"It could've been Willy," Laffier said on Monday at the public visitation for Cirillo in Hamilton. "For us on a personal note, it really hits home."
Laffier was among the steady stream of visitors who came to Markey-Dermody Funeral Home to pay respects to Cirillo, a reservist who served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
Cirillo was guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial last Wednesday when a gunman approached him from behind and fatally shot him.
The public visitation, held in Cirillo's hometown, follows a private visitation Sunday night when relatives and dignitaries, including Ontario's Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, said private goodbyes to the young soldier.
Before entering the funeral home, visitors lined up to leave their remarks in a book of condolences. Beside the subdued crowd, a pile of flowers and Canadian flags steadily grew.
Two horses from Hamilton police's mounted patrol unit guarded the funeral home. Security checks were also in place, as police officers inspected bags and patted down jackets.
Regimental funeral planned
Laffier, a veteran who served with the 11th Field Regiment in Hamilton, said he had performed similar ceremonial duties as Cirillo. It is an assignment — "a great honour" — that every soldier covets.
"I've been there and done that," Laffier recalled. "When I did it, [I was] inflated and super proud and pumped.
"That would've been a super proud day for Nathan. It's unfortunate that such a cowardly act ruined that for him."
The visitation followed days of mourning countrywide for Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, who was killed after being struck in a hit-and-run attack in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.
Two days after Cirillo's death, thousands of people lined up highway overpasses from Ottawa to Hamilton observing the procession that carried his body home along the Highway of Heroes.
NHL players on opposing teams also paid on-ice tributes to the fallen soldiers during pre-game ceremonies.
A regimental funeral for Cirillo is scheduled on Tuesday, followed by a burial in the Field of Honour at Woodland Cemetery in Hamilton.