Slain Haldimand OPP officer was living 'his dream' to work with police

Ontario Provincial Police Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala of the Haldimand County detachment is pictured in a photo shared by Six Nations of the Grand River. Pierzchala was shot and killed Tuesday in the line of duty.  (Six Nations of the Grand River - image credit)
Ontario Provincial Police Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala of the Haldimand County detachment is pictured in a photo shared by Six Nations of the Grand River. Pierzchala was shot and killed Tuesday in the line of duty. (Six Nations of the Grand River - image credit)

The death of Ontario Provincial Police Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala, 28, who was shot and killed in the line of duty Tuesday afternoon, has led to an outpouring of grief across the province.

Pierzchala, a Haldimand county Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer, was shot just after 2:30 p.m. ET Tuesday while responding to a vehicle in a ditch just west of Hagersville, about 45 kilometres southwest of Hamilton, according to OPP. The area is also home to Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and next to Six Nations of the Grand River.

Pierzchala was killed the same day he learned he had passed his 10-month probation period. He had been patrolling independently since April, according to OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique.

Randall McKenzie, 25, and Brandi Stewart-Sperry, 30, who have been in custody since their arrest, appeared at the Ontario Court of Justice in Cayuga via video link Wednesday and were charged with first-degree murder. They are scheduled for their next hearing on Jan. 17.

Carrique said Pierzchala was previously a special constable at Queen's Park and had been with the provincial police force for just over a year.

Before that, Carrique said the "exemplary" police officer served in the Canadian Armed Forces.

"This is a man who, at five years old, decided he wanted to be a police officer," he said. "He had a brief opportunity to live out his dream … unfortunately, he paid the ultimate sacrifice."

CBC Hamilton reached a member of Pierzchala's family, who asked for privacy at this time.

Pierzchala had 'beautiful soul,' family friend said

The policing community, leaders in Haldimand County, Six Nations of the Grand River, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and prominent Canadian politicians have all expressed condolences at the young officer's death.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tweeted his condolences on Tuesday. Ontario Premier Doug Ford also shared his condolences.

"To the family, to the OPP family, please know that the people of Haldimand-Norfolk, the people of Ontario, will mourn alongside you in the difficult days ahead," said Haldimand MPP Bobbi Ann Brady.

Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath also expressed condolences. "Our hearts are broken over the loss of OPP Constable Grzegorz Pierzchala. On behalf of Hamiltonians and Council, I send our deepest condolences to all his loved ones and colleagues at the OPP," she said.

The CN Tower in Toronto said it would dim its lights at the top of every hour Wednesday night in memory of the officer.

His smile and his hugs just drew you in... I don't believe he ever fully realized the impact he had on other people. - Anne-Marie Goorts, wrestling coach in Barrie, Ont.

Pierzchala was remembered as a skilled athlete. He attended St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School in Barrie, where he went by the first name Greg and won Male Athlete of the Year. He went on to join York University's wrestling team.

Anne-Marie Goorts was Pierzchala's high school wrestling coach in Barrie.

She said even 10 years after he left high school, she still saw him often. "We'd run into each other all the time because he was home all the time. That family is so tight knit and so close and he was such an integral part of the school community and the wrestling community that he was always here," she told CBC News.

Goorts said Pierzchala was someone whose hard work, dedication and "quiet leadership" drew others to him.

"He made everyone around him want to be better and do better ... because he had that light to him, where his faith and his spirit was all encompassing and you couldn't avoid it. His smile and his hugs just drew you in," she said.

"I don't believe he ever fully realized the impact he had on other people... His impact is profound and will be felt for a long time."

Submitted by St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School
Submitted by St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School

Pierzchala also had deep connections to his Polish heritage.

Agnieszka Zagórska, the president of the Polish Highlanders Association of Canada and a family friend, described him as a "beautiful soul."

"He was a big part of our community," Zagórska said, noting Pierzchala did traditional Polish dance with the Polish Highlanders Association when he was younger. She said some of his lifelong friends from the club have been struggling with the news.

"It's like they've lost a brother."

Six Nations elected chief 'heartbroken' over death

Mark Hill, elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River, said he's spoken to Stacey Laforme, the Gimaa (Chief) of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation (MCFN) and offered any services the community might need at this time.

"I was heartbroken to hear of this tragic incident as a result of a senseless act of violence, and of a young life taken so soon in the line of duty," Hill said in a statement.

"I am sending my sincere condolences, thoughts and prayers to Officer Pierzchala's loved ones and the entire OPP family for this immense loss."

WATCH | Community in mourning after death of OPP officer: 

Laforme said the community will be arranging for wellness supports for those impacted by the tragedy.

"We are relieved to hear that the people involved have been taken into custody," Laforme said in a statement.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the police officer who was shot and killed this afternoon."

Blue lights for Pierzchala

Pierzchala's death hit home especially hard for Haldimand resident Jason Harnett, whose brother, Sgt. Andrew Harnett, was killed in the line of duty in Calgary on New Year's Eve in 2020.

Submitted by Jason Harnett
Submitted by Jason Harnett

He said when he found out about the shooting, "I was rattled more than I ever have been."

"I know exactly what that family is going through right now and it's the worst days of their life right now," he said. "It's going to be very difficult and sad and challenging them for the next couple of days, into the next couple of years."

Harnett noted that his family would be there to support the Pierzchala family, and suggested that people can show the family their support by hanging blue lights outside of their homes this week, in remembrance of Pierzchala and other police officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Harnett said he wants the Pierzchala family to know that "people care about their son and you will not be forgotten."