After hearing the news of her cousin's death, all Ashante Cirillo wanted to do was be with her family, to say a final goodbye to the young soldier who tragically lost his life in a gun attack on Parliament Hill on Wednesday, Oct. 22.
Thanks to an outpouring of support from the community of Whistler and beyond, the former resort resident was able to attend her cousin's funeral on Tuesday, Oct. 28, joining the nation in mourning the loss of 24-year-old Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.
Ashante, 27, lived in Whistler for two years before leaving to travel with her boyfriend at the end of the 2013-14 winter season. Currently based in Spain, Ashante couldn't afford the flight home for the funeral ceremony. So her friend and former roommate, Whistler local Chelsea Stewart, stepped in to help.
"Ashante's words to me kind of shocked me a little," said Stewart, who reached out to Ashante after hearing the news. "She said, 'I just want to be home with my family but I can't afford it.' That stuck with me... and I woke up in the morning and thought I'd start a fund for her."
Stewart launched a crowdsourcing campaign the day after the attack that rocked the country. Within 24 hours, the $2,500 funding goal was met, with dozens of donations pouring in from Whistler and across the globe.
Ashante took to Facebook to express her immense gratitude at being given the chance to pay her respects and be with her family during an emotional time.
"All I can say is thank you to everyone for being so supportive and amazing! I am overwhelmed and...wow," she wrote.
"My Whistler family has always and will forever be with me, no matter how far away I am. I love all you oh so much."
The response from those who know and love Ashante, as well as from complete strangers in places as far away as Australia and the Netherlands, was overwhelming, Stewart said.
"(Ashante) didn't even know these people and they helped her out, and that was really beautiful. It sort of restores your faith in humanity again, doesn't it?" she said. "It's definitely made me realize that there's so much good in people, even in such tragic circumstances."
Thousands lined the streets of Hamilton, Ont. on Tuesday to pay respects to Cpl. Cirillo, who was shot in the back and killed while standing ceremonial guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa last week.
The gunman then stormed Parliament Hill in what Prime Minister Stephen Harper called "a terrorist attack," firing dozens of shots just metres away from where a group of MPs were meeting. The assailant was then shot and killed by the House of Commons' Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, who has been hailed as a hero across the country.
The incident was the second attack targeted at Canadian military personnel in under a week. Just two days before the Ottawa shooting, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed in a deliberate hit-and-run at a Quebec army base.
On Saturday Oct. 25, active and retired military members stood guard at cenotaphs across the country to honour their fallen comrades. A handful of military veterans were at the Whistler Cenotaph, standing tall for eight hours in chilly, rainy conditions.
"We're taking our cenotaph back," said former Air Force pilot Rob Cox, who organized the Whistler vigil. "The cenotaph is important to any veteran. It represents a lot and we're not going to let anyone take that away from us."
Photos of the slain soldiers, as well as a memorial book, were laid out at the Whistler Fire Hall #1 in the village for guests to sign.
"You will always be remembered in our hearts," one message read.