MONCTON, N.B. — Hundreds of RCMP officers in red serge filed sombrely into a New Brunswick church to pay tribute to a Mountie killed last week when he stopped to help stranded motorists change a flat tire.
The regimental funeral for Const. Frank Deschenes of the Nova Scotia RCMP filled St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Moncton, which seats 800, and a large crowd gathered along the tree-lined street outside to pay their respects to the young officer.
Savannah Bennett, Deschenes' wife, bowed her head as she placed a rose on the coffin, draped in a Canadian flag.
A heart-wrenching eulogy was delivered by Deschenes' friend, Dave Connors, who described the 35-year-old's excitement at getting married to the "woman of his dreams" this summer.
"You were his world, his rock. You made him the happiest man when he got to make you his wife," Connors said to Bennett. "You were the most important person in the world to him and he'd do absolutely anything for you."
"I remember the day he showed me your ring. His eyes lit up and the smile that came across his face was incredible."
Connors, who called Deschenes "Frankie" during the emotional eulogy, described his friend as a compassionate and thoughtful man who went above and beyond the call of duty for his fellow officers and the public.
Deschenes was assisting two occupants of an SUV last week when a cargo van plowed into his cruiser near Memramcook, N.B.
Father Allison Carroll, the parish priest, said one of the officer's final acts on earth was to reach out to "people who could use his help, in a simple task, changing a tire."
"As a police officer, Frank had multiple opportunities to meet and to serve the marginalized," Carroll said. "And he responded."
"We all know the story of bravery when he rescued a person from danger of immediate death back a few years ago, and he did so without any concern for himself, for his own safety."
In 2008, Deschenes was hailed as a hero when he used his cruiser to push a car off railroad tracks near Truro, N.S., out of the way of a speeding freight train, saving a young woman's life.
Acting RCMP Commissioner Daniel Dubeau called Deschenes the "consummate Mountie: Professional, modest and respectful."
"His life, his calling, were cut short. But he accomplished much in his 12-year career as a police officer," he told those gathered at the church. "He was enthusiastic and passionate about his work on traffic enforcement, and deeply dedicated to keeping our roads and highways safe."
Dubeau held back tears as he described a young boy who, upon learning of the officer's death, went to the RCMP Bible Hill detachment where Deschenes was once posted and offered his entire Pokemon collection so that "every Mountie could have a hero to protect him."
Nova Scotia RCMP commanding officer Brian Brennan said Deschenes wore his uniform with pride.
"When you think of a Mountie, Frank epitomizes that image," he said. "He lived our core values through his actions and served others unselfishly with integrity and respect."
Brennan said Deschenes would show up at work with his "enormous and very gentle" 140 pound Newfoundland dog and sidekick, Kito.
Originally from northwest New Brunswick, Deschenes was a former member of the force's famed Musical Ride.
The Edmundston native lived a full life outside of work, target shooting with his wife, fundraising for charities and exploring the country on motorcycle trips.
In addition to hundreds of Mounties and officers from municipal police forces, a large contingent of members of the Defenders Motorcycle Club also attended the service.
Deschenes was an avid biker and a member of the club's Amherst chapter.
Pat Evans, a member of the motorcycle club's Halifax chapter, said there were members of the club from Ottawa, Halifax, Cape Breton, Truro and Amherst.
"He was one of our brothers and coming here was the right thing to do and be part of his celebration of life," Evans said.
Hundreds who had waited outside the church during the two hour funeral stood in silence as the coffin was carried down the steps of the church to a waiting hearse.
Many of the pallbearers fought back tears and hugged each other as the hearse drove away.
- By Brett Bundale in Halifax