NEW: Police official: Vickers exchanged gunshots from behind a pillar
Brother: This was the first time Vickers exchanged gunfire over a long career
He became sergeant-at-arms for Canada's House of Commons in 2006
One legislator calls him the "nicest guy you'll ever meet" and "our hero"
Kevin Vickers led the procession solemnly, silently. Yet there was noise all around him – and all for him.
One day earlier, Vickers – the sergeant-at-arms of Canada’s House of Commons – was credited with gunning down an armed man who’d stormed in minutes after killing a Canadian soldier standing guard at a nearby veterans memorial.
Parliamentarians responded Thursday by saluting Vickers with a spirited standing ovation as he walked, in front of the line, as part of his ceremonial duties to usher the start of a new session. Their fervent applause was interrupted only by occasional cheers and pounding of benches.
Yet Vickers, carrying a ceremonial sword and dressed in traditional attire, nodded gently to acknowledge the ovation but didn’t address the crowd. The only time he spoke, and the only hint of a smile, came when Prime Minister Stephen Harper walked back to the sergeant-at-arms seat in the back of the hall – at which point the two shook hands and Vickers whispered a few words in Harper’s ear.
The sergeant-at-arms did offer remarks – his first since the shootings – later in a written statement. He said he was “very touched” by the attention over his role in ending the attack, while adding that he has “the support of a remarkable security team that is committed to ensuring the safety of Members, employees and visitors” to Parliament.
“Yesterday, during extraordinary circumstances, security personnel demonstrated professionalism and courage. I am grateful and proud to be part of this team,” he said.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson said Thursday that Michael Zehaf-Bibeau traded gunshots with an officer before heading down a hall towards Parliament, where Vickers and others engaged him.
“I understood that the suspect and Mr. Vickers were behind pillars and exchanging fire,” Paulson said. “The suspect repositioned himself to get a better shot at Mr. Vickers … We heard (a) multitude of shots, and that Mr. Vickers did shoot.”
How do you characterize what the 58-year-old Vickers did that day?
Members of Parliament, the media and the public resoundingly settled on one word: hero.
As parliamentarian Craig Scott tweeted, “MPs and Hill staff owe their safety, even lives, to Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers.”
Had a ceremonial and law enforcement role
Vickers isn’t a stranger to the spotlight, although he’s typically on the edge of it.
When world leaders come through Ottawa, he is often right beside them at the House of Commons. Photo after photo from the past few years show him, a handful of Canadian politicians and the international figures – from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to South Korean President Park Geun-Hye – on hand.
This is all part of the ceremonial duties of sergeant-at-arms, a position that’s been occupied by only 10 people since its inception in 1867. Vickers, for instance, is sometimes charged with carrying a special sword in the commission of his duties.
Yet, for all the pomp and circumstance, Vickers is above all a man of the law. That speaks to his bigger role at the House of Commons as its top law enforcement officer, charged with overseeing security on the grounds and safeguarding various officials.
To put what he did Wednesday in perspective, consider this: He was like a police chief or sheriff who takes out his weapon and ends a violent attack.
On the one hand, Vickers isn’t new to law enforcement, having spent 28 years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Yet despite all that time, his brother believes that Wednesday was the first time Vickers ever exchanged gunfire with anyone.
“For it now to happen at Parliament … is unbelievable,” John Vickers told CNN. “We’re just relieved he’s OK.”
Reporter who knows Vickers calls him ‘an utmost professional’
John Vickers describes his brother as “an exemplary individual who, throughout … his career, put his country and his community first.”
That includes all his years with Canada’s national police force, including a high-profile stint in the province of New Brunswick during a tense time there.
“He was always cool under pressure; he was always respectful and accommodating,” Andree Lau, a former CBC journalist who is now The Huffington Post’s British Columbia news editor, told CNN.
Lau remembers Vickers, from the time she met him in the 2000s, as “a stand-up guy (who is) well-trained.”
Asked about his exploits Wednesday, Lau said, “It’s not surprising at all. Because (Vickers) is an utmost professional.”
Vickers left the RCMP to become the House of Commons’ security director, the CBC reported. He became sergeant-at-arms in 2006, where he has impressed many with his demeanor as much as his professionalism.
Tweeted Glenn Thibeault, a parliamentarian from Sudbury: “Sgt at arms Kevin Vickers-nicest guy you’ll ever meet. I am lucky to call him a friend.
“Today he is also our hero and we are 4evr grateful.”