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Fletcher told caregiver to run for it, if she could

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/10/2014 (1001 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA -- As bullets were flying outside the doors of the meeting room where he sat, Manitoba MP Steven Fletcher told his aide that if it came to it, she should leave him behind.

"I told my caregiver if the opportunity comes to get out, she has to take it," Fletcher said.

Manitoba MP Steven Fletcher stayed next to the door in a parliamentary meeting room after gunfire  erupted in the hallway Wednesday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS / HANDOUT

Manitoba MP Steven Fletcher stayed next to the door in a parliamentary meeting room after gunfire erupted in the hallway Wednesday.

When an armed Michael Zehaf Bibeau barged into the Centre Block Wednesday morning, Fletcher was sitting in front of the wooden doors of the Reading Room.

Just outside the doors is the Hall of Honour.

It is Fletcher's usual spot for the weekly Conservative caucus meetings, the easiest place to fit his wheelchair in a room packed with chairs for the 161 Conservative MPs, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper was still speaking to his caucus when there was a loud boom. Almost every MP in the room initially thought it was construction.

"It sounded liked something fell off the roof of the building," said Fletcher.

Then the one boom became many and everyone in the room was aware Parliament was under attack.

As his colleagues scurried past, diving for the safety of the stone walls, Fletcher could only move a little to the side of the doors.

"I figured if the person was going to come in, it would be through those doors," said Fletcher.

Outside the doors, bullets were flying.

"I had images of people hiding behind pillars and shooting," said Fletcher. "There were so many shots."

The police and military officers in the Conservative caucus sprang into action, including Manitoba senior minister Shelly Glover. They used chairs and tables to barricade doors that wouldn't lock, while others began fashioning makeshift spears from flagpoles.

Glover said for the cops in the room, training and experience kicked in. "Those boots I had on came off pretty quickly," she said.

People were scared and nobody really knew what was happening because Tory MPs aren't allowed to take smartphones into caucus.

After about 20 minutes, Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers walked in and said the shooter was dead. That's when Harper was rushed to safety, but the rest of the caucus was left in the room, as the entire parliamentary district went into lockdown for almost 12 hours. They were allowed to get their phones from the anteroom connected to the Reading Room so they could call their families. There was access to one bathroom. The coffee and fruit laid out for caucus had long since vanished.

MP Joyce Bateman says the first food she got was frozen cookies around 8 p.m., but nobody complained and everyone was willing to wait it out. "People rise to the occasion," she said.

Across the hall, in the Railway Room, the NDP caucus was going through almost the same thing. Manitoba MP Niki Ashton (Churchill) said she was in the hallway on the phone with her mother when the gunfire began. She, too, thought something had fallen. When she realized it was gunfire, she ran into the committee room, where NDP MPs barricaded the door and took cover. They sat for hours, with a single water cooler. They had their phones, but systems were jammed and few could send or receive emails. RCMP finally cleared a corridor off the room that leads to a cafeteria, so some food was available.

Most MPs weren't let out of the building until after 9 p.m., when they were loaded onto buses and driven to another building.

No MP said they were scared to return to work Thursday.

Conservative James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake) said he was more aware as he was walking around the Hill, but he wasn't scared.

Most of them know things will change.

"There has to be a complete look at securing Parliament Hill so a terrorist can't walk in here again," said Joy Smith.

mia.rabson@ freepress.mb.ca

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