More than 600 people gathered at the Barrie waterfront on Saturday for the inaugural Greg Pierzchala memorial run in honour of Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala, an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer killed in the line of duty on Dec. 27.
The five-kilometre memorial run — organized by Pierzchala's family and the OPP — was preceded by an opening ceremony, which was attended by the slain officer's mother and father and other members of his family.
Pierzchala's sister, Justyna, said the support the family has received from people all over Ontario "really means a lot to us."
She said her brother loved his job and everything that came along with it.
"Not only did he love the physical aspect of it, having to stay in shape, running — which is part of the reason why we decided to do a run today — he loved to serve the community, provide service over self," Justyna said.
"He died providing service over self. He died an honourable man, so that's why today is important that we come together as a community for him, sharing stories … although he may not physically be here anymore, today shows that his memory will live on and he will continue to inspire others just like he would have wanted to."
Pierzchala, a Haldimand County OPP officer, was shot just after 2:30 p.m. ET while responding to a vehicle in a ditch just west of Hagersville, about 45 kilometres southwest of Hamilton, according to OPP.
Pierzchala was killed the same day he learned he had passed his 10-month probation period.
Two people — Randall McKenzie, 25, and Brandi Stewart-Speary, 30 — have been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Pierzchala.
OPP Sgt. Robert Simpson thanked the community of Barrie — Pierzchala's hometown — and "the friends and colleagues" who turned out to take part in the event.
"It's fantastic to see. It's very moving," he said.
"An event like this is a great opportunity for the community to show support to Greg's family, and I can tell you it's much appreciated, it's incredibly valuable and it helps kind of move through the process if you will."
A passion for fitness and athletics
Dave Nicoletti — physical education teacher at St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School in Barrie, which Pierzchala attended — said he and Pierzchala developed a close relationship at the school.
He said Pierzchala "started to show a lot of his athletic affinity" in Grade 9, and this continued in the Grade 11 and Grade 12 personal fitness classes.
"It was in these classes where the weight training, cardio training, nutrition discussions really seem to resonate with him, and he embraced the lifestyle wholeheartedly," Nicoletti said.
"He trained with us during class time, at lunchtime, after school, whenever he could fit it in — it truly became his passion, as we've all come to understand."
Barrie waterfront 'was really important' to Pierzchala
In a social media post this week, Justyna and another of Pierzchala's siblings — Michal — said their brother loved the Barrie waterfront, hence the reason why they decided to launch the memorial run there.
"The Barrie waterfront is a location that was really important not just to Greg, but to my whole family," Justyna said.
"Greg grew up in Barrie, and during the summer and even during the winter, the Barrie waterfront was a place that Greg loved to [visit]."
Michal said running was "really important" to Pierzchala.
"He had placed a lot of emphasis on health and fitness, not just for himself, but for the people around him," he said.
"For us, he was always encouraging us and motivating us to go outside, be active."
Justyna said proceeds from the run will go to a scholarship in Pierzchala's name.
"Greg was always one for helping out other people. So, I know that Greg would have liked to see the scholarship helping out with students," she said.
She said the scholarship will help students at St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School.
Pierzchala was the fourth officer to be killed in Ontario while on duty since mid-September. The number has since risen to five with the killing of OPP Sgt. Eric Mueller on Thursday.
Muller was shot dead and two other officers were injured in what police are calling an "ambush" in the eastern Ontario community of Bourget in the municipality of Clarence-Rockland early Thursday morning.
Last Sunday, a memorial was held in Toronto to honour the lives of fallen police officers.
Premier Doug Ford, who spoke at the memorial, said some deaths can be avoided if all levels of government immediately "make the appropriate changes to protect our police officers," promising his government will do everything to keep them safe on the job.
"Without question, you're truly Ontario's finest, and as premier, I will always, always have your backs," Ford said.