Canadian sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers hailed as hero in parliament shooting

Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers is pictured in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on 2011. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers is pictured in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on 2011. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA - Canadian Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, who heads security at parliament, has been hailed as a national hero after shooting dead a gunman who stalked the halls of the Ottawa legislature on Wednesday.

"Hill staff owe their safety, even lives, to Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers who shot attacker just outside the MPs' caucus rooms," Member of Parliament Craig Scott of the New Democratic Party wrote in a Twitter post.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay also tweeted: "Thank God for Sgt at Arms Kevin Vickers & our Cdn security forces."

Vickers, 58, had spent 29 years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, rising to the rank of chief superintendent, the Telegraph reported.

His distinguished career - with a string of awards - and seniority meant he was frequently the public face of the police service in New Brunswick.

He then served as director of security operations for the House of Commons before becoming Sergeant-at-Arms in 2006, a role dripping in history that means not only is he responsible for keeping parliamentarians safe, but he also has the ceremonial duty of carrying the mace into the chamber before each sitting.

Relatives said Vickers was known for his no-nonsense approach to protecting parliament, the Telegraph reported. Minutes after the violent episode unfolded, he telephoned his family home in New Brunswick to tell his mother, a retired nurse, what had happened.

His cousin Keith told CBS News: "It's Kevin being Kevin.

"He's a very intelligent and responsible person. He's a people person-type fellow, too, but you don't want to mess with him,'' the cousin was quoted as saying.

The gunman has been identified in the Canadian media as 32-year-old Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who was considered a "high risk" suspect and had seen his passport seized to prevent him fighting abroad.

He shot and killed a Canadian soldier who was mounting a ceremonial guard at a war memorial in downtown Ottawa before storming into the parliament building.

Video filmed from inside the Parliament building shows officers rushing down a large marble hallway with handguns held in front of them, before the sound of gunfire and shouting rings out.

In footage from the Globe and Mail, armed police can be seen running down a corridor as they search for the suspect gunman before a volley of shots are heard.

The footage becomes shaky as the cameraman, believed to be a local reporter, rushes for cover behind a pillar.