A 28-year-old Ontario Provincial Police officer who was fatally shot while on duty Tuesday afternoon was remembered by the force as having “the biggest heart of gold.”
The OPP said Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala was shot while responding to a vehicle in a ditch west of Hagersville, Ont., in Haldimand County, just after 2:30 p.m., and died in hospital.
OPP Const. Ed Sanchuk said Pierzchala, who worked with the Haldimand County detachment, had been an officer with the provincial police force for just over a year.
“I’m never at a loss of words and I’m truly at a loss for words today,” Sanchuk said at a news conference.
“He was a wonderful officer, a phenomenal officer, and (had) just the biggest heart of gold you could ever imagine,” Sanchuk said in a phone interview later Tuesday. “It’s an extreme loss to our (OPP) family and we’re assisting the family and our officers as we deal with this traumatic loss.”
The OPP said two suspects were arrested but did not say whether any charges had been laid or provide further details about them.
Sanchuk said a male and a female were in custody and police were not looking for further suspects.
At 5:45 p.m., hours after the shooting, provincial police issued an emergency alert advising all area residents to remain in place after two suspects were seen fleeing the scene of the shooting, saying one of them was believed to be armed.
Sanchuk said the alert was cancelled shortly after, when the suspects were arrested.
Shawn Geris, a Toronto police officer who was Pierzchala’s wrestling coach at York University ten years ago, remembered the young student-athlete asking about the job and what it was like.
The two kept in touch with Pierzchala enthusiastically agreeing a couple of years ago to visit and help out with a wrestling club Geris runs for kids.
“He jumped at it. He said, ‘Yeah, sure coach!’ He still called me coach,” Geris said.
Geris was happy to be a reference for Pierzchala when he became a special constable at Queen’s Park. Pierzchala later sent Geris a message letting him know he was going to apply for the OPP.
Geris had even hoped to be able to present him with his badge when he graduated from Ontario Police College, but COVID-19 restrictions prevented it.
“He wasn’t one to give up, either. He was tenacious in everything that he did.”
He said he got the news of Pierzchala’s death via a text while shopping and called it “devastating.”
“This was his dream job. This was what he wanted. And he knew the dangers of the job because I’d talked about that before with him,” Geris said.
“People as a police officer want to help and make the world a better place. Some people just don’t want that to happen.”
Pierzchala is the fourth police officer to be shot dead in the province since September.
Ontario Provincial Police Association president John Cerasuolo said Pierzchala’s death underscores the danger police officers put themselves in daily.
“They do a dangerous job 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year throughout the province of Ontario. This situation demonstrates that there is no such thing as a routine call in policing,” he said in a statement.
“Greg’s service and sacrifice will never be forgotten,” said Cerasuolo. “He will always be remembered as Hero in Life, Not Death. Our members go to work every day to serve and protect the citizens of Ontario.
Haldimand County Mayor Shelley Bentley said in a statement the municipality’s “hearts go out to the officer’s family, his OPP colleagues, and all first responders impacted by this horrific event.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a tweet that he was “horrified by the killing of an on-duty OPP officer”
“Our first responders are true heroes. We share in the pain felt by family, friends and the entire police community as Ontario mourns this loss,” Ford said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the news of Pierzchala’s death “heartbreaking.”
“To his family, friends, and colleagues — the thoughts of all Canadians are with you,” Trudeau said in a tweet.
Police have asked anyone with information to contact Haldimand County OPP or Crime Stoppers.