Brittni Drummond's three-year old daughter, Rikki, doesn't understand why her "police officer buddy" has been showing up on television in the last few days.
Rikki's friend was Ridge Meadows RCMP Const. Rick O'Brien, who was shot and killed while executing a warrant in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday.
"She just pointed him out and said, 'He's on the TV? Why?" said Drummond, a mother of two living in nearby Maple Ridge. "I told her that he's a hero, and she said, 'He's catching the mad people.'
Nicholas Bellemare, 25, has been charged with first degree murder and attempted murder with a firearm in the shooting incident that killed O'Brien and injured two other officers.
After the incident, Drummond wrote an emotional post on Facebook, detailing meeting O'Brien on-duty on Sept. 11 while watching Rikki bike around their neighbourhood.
Drummond, responding via text on social media, said the normally shy child gravitated toward the police officer, hanging out with O'Brien for about 30 minutes as they walked back to his patrol vehicle to get stickers and a slurpee coupon.
"He was just super nice," Drummond said. "He was making jokes. He was really funny. I just felt like it was hot, he had hiked all around in his heavy gear and he was in such good spirits and took the time to chat with the neighbours and Rikki.
"She was just smiling and said she wanted to keep going with him."
The interaction does not surprise Jeanette Martin, creator and co-founder of the Gratitude and Appreciation Summit, an inspirational and motivational event launched in 2020.
Martin, who is a friend of O'Brien and his wife, described the police officer as humble, genuine and very funny, never maintaining a stoic face and letting his personality shine through both in personal interactions and the photos posted online by family.
While O'Brien was decorated for bravery in the rescue of victims during a home invasion within months of joining the RCMP in 2016, Martin said what stood out was his ability to communicate and connect with people.
"He was more than just a police officer," Martin said.
""He came to the force with those soft skills of understanding mental health, understanding that everybody needs to be appreciated for where they're at in life.
"He was one that was not afraid to show his true humanity. He was himself, and that's what he delivered to the force; it's that kind humbleness, out to the world."
O'Brien joined the RCMP in his mid-'40s after previously working aith at-risk youth. In a speech at the Gratitude and Appreciation Summit's October 2020 event, the police officer said he had always wanted to be in law enforcement and joined the Mounties for "fulfilment."
In the speech, O'Brien credited his family as the main reason he was able to pursue his dreams and become a police officer after fighting through personal, career and relationship challenges earlier in his life.
"We all worked at it together to get to where we are now," O'Brien said in a recording of the 2020 event. "So those are my moments of where I feel the gratitude in my life, and that's where I seek the gratitude in my life.
"You have your family there who are always supporting you and always pushing you to do better, and just making you generally happy," he said. "And that's what you need. That's where I found my gratitude."
O'Brien leaves behind a wife and six children.
Martin said the family had just bought their "dream home" a year-and-a-half ago in Langley Township, B.C.
She said O'Brien's wife posted on Facebook about being "broken into a million pieces," but the Langley community is already rallying around her and their children to support them in any way they can.
"Our community, our sphere of friends love and adore them," Martin said. "We're gutted."
Drummond said she has not told Rikki yet of O'Brien's death but did take the girl to the procession in front of the Ridge Meadows RCMP detachment honouring the police officer on Friday.
"We just told her we were going to see police cars," Drummond said. "Her face when we got there looked very upset, almost crying. She could sense something was wrong. We had to keep telling her it was OK."
Drummond said she herself is still in shock over O'Brien's death after seeing his photo in media reports.
"It's hard to believe it," Drummond said. "It feels like he was just here."
The National Police Federation Benevolent Foundation has an active GoFundMe campaign for O'Brien's family and has raised nearly $95,000 as of Sunday afternoon.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2023.