WEST KELOWNA - The death of Const. Neil Bruce, 50 years ago today, was similar to what Kamloops experienced in 1962 or Mayerthorpe in 2005; the murder of local RCMP officers and the shocking realization for local residents that the men and women who serve and protect our communities can also end up as victims of violence themselves.
On Tuesday, April 14, retired RCMP Staff Sgt. Jack Hest, partner and friend to Bruce, touched on those tragedies during his address to the large crowd of family, friends and former co-workers that gathered near the site of his shooting in what is now Glenrosa.
Hest told the story of how the young RCMP officer was fatally wounded, shot through the lung, while investigating reports of a young woman being held captive and sexually assaulted by a loner named Russell Spears in the bush behind Westbank near Powers Creek.
“Spears didn’t just commit a murder that morning, he committed a robbery,” Hest said. “He robbed Neil of the potential for a long and happy life. Nothing we have done can compare to the sacrifice Neil made for this community.”
Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens, commanding officer of B.C.’s E Division told the assembly Bruce’s sacrifice will never be forgotten.
“It was 50 years ago that Const. Neil McArthur Bruce and his partner walked down into the ravine behind me in response to a female in need of assistance,” Callens said. “What they did that day was in the best tradition of the RCMP. They set out to help those who cannot help themselves, rescue the innocent and end an evil. Sadly for one of them, it would have tragic consequences and that is what we are gathered here today to recognize.”
Bruce lingered for four days in hospital, eventually succumbing to pneumonia brought on by his injury. Police launched a massive manhunt for Spears, finally cornering him near Peachland, where he shot himself rather than be taken alive.
Callens addressed Bruce’s widow Sandra Fuoco, and presented her with a commemorative pin.
“We realize today will be a bittersweet occasion for you but we hope you take some comfort knowing that your loss and your sacrifice has not been forgotten and never will be,” Callens said, before acknowleding the large crowd of RCMP in red serge, standing out amongst representatives from West Kelowna Fire and Rescue, local politicians and a contingent of students from the fallen officer’s namesake, Const. Neil Bruce middle school.
“Your presence here shows the bonds of comradeship forged in training and in the field always remains strong,” he said.
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