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South Simcoe officers Northrup, Russell were 'absolute gentlemen'

'They were loved by everyone here' says police colleague

The South Simcoe Police Service is like a family, says Staff Sgt. David Phillips, and the deaths of constables Morgan Russell and Devon Northrup, who were killed earlier this week after responding to a disturbance call in Innisfil, has been hard to process.

The officers responded to a "disturbance" at an Alcona home around 8 p.m., Tuesday. After an "exchange of gunfire" inside the home with resident Chris Doncaster, the wounded officers were rushed to the hospital by emergency run where Northrup, 33, died. Russell, 54, was airlifted to a Toronto trauma centre and succumbed to his injuries early Wednesday morning. Doncaster, whose age has since been corrected to 22 years old by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), was pronounced dead at the scene.

The SIU has confirmed the call about the disturbance was made by a family member in the house. York Regional Police has also been asked to conduct an investigation. 

"Both officers were absolute gentlemen, true examples of what community police officers are," Phillips said. "They were loved by everyone here.

"We're a small police service where we get to know each other, we know each other's families, we know each other outside of work, and both were outstanding loved members of our police service," the staff sergeant added. 

In times like these, the South Simcoe Police Service leans on the community for support, he said.

"It's been an overwhelming experience for everyone involved, the community as well," Phillips said. "These types of things shouldn't happen. In the last 48 hours, there's been a lot of reflection on what has happened. Certainly, we're grief-stricken and we're warmed by the support of love from the community. Things like the candlelight vigil are so touching to us here and remind us that we aren't alone and we're part of the community and the community is trying to help us when we try every day to help them."

Northrup was a six-year member of the service and had been assigned to the Community Mobilization and Engagement Unit. He is survived by his partner, his parents and many close friends. He also served as a member of our mental health Crisis Outreach and Support Team and the Emergency Response Unit. Attending calls like the one on Tuesday night was not out of the norm for him. 

In 2020, Northrup received the South Simcoe Police Award for Excellence in Emergency Response, alongside his colleague Const. Gerlad Crane for their work in assisting a man who was about to end his life at a home in Innisfil in May 2020. Northrup and Crane had raced to the scene and gained entry to a garage where they found the man in the back seat of a locked vehicle. They were quickly able to break the window, bringing the man to safety and transporting him to the hospital. 

Northrup was also the former treasurer and director-at-large for MADD York Region.

"Devon played a pivotal role in our chapter's success and fulfilling our mission statement," read a post from the organization on Thursday. "Devon was a gentle giant with a smile that would light up a room; he will be truly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and fellow officers during this difficult time."

Northrup attended high school in Newmarket. Former classmate and friend Justin Everatt remembers Northrup as easygoing.

"He was always trying to make the class laugh and tell jokes — a nice guy," Everatt said. "It's tragic the loss of someone so young, someone many of us knew, ending their service protecting us — the community." 

John Van Dyke, who is the interim chief with South Simcoe Police Service, attended police college with Russell 33 years ago.

Russell was assigned to uniform patrol and was a trained crisis negotiator. He is survived by his wife and two teenage children. 

In February 2022, Russell received his Police Exemplary Service Medal at the South Simcoe Police Awards for 30 years of service. 

Natalie Harris, who is a city councillor in Barrie and worked as a paramedic for nine years in Bradford, recalls meeting Russell on several occasions over the years. 

“He wasn’t on my shift, but we knew the South Simcoe police officers so well. I didn’t always see him, but I remember him on call. He was always so kind,” she said. “He never made a fuss about much, but he brought this calming presence to the room because he was so experienced.

"He never made a scene anything but more calm," Harris added. 

Having been a first-responder herself for so many years, Harris said she feels for the families of both officers.

“My heart goes out to the family of any first-responder, but to have a first-responder that’s lost in the line of duty, I just couldn’t imagine. To those families that are mourning, please know how loved and respected these individuals were, not only by the community but also by fellow first-responders. They were part of a bigger family, and they kept us safe. It’s just such a tragedy that no one should ever have to experience."

This is the fourth police officer death in Ontario in the last month. On Sept. 12, Toronto police Const. Andrew Hong was killed in an ambush attack in Mississauga, and on Sept. 14, York Regional Police Const. Travis Gillespie died while driving to work when he was struck by an alleged impaired driver.

A procession to bring the South Simoce officers home from the Office of the Chief Coroner in Toronto started at 9 a.m., this morning, with South Simcoe Police Service, York Region Police and the Ontario Provincial Police forming the escort. 

There will be a full police funeral for the officers, together. Details are still being finalized, according to police. 

The last time a South Simcoe police officer was killed in the line of duty was in 2002. 

The following is a list of police officers who have been killed in the Simcoe County area in the last 25 years:

Senior Const. Alan Kuzmich, a veteran of South Simcoe police, was killed while investigating an Innisfil motorcycle theft in August 2002. An Innisfil man had been trying to sell his motorcycle and a King City man came for a test drive. He arrived in a rented pickup truck, with a friend hiding inside. The pair took off, prompting the motorcycle owner to call 911 as he chased them down local streets. Kuzmich, 41, was laying down a spike belt when the suspects drove by and at about 10:40 p.m., he was struck by a sports utility vehicle (SUV) on Highway 11 and 10th Concession Road, in Bradford West Gwillimbury. The SUV’s driver was the victim of the motorcycle theft, who had been chasing the suspects. Kuzmich died from his injuries. The motorcycle driver died soon after when he lost control of the motorcycle on a curved street. The SUV driver was found guilty of dangerous driving and sentenced to 90 days in jail.

Det. Const. Rob Plunkett, a Midhurst resident and York Regional Police officer, was killed in the line of duty in August 2007. He had been working surveillance on an airbag theft investigation in Markham when he was struck by a vehicle. Plunkett, 43, was attempting to arrest the driver of a vehicle police believed had been stolen. Its driver reversed the vehicle and accelerated over a curb, across a lawn and over several shrubs. Plunkett was pinned between the open driver's side door and the vehicle as it struck a tree. He was thrown from the car as the driver continued to reverse across the lawn. Plunkett was taken to hospital, but died from his injuries. The man driving the vehicle which struck Plunkett was convicted of manslaughter in his death in 2011.

Const. Garrett Styles, a seven-year veteran of York Regional Police, died in the line of duty in June 2011. Styles, 32, was on early morning routine patrol when he spotted a van driving dangerously and stopped the vehicle near the corner of Herald Road and Highway 48. Styles approached the driver's side window and found several youths inside, including a 15-year-old driver. As Styles was investigating the driver, the van accelerated, dragging the officer 400 metres before the driver lost control. The van rolled over, pinning Styles. As he lay injured and trapped beneath the vehicle, Styles radioed dispatch and expressed concern for the condition of the youths in the van. Police and paramedics arrived on scene, taking the van’s occupants and Styles to the hospital, where he died of his injuries. The van’s driver, who became a quadriplegic from his injuries, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2020 and received two years of probation with conditions.

Midland OPP Const. Thomas Coffin was relaxing at the Commodore Hotel in Penetanguishene with other officers after completing his shift in May 1997. While seated at the bar, a man came up behind Coffin and shot him in the head with a handgun. Coffin, 32, died at the scene. His assailant then left the bar and was arrested later by the OPP tactical team. Al MacDonald, a captain with the Toronto Fire Department, was convicted of first-degree murder and received the automatic sentence — life in prison with no parole eligibility for 25 years. MacDonald was the former chairman of the Penetanguishene Police Services Board. Coffin had charged MacDonald with impaired driving in 1996 and he blamed Coffin for ruining his life.

Const. Marc Hovingh, a 28-year OPP veteran, died while responding to a call in the woods near Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island about someone squatting on another's property in November 2020. A man had illegally cleared a road with a bulldozer and parked a 23-foot camper trailer there. Hovingh, who grew up in Barrie, and another officer asked the man to leave and he agreed to the following day. As the officers were leaving, they discovered illegal cultivation of cannabis near the camper trailer and went to arrest a man. He was asked to leave his locked trailer, but refused. Hovingh went inside to arrest him and the man fired three shotgun rounds at Hovingh. Shot twice, Hovingh returned fire, fatally striking a man and eliminating any threat to police and civilians present. Hovingh, 52, died from his injuries. Other weapons and explosives caches were later found in the trailer and on the property.

 With files from Bob Bruton, Rob Paul and Nikki Cole

Natasha Philpott

About the Author: Natasha Philpott

Natasha is the Editor for BradfordToday and InnisfilToday. She graduated from the Media Studies program at The University of Guelph-Humber. She lives in Bradford with her husband, two boys and two cats.
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