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Who would steal a memorial plaque in Cambridge?

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Multiple plaques – one that honoured a Waterloo Regional Police officer and a young boy who both drowned in 1998 – have gone missing in Cambridge.

All of them disappeared within the last few weeks.

The family of Const. Dave Nicholson calls the thefts disrespectful.

On Aug. 12, 1998, Nicholson was one of the first responders who were called to the Parkhill Dam after Mark Gage, 12, disappeared in the Grand River while swimming with friends.

Nicholson was part of the police’s underwater search team.

The rescue, however, went tragically wrong.

Police believe Nicholson found Gage but was then sucked into a sluiceway and became trapped.

More than 50 first responders and bystanders tried to pull him to safety, but his lifeline snapped.

Both Nicholson and Gage drowned.

Mark Gage and Cst. David Nicholson passed away in August 1998.

“Mark was wrapped in Dave’s arms in that underwater grave,” older brother Bruce Nicholson recalled on Thursday.

Nicholson was the first Waterloo Regional Police officer to die in the line of duty. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Bravery and the Ontario Medal for Police Bravery.

In 1999, a memorial to near the Parkhill Dam was dedicated to Nicholson and Gage.

Plaque mystery

The City of Cambridge said least three plaques were removed in the last month.

Missing memorial plaque at Dalton Court in Cambridge on June 20, 2024. (Krista Simpson/CTV News)

One at Victoria Park was reported missing in late May. It was later found damaged not far away. The city said they’re looking into whether it can be repaired.

The other two were taken from Parkhill Dam and Dalton Court. Both thefts were reported to the city earlier this week.

Missing memorial plaque at Victoria Park in Cambridge on June 20, 2024. (Krista Simpson/CTV News)

Reaction from Nicholson’s family

Nicholson’s family said his death has had a lasting impact in the community.

“People are still coming up to me over 25 years later,” Bruce Nicholson said. “They hear my last name and go: ‘You’re not, by chance, related to that police officer that died in the Parkhill Dam?’”

He still remembers his brother’s dedication to his job.

“Dave was the first to be geared up and ready to go into the water to attempt what they, at the time, hoped might be a rescue.”

David Nicholson is pictured here in police uniform.

Bruce Nicholson was shocked to learn the plaque had been stolen.

“My first reaction was just, who would want to do something like that? That is so disrespectful of Dave’s memory, but also for the memories that we all have related to the whole incident,” he said. “The plaque being gone is just another symptom of… we really need to take better care of each other in our community. And this is kind of a signal that we’re not.”

Response from WRPS

Waterloo Regional Police shared the following statement with CTV News: “The theft of memorial plaques is deeply troubling, disappointing and, understandably, very upsetting to the community. Many local residents remember the tragedy that unfolded that day when Constable David Nicholson made the ultimate sacrifice in attempts to save Mark Gage. Stealing a plaque that honours their lives – and any plaque honouring the lives of other local residents – is disrespectful and appalling. We want to assure the community that we are investigating and ask anyone with information or any video footage to please contact us.”

- With reporting by Krista Simpson

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