|RENE JOHNSTON/TORONTO STAR FILE|
|Reflecting on the morning she was taken hostage, Nicole Regis says she was observing all the common-sense rules about being safe. “Walk in a group, don’t take deserted streets. I was doing all that.”|
Sep. 12, 2004. 07:45 AMDALE ANNE FREED
"It's okay. I won't hurt you," came the voice.
And time stood still.
Regis, 20, a sociology major at Hamilton's McMaster University, was on her way to work on her last day as a summer intern at the Royal Bank's Wellington St. offices, when Tony Brookes whispered into her ear.
The scene, on Aug. 25, the height of the Wednesday morning rush outside Union Station on Front St., stopped commuters in their tracks.
Regis brought her hands up to hold his left arm, as if she might pull him off. Some would recall the sunlight glinting off the gold chain around Brookes' neck as Regis stood, her head bowed, struggling to remain calm.
"I just froze," said passerby Heidi Laverick, recalling that dreadful moment when the gunman randomly seized Regis. "I wasn't sure what was going on. There I was with my briefcase in my hands and my sunglasses on, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. ... I just think to myself, he could have turned around and shot anybody."
Her day had begun like any other, Regis told the Star in an exclusive interview on Thursday as she prepared for second-year classes at McMaster. Waking up at her parents' Ajax home. Taking the train to work.
And then that moment on the sidewalk, next to the clock in front of Union Station.
"He grabbed my shirt," Regis recalled, speaking quietly and exhibiting the same calm demeanour that struck witnesses to the unfolding drama.
For a fleeting moment she wondered if it might be a friend, rushing up to grab her. The thought crossed my mind," she said. But this was no joke. The dozens of police pouring on to the streets were proof of that.
For the next 42 minutes, Regis would stand there, calm and collected, as Brookes held her hostage while police sought to defuse the standoff.
Just 10 minutes earlier, the disturbed 45-year-old Brookes had stalked and shot at — but missed — his estranged wife, Marlene Brookes, after following her to the food court under the Canadian Pacific Tower.
His sawn-off .22-calibre rifle jammed, so he hit her with the gun before running off, leaving her bleeding from the forehead.
Regis, speaking in her first interview since the ordeal 2 1/2 weeks ago, said she's still trying to make sense of that morning.
She recalled how she stood frozen for nearly three-quarters of an hour while Emergency Task Force officers tried to negotiate with Brookes.
Thousands of commuters peered in shock at the scene, many thinking they had stumbled on to a movie shoot.
Then came the crack of the single shot that broke the morning stillness. An ETF marksman fired, hitting Brookes in the head, killing him instantly and freeing the young woman.
Now, as she considers what happened, Regis finds it ironic that she is the daughter of Mr. Justice Gregory Regis of the Ontario Court in Oshawa, who deals with criminal matters.
She's thinking of how she did all the things she was told to do to keep safe."As a young woman, you're told, `Walk in a group, don't take deserted streets,'" she said, sighing. "I was doing all that."
That's all she wants to say.
"Now I've got to get to class," she said, smiling graciously but cutting the conversation short.
Dressed in jeans, Regis stands tall, her eyes sparkling, her smile broad. She could be any young woman on campus. She even attended a few frosh events as the school year kicked off.
"I'm feeling good. I have so much support from friends, family, teachers and strangers," Regis said.
Moving her arm upward to emphasize the point, she said, "I'm going to push on, go forward."