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'Always had a smile on his face': Colleagues remember slain Toronto police officer

TORONTO — Const. Andrew Hong loved to smile, ride motorcycles and spend time with his family.
Police vehicles and officers are seen behind tape at a scene in Mississauga, Ont., Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. Shootings across the Greater Toronto Area left two people dead, including a Toronto police officer, and injured three others on Monday afternoon. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey

TORONTO — Const. Andrew Hong loved to smile, ride motorcycles and spend time with his family.

The 22-year veteran with the Toronto force worked with a highly specialized motorcycle unit that provides security escorts for dignitaries like prime ministers and presidents and was training other officers when he was gunned down in what police are calling an ambush.

The attack, which took place Monday afternoon while Hong was eating lunch in Mississauga, Ont., left those who knew him in shock as they recalled a kind colleague who was extremely good at his job.

"He was very skilled on the bike, which you have to be to be a part of Winged Wheels," said Jon Reid, president of the Toronto Police Association.

"He was a very well-respected police officer, a true professional who loved being a father and a husband and he's going to be missed by many people," he said. "The whole family is devastated."

Hong, 48, leaves behind his wife, Jenny, and two teenage kids, a boy and a girl.

His family said they are grateful for the outpouring of love and support.

"Andrew was magnetic. He was a man of steel on the outside with a warm teddy bear personality on the inside. His personality was larger than life," the family said in a statement.

"He loved his Police family and was so proud to be a member of the Toronto Police Service, and especially loved being part of the Motor Unit.

"He was a practical joker and got along with everyone. His absence has left a gaping hole in the heart of our family, the Police family, and everyone who knew and loved Andrew."

Hong's family is asking for privacy at this time.

Reid, along with interim Toronto police chief James Ramer, had to deliver the news to Hong's wife.

"It's probably one of the most difficult days I've had and telling a police family that their father isn't coming home – it's unimaginable," he said.

Sources close to the investigation who were not authorized to speak publicly said Hong was shot in the head while eating alone inside a Tim Hortons.

Friends and colleagues remembered Hong on Tuesday as an extraordinary officer and person who made time for anyone who needed it.

"He always had a smileon his face," Reid said. "He was very, very happy and he was that guy who always wanted to help people."

The Toronto Police Services Board said Hong was a "beloved husband, father, son, brother-in-law, friend."

"By all accounts, P.C. Hong was an exceedingly kind and positive person, gentle and caring, funny and warm, who loved his family, and did his job with extraordinary commitment and great professionalism," the board wrote in a statement.

Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg left a conference in Ottawa once he got news of the death of Hong.

He wrote in a tweet of his "profound sadness" over the death of Hong, who he said was "an officer, a gentleman, an incredible human being, and a close personal friend."

Ontario's Solicitor General Michael Kerzner extended his condolences to Hong's family and friends in a statement, describing him as a person with "unassailable integrity...whose heart was made for friendship."

Hong spent the past 19 years with traffic services where he also kept tabs on drivers. A moment of silence was held for him at Tuesday morning's Toronto Police Services Board meeting.

"We've lost an outstanding member of the service and an outstanding individual in Andrew," Ramer said.

"We give our deepest condolences to his family and our membership is going to work through it and we will honour him appropriately in due course."

Police often hold large funerals for fallen officers, although it's up to the family if they want one. It's unclear what will happen for Hong.

On Tuesday morning, Reid and Ramer sat down with Hong's colleagues.

"They're all in shock," Reidsaid. "That's a very, very tight knit unit in traffic services."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also visited the division Tuesday morning to support Hong's colleagues, calling his death "a senseless tragedy that took the life of an incredible officer."

"We just want to send a message to their family, but also the larger police family, that we’ll always have their backs," Ford told television station CP24 outside.

This case is a particular tragedy because Hong appears to have been ambushed simply because he was a police officer, said Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, who is a former Toronto police chief.

"It's a reminder, I think, of the risks that our officers face for us every single day, when they when they go out to do their job of keeping us all safe," he said at a Liberal caucus retreat in New Brunswick.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said everyone in the city is grieving and that Hong's death is a reminder of the risks police officers take for their communities.

"A lot of them that we met this morning at the traffic services had to get up this morning and come to work," Tory said at the police board meeting.

Peel Regional police are co-ordinating a sprawling multi-jurisdictional investigation into shooting scenes spanning three Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area cities Monday afternoon that left Hong, another victim and the suspect dead, as well as three others injured.

Hong and a second person – who police say sustained "life-altering"injuries – were shot in Mississauga before the suspect went on to attack people at an auto body shop in nearby Milton, Ont., leaving one dead and two others injured.

The suspect died after being involved in a shooting with police in Hamilton later in the day. The Special Investigations Unit is investigating.

While Hong ate lunch by himself on Monday, he was not alone later that night.

A police motorcade escorted Hong's body from the scene to the coroner's office in Toronto, where more than 100 officers plus Reid, the chief, the mayor and the solicitor general waited for him to arrive.

It was an important moment for the officers, Reid said.

"He's not alone," Reid said, "and he hasn't been left behind."

- With files from Allison Jones

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2022.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press