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Hundreds gather to pay respects to family of killed police officer

Police Officers wait in line at a funeral home in Toronto on Sunday January 16, 2011, as they wait to pay their respects to Sergeant Ryan Russell. Sgt. Russell was killed after trying to stop a man driving a stolen snowplow through the city early Wednesday morning, striking vehicles and nearly hitting people.

Chris Young/chris young The Globe and Mail

Politicians, police officers and emergency workers were among the hundreds of people huddled outside the funeral home waiting to pay their respects to the family of Sergeant Ryan Russell, offering a hint of the crowds expected to gather for an elaborate funeral Tuesday that promises to shut down parts of downtown Toronto.

Sgt. Russell, 35, was crushed and killed by a stolen snowplow last week. He was an 11-year member of the Toronto police force. Among those in the line on the first of two visitation days were federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, NDP leader Jack Layton and MP and former chief of Toronto police Julian Fantino.

Mr. Fantino, who was present at Sgt. Russell's graduation, described situations such as these as an "emotional roller coaster" that he has been through too many times. "Every one of them is something that I think just renews the hurt, the trauma, the sorrow…," he said. "There aren't enough words to describe the deep sense of loss."

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There were tears on a few faces as they left the funeral home. Others walked out solemnly, declining to comment and shying away from the cameras.

Inside the funeral home, visitors said Sgt. Russell's wife and family were holding up as best they could, buoyed by the support they've received from the community.

"There's a general sadness about a young life lost, [the]life of a very promising officer," said Toronto Police Services Board chairman Alok Mukherjee. "Tragedies like this remind us … that the job of police officers in keeping our community safe is so risky."

Peter DeGroote was one of a few local residents who came to pay their respects. "They do a tremendous job," he said of the police. "We have to do our part to show our support because they put their lives on the line every single day."

Sgt. Russell's funeral at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre will likely draw thousands of mourners, including members of the RCMP, OPP, other municipal forces from across Canada and a few from the United States.

A retired Toronto firefighter, who attended Sunday's visitation, said he understands all too well the risks police and other emergency responders take on a daily basis.

"I understand the whole concept of going to work without the reasonable assurance you're coming home. I felt it was important that I represent the fire service and that's why I'm here," he said, declining to release his name.

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On Wednesday morning, a man allegedly leapt barefoot into a snowplow in the city's east end, stealing the vehicle and setting off a chase across Toronto's downtown. Police say the man rammed into Sgt. Russell near the corner of Davenport and Avenue roads. The rampage ended when the snowplow ran into the garbage truck, and police shot the man near Keele and Annette streets.

Richard Kachkar, 44, is charged with first-degree murder in Sgt. Russell's death and two counts of attempted murder. He remains in hospital recovering from bullet wounds he suffered during his arrest.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

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