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Cobourg, Ontario Mourns Murdered Officer

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May 16, 2004

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Cobourg, Ontario Mourns Murdered Officer

Officer Down: Constable Chris Garrett - [Cobourg, ]

Chris Garrett leaves his wife, Denise, a son and a stepdaughter.

Teen in custody in 3 a.m. incident; Witness heard nine shots fired

By Frank Calleja and Stan Josey, The Toronto Star

Cobourg, Ontario, Canada -- A veteran town police officer was stabbed to death and a teenaged suspect is under arrest following a 3 a.m. confrontation in an abandoned hospital.

Police in this town an hour east of Toronto have released few details about how 39-year-old Constable Chris Garrett, a father of two, was killed. But neighbours of the hospital on Chapel St. say they were awakened early yesterday by gunshots coming from the building, which was closed less than a year ago and is patrolled regularly by security guards.

Neighbour Brian Moffatt was up for a glass of water in his house on Henry St., just south of the hospital, when he heard gunfire.

"It was a bit of a muggy night so the windows were open," Moffatt said. "I distinctly heard what I counted as nine gunshots — five shots and in a beat, four more."

The shots, Moffatt said, "sounded like they were from the same gun, and I didn't hear anything that would indicate an exchange of gunfire."

After the gunfire died down, the neighbourhood became totally still, "not a sound," Moffatt said, until a massive police response several minutes later.

Garrett is the first officer to be killed on duty in the history of the force.

"He was called out and there was a knife involved, and there were shots fired," said Garrett's father, Gord.

"That's all they're telling us.

"Apparently somebody must have got the jump on him."

Inspector Paul Sweet, a long-time fellow officer on the Cobourg force, lamented the loss. "The best thing I can say about Chris Garrett is that right now heaven is a safer place because there's a cop like him there."

Cobourg police Chief Garry Clement said yesterday he couldn't comment on Garrett's injuries, but sources said he died of a knife wound to the neck. Clement also would not say whether Garrett was at the hospital in response to a 911 call, or as part of a routine patrol.

Garrett's body was found by responding officers just a few metres from his cruiser, which was parked in the hospital driveway.

Garrett, from nearby Grafton, was a 13-year veteran of the Cobourg force, and had served five years with Peel Region police.

A former use-of-force instructor and coach officer for new recruits, Garrett was known for his meticulous attention to detail and safe procedures on the job, fellow officers said.

He is survived by his wife Denise, son Ben, 12, and stepdaughter Britany. His parents, Gordon and Evelyn Garrett, live in Odessa.

One suspect, an 18-year-old local man, is under arrest and being held in Lindsay pending a court appearance in Cobourg tomorrow, Cobourg's police chief said.

As of late yesterday, the man had not been charged. Clement refused to say if the suspect had been wounded, or if more than one suspect is involved.

Garrett's father-in-law Bill Nichol, who flew in from Saint John, N.B. yesterday to be with Garrett's shattered family, called the killing "a senseless and needless act.

"Chris was a very loving father and husband, greatly loved by all his family and fellow officers," he said, adding Garrett's family hopes "the individual or individuals responsible for Chris's death receive the hardest punishment possible."

Area residents speculated that Garrett was caught by surprise in a town of about 18,000, where everyone knows everyone else.

"It's definitely possible that he recognized whoever it was he spotted there," said retiree Allen Haworth, who lives on the west side of the old hospital.

"This is a small town and that police officer and other officers all know who lives here by name. It is a tragic, tragic thing."

Because the vacant hospital is patrolled by security guards to prevent vandalism, Haworth said, he found it hard to visualize it being broken into.

Haworth lowered the Canadian flag on his lawn to half-staff out of respect for the fallen officer.

A fellow officer said Garrett had to have been caught by surprise.

"Something happened that was totally unexpected," said Constable Cindy Reeves, who had Garrett as her coaching officer when she joined the force nine years ago.

"There's no doubt in anybody's mind that Chris took every precaution. He knew the dangers of the job, was very proud to be a police officer."

Chief Clement said a meticulous investigation into the incident is underway "because I don't want to see any mistakes when this comes to court."

Investigators from the province's Special Investigations Unit were dispatched to the scene. But SIU spokesperson Rose Hong said the provincial agency, which investigates when civilians are injured or killed through police action, is not involved in the investigation.

Moffatt, who walked over to the hospital after the shooting, said he saw heavily armed tactical officers, police dogs and other officers flooding the area, cordoning off the hospital and vicinity before beginning a search of the area.

"I saw the police cruiser just parked in the driveway. A couple of metres away, just to the east of the cruiser, was a tarpaulin obviously covering a body. There were two other tarps, flatter on the ground, also near the cruiser," he said.

A blue Mazda van was later towed from a parking lot near the Cobourg District High School on King St. to the Northumberland OPP detachment on Division St., south of Highway 401. Officers would not comment if it was involved in the incident. The OPP's Inspector Glen Bowmaster has been named to head the investigation, assisted by Cobourg police Inspector Dave Cromlish.

Clement, an RCMP officer in Ottawa for 35 years before retiring and taking over the Cobourg force of 35 officers, described the death of his officer as "a devastating blow to Chris' family, his police family, and the entire town. We're all in mourning."

Close friend and long-time colleague Sergeant John Davison said Garrett was a dedicated family man, proud of being a police officer and known for being a "by-the-book" officer who was safety conscious at all times.

"Chris was the first officer on that scene, and how that played a part in the over-all outcome, we don't know at this particular moment," Davison said.

"Sometimes you can get a little lackadaisical on the job, but not Chris. He was always aware of his surroundings so something happened that he absolutely didn't foresee."

"The Cobourg Police Service is a small, close-knit family. The officers are all professional and will work through this senseless tragedy, " Clement said.

With files from Dale Anne Freed

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