A year ago today it was snowy. The streets were covered in white when a man stole a snow plow in the early morning hours, beginning a chain of events that would leave the city of Toronto in mourning and a young wife and son broken.
Young Sergeant Ryan Russell of the Toronto Police Services attempted to stop that snow plow. In an instant his life was taken as the driver ignored the officer and ran him over at Avenue and Davenport Roads. It was only 6:00 a.m. in the morning. His death was pronounced shortly after Russell arrived at St. Michael's Hospital.
The driver of the stolen vehicle, Richard Esber Kachkar, 44, was stopped at Keele and Annette Streets only after police had to use their firearms.
Sgt. Russell had been promoted just six months prior to his death. He had previously worked in the police services' Guns and Gangs unit before working at 54 Division.
Today the skies in Toronto are gray. Perhaps even the heavens are still mourning the loss of a man known to his family and friends as the Peacemaker.
In the year that has passed a park has been dedicated to the slain officer in his city.
Constable Scott Mills worked with Sgt Russell doing community outreach relating to gang violence.
Photo courtesy Ray Cheung
Toronto Police block off an area of downtown Toronto after shooting a man who stole a snow plow in the early morning hours. Police say the suspect hit Sgt. Ryan Russell as the officer attempted to stop him. Russell was pronounced dead at hospital.
"Ryan was a dedicated police officer. On his own free time he was working to help stop gang violence in Toronto. We worked together doing gang prevention talks with the community. He was so well respected, not just with other police officers but with those in the community. People really did look up to Ryan," Mills said during an interview about the slain officer.
Asked what Scott remembers most about Ryan he laughed, "He was so happy! Even when he was down his positive attitude was there picking up others."
Ryan Russell wasn't the only one in Toronto to lose his life last year due to violence in the streets. Young men from across the city suffered the same fate. Not one of those who died is mourned less than the others from their families, however Russell's death broke a city's heart. It seemed so senseless, so cruel. Sgt. Russell was one of the good guys, he was making an impact in Toronto when it came to crime on the streets.
Mills said that Russell would also want others to be paying attention to the families of other victims of crime in Toronto.
"Knowing Ryan he would want everyone to know that there's a whole lot of other victims. He would be out there bringing attention to the victim's families suffering without fanfare. He would have been that guy at the door who was cheering up those families and helping them go on," Mills said adding that the song Let It Be that played during his funeral was for a reason. "His widow Christine is such a strong lady and appears to have the same passion as Ryan did."
Scott Mills shares that passion, as did Ryan Russell, for keeping kids out of gangs. He is often the mouthpiece for the Toronto officers who humbly keep low profile while doing tackling the long hours and hard work in dangerous situations when it comes to gangs in the city.
What most people don't know about Sgt. Russell was that he was hand picked to work on community awareness.
"Craig Peddle, co-founder of Ontario Gang Investigators Association, and Doug Minor, Sgt. 42 Division-Toronto Police Services, saw Ryan's drive and passion. It's not just a 9 to 5 job, it really is a passion to make a difference. Ryan had that passion. He was one of the officers that would be out there talking to the kids, letting them know that he really cared about them," Scott said fondly remembering his co-worker.
If Sgt. Ryan was alive today he would be taking part in “Project G.R.A.N.T. Gang Reduction After Neighbourhood Training.” Without Ryan's work to set the ground work within the police service for great programs like Project G.R.A.N.T. to be created it wouldn't be as great a program as it is today. The project, that now enjoy partnerships, especially with the 13 Division officers is providing some of the best presentations of gang prevention and awareness out there.
"He put a lot of work into the police policy mindset that led to gang prevention being a priority, that is now being practiced in programs like Project G.R.A.N.T.," Scott said.
In the year since his death Sgt. Russell's passion endures. His work will continue to make an impact in the lives of those dealing with the harsh realities of gang violence in Toronto. He was a hero in life and continues to be a hero of Toronto, even if the city is no longer blessed in his presence.
When asked what the year since Ryan's death has brought when it comes to gang prevention Scott Mills said that Ryan would be proud.
"We're all doing our best. I think the vision from 10 to 12 years ago is starting to be a reality in Toronto when it comes to community outreach. The community is starting to trust a few officers of the Toronto Police Services. That is evident in the increase of calls to Crime Stoppers in the last three years. It's really scary when gangs are involved for the community. We're starting to make real progress," Mills said.