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 – who 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 around 2 a.m. Thursday after residents reported hearing gunshots, police said.
“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.
A 39-year-old man arrested at the home by a second group of officers appeared to be alone at the residence, police said. A long gun was found at the scene, Carrique said.
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 that 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.
Helicopters flew over Bourget on Thursday morning and OPP vehicles blocked a long laneway to a house along Laval Street, where police say the shooting took place.
Dan Brown, who lives about six kilometres from the scene, said he was awake 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 gun fire.
“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 around 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.”
Jaclyn Young also said the shooting had also placed 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 days 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.
Laura Osman and Jordan Omstead, The Canadian Press
– with files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa and Sharif Hassan in Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2023.