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New endowment fund will serve as legacy to Johnston and fallen four

Legacy of Owl River-born Fallen Four victim Leo Johnston continues with endowment fund for Portage students.

March 3 marked 15 years since four RCMP officers were shot and killed in Mayerthorpe, Alberta. Known as the Fallen Four, Leo Johnston, Peter Schiemann, Anthony Gordon, and Brock Myrol were investigating a marijuana grow operation at the farm of a man who had a lengthy criminal record, and was known to be extremely violent. The four, who were inside a large out-building on the property, were taken by surprise by the gunman.

Johnston, who was born and raised in the Owl River area, was the only one who managed to return fire despite being fatally wounded. Another officer arriving at the scene fired on the gunman from outsidet he building. The wounded gunman took his own life before other police officers could get to the tragic scene.

Lac La Biche County Mayor Omer Moghrabi showed tearful emotion during a speech at special memorial service on Tuesday at McArthur place that marked the somber anniversary and unveiled a new, lasting legacy to Johnston and the other fallen RCMP officers. Moghrabi especially remembered his own connection to Johnston and the local family.

“This is very personal for me, I knew Leo Johnston and his family, so to talk about it is difficult ... We will never forget. We never forget our armed forces, we never forget our police that laid their lives down for us,” Moghrabi said at the ceremony that included members of the Johnston family, community members, officials with local law enforcement and representatives from Portage College where an annual scholarship fund has been growing since it was created in 2005.

Nancy Broadbent, the President and CEO of Portage College, gave a speech about the Leo Johnston Memorial Award Fund, a fund that helps to distribute scholarships at the college to students pursuing law enforcement.

Broadbent acknowledged the late Grace Johnston, the officers mother who passed away in 2017 as the driving force behind this fund who wanted to leave a legacy for her son. Since its inception, 45 Portage College students have benefited from the RCMP Constable Leo Johnston Memorial Bursary & Scholarship.  

Permanent funding

“Now we are rolling it into an endowment fund, which makes it permanent, so that money will always be available at the college every year,” says Broadbent. “We give out eight bursaries and two scholarships a year of $1,000. It’s a really fantastic award.”

The funds will be available to qualifying students pursuing learning in a field related to law enforcement, emergency response or community well-being.

The County donated $10,000 to Portage College to support and help expand the fund so it can reach more students. Along with the news of the permanent endowment, a framed portrait of Johnston, along with an image of all four Mounties killed 15 years ago, was donated by the Johnston family to be on permanent display. 

Community donations to the fund are still being accepted. To donate to the RCMP Constable Leo N. Johnston Memorial Bursary & Scholarship Endowment, contact Rick Flumian, Manager of Community Relations at Portage College at 780-623-5591 or email rick.flumian@portagecollege.ca.

Johnston, who was married, was 32 when he was killed. He was one of two twin sons of Grace and Ron Johnston. Gordon was 28. Myrol was 29 and Schiemann was 25.