace Officers Memorial Run (NPMOR) from Toronto to Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
This year, they did more than that.
They joined the nearly 270 law enforcement professionals representing 19 agencies in the 11th annual three-day 460-kilometre event that ends on September 26.
Flannery’s grandfather – Michael Irwin – and his partner Doug Sinclair were killed in the line of duty in February 1972 after being confronted by a tenant with a long criminal history who was facing eviction on that fateful day 43 years ago.
As the 32 Division officers entered the premises, the armed tenant burst through the doors, firing several shots. Irwin was hit in the head and Sinclair was shot twice in the chest.
“For us, this is about family and not just the police family,” said Flannery who has been a uniformed officer since 2002 after serving as a civilian for seven years. “We are honoured to be doing this for him and the other officers who made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.”
Assigned to 53 Division, Wells was excited to be part running this year.
“It’s important that we always remember,” he said. “I am so happy to be joining my wife and other officers for the run for the first time.”
Now 82, Barbara Irwin was at Queen’s Park on September 24 for the start of this year’s run.
When informed by doctors that her husband had no chance of survival, the mother of four had to make that painful call to take the-then 38-year-old officer, with 12 years’ service, off life support.
“This day means a lot to me because I get to come out and be involved in something meaningful to remember those officers, like my husband, who died on the job,” she said.
Flannery and Wells’ two young children – Isla-Grace and Neve – and 33 Division Constable Steve Irwin, the grandson of the deceased officer, were at the launch of the 2015 event.
A total of 257 police officers have lost their lives in the line of duty in the last 211 years. Their names are engraved on a granite wall at the OPM site.
The list includes Sergeant Ryan Russell who was with the Service for 11 years.
In January 2011, the 35-year-old officer succumbed to his injuries after being struck by a snow plow that had been stolen at a downtown intersection.
He left behind his wife Christine and son Nolan, who is now six years old and in Grade two.
“It’s so gratifying to see the love and support we get,” said the widow. “…This year, I have set my sights on running all the way to Ottawa.”
Minister of Community Safety & Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi joined the law enforcement officers on the run to Ottawa.
“We stand here today to thank every single one of you for your commitment, dedication and professionalism that you show as police officers in keeping our neighbourhoods and communities safe every day and night,” he said. “We are also here to remember those who were unexpectedly taken away from us simply for doing their job. This is why this run is so important and memorable.
“…I am personally excited to do the run because my grandfather was a police officer and I grew up hearing from my dad about his stories, sacrifices and things he did to make his community safe.”
Funds accrued from the “Run to Remember” go to trust funds and memorials established in the name of the officers who died on the job. Nearly $215,000 in donations have been made since the run started in 2005 with 24 Peel Regional Police Service participants.
The run culminates with the Peace Officers Memorial service in Ottawa on September 27.