A Fredericton police officer killed in Friday’s shootings was a compassionate woman keen on helping her community, a longtime friend said Sunday.
Fiona Williams said she had known Const. Sara Burns for most of her life, but the two only reconnected about six months ago when the officer helped raise funds for Liberty Lane, a local housing centre for women in crisis.
“(She was) one of these people you always feel comfortable around, she was always down to earth,” said Williams, Liberty Lane’s executive director. “Lovely, she was just lovely.”
Williams described Burns as a warm person who talked constantly about her three sons and her love for her job.
“Our parents were friends when I was a child, so we had a lot of family-friend parties when we were kids,” she said.
Williams said Burns and her husband Steven helped raise money for Liberty Lane: Steven and his best friend, Brian Jones, walked from Edmundston, N.B., to Fredericton in June to raise awareness and funds for the organization.
While Burns was too busy with her police work to go on the walk itself, Williams said she worked hard from the sidelines to promote the fundraiser through local events.
“That’s not something they could have done without their family’s involvement and support,” said Williams.
Liberty Lane provides second-stage housing and outreach for women and children fleeing abusive situations.
Burns and Jones raised over $130,000 for the cause, and the Burns family accepted an award through TD Bank’s Customer Appreciation Day for their fundraising efforts, just two weeks before the officer was killed at the age of 43 Friday. The shooting also claimed the lives of fellow officer Const. Robb Costello and civilians Bobbie Lee Wright and Donnie Robichaud.
Burns decided to follow her dream of being a police officer when she was 40.
She attended the Atlantic Police Academy at Holland College and was hired in Fredericton in 2016. She had been an auxiliary officer with the force for a time as well.
One local politician told the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal when Burns was hired that the city was “very excited” to have her on board.
In 2015, Burns told a Summerside, P.E.I., newspaper that she saw policing as a demanding career.
“(Policing) is something that I think challenges you physically, mentally and socially; you need to be aware of those components,” she told the Journal Pioneer. “It’s a really challenging field and to survive you need to keep all of those in check.”
Burns also held a degree in criminology from St. Thomas University.
In recent months, Williams said Burns expressed a keen interest in mental health and working with youth, which she said is an important quality for police to have.
“As a police officer, you’re not counselling people, but you really have to approach every situation differently,” Williams said.
“It was really important that she understood mental health, and what some youth finding themselves at risk might be going through.”
Burns was proud of her line of work, frequently sharing links to articles about police work and issues on her Facebook page. She linked to a story about Const. Frank Deschenes, who was killed in a roadside crash last year, and shared an article about the high rate of suicide among first responders.
In May, Burns shared an image of a police hat and said: “Share if you’re proud of a police officer.”
Burns’ family has asked for privacy as they grieve, but said in a statement that Burns loved her job and “went to work each shift committed to serving this great community.”
They also expressed condolences to Costello.
Costello, 45, was a 20-year police veteran and the father of four children.
His partner, Jackie McLean, said in a statement of behalf of the family that she sought privacy but wanted to say a few things about him.
“Robb was the single most positive person I have ever met; and that was obvious to everyone who met him. He had a special way of dealing with people — fair, but strong and tough when needed. He was the only officer I’ve ever known to write a ticket and have the recipient thank him for it,” she said.
Wright, 32, and Robichaud, 42, the civilian victims of Friday’s attack, just started dating in August. Robichaud, a local musician, had two teenage sons and a daughter.
Matthew Vincent Raymond, 48, will appear in court on Aug. 27 to face four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths. Police did not say if the suspect and victims were known to each other and a motive is not yet known.
— By Alex Cooke in Halifax
The Canadian Press