One girl has been confirmed dead and as many as 20 people were hospitalized after a gunman opened fire at Dawson College earlier today. At 12:41p.m., a young man wearing a black trench coat entered the school through the ground floor doors on Boulevard de Maisonneuve, drew a firearm and began shooting at students in the main cafeteria.
Dawson College, located in downtown Montreal and home to 10,000 students, is the largest English-language CEGEP in Quebec.
Richard Lieu, a Dawson student, was present when the shooting started.
“When I heard the first shot I thought it was a firecracker or something like that,” he said. “Then I heard a couple more and I heard a girl a few feet behind me crying.”
Both Lieu and third-year classmate Andrea Iannicca were mere feet away from the first victims, but didn’t get a complete picture of what was going on.
“I heard shots being fired, I saw the shooter,” Iannicca said. “Then I got down on the ground and I didn’t get back up.”
Lieu and Iannicca were able to crawl to safety in the locker complex one floor below, but many of their classmates were not as lucky.
In an informal press conference at 4:30, Montreal Police Chief Yvan Delorme declared that there were a total of 20 victims among the Dawson student population, three of whom suffered serious gunshot wounds and were rushed to hospital in critical condition. The other victims were treated for light wounds and shock. Urgences Santé spokesperson Eric Berry did not confirm any student fatalities during the afternoon press conference, however police later announced the death of a girl who was at the scene.
Unfortunately, Montreal is no stranger to gun violence specifically targeting schools. On Dec. 6, 1989, Marc Lepine entered the University of Montreal’s École Polytechnique with several firearms, killing 14 female students and wounding 13 others before turning the gun on himself.
Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay made a point of congratulating the police force and ambulance technicians on the scene for their quick and professional response to the situation.
“I think that that experience has had a major impact on the quick response time of the police force,” said Tremblay. “In the past, at the Ecole Polytechnique, they had a perimeter outside and they waited. No one went inside. This time it was very efficient and very pro-active.”
Despite early rumours and preliminary news reports pointing to as many as four shooters, Delorme would only confirm one gunman at the scene of the crime.
“At 12:44 the first policeman [arrived] and saw the suspect shooting in Dawson College,” he said. “The first policeman took control of the situation and shot in the direction of the suspect. The suspect died.”
Because a suspect was killed by police, Surete du Quebec will be conducting an investigation into the incident.
“I can not tell you anymore because we have to work with Surete du Quebec [at this point],” he said. Delorme said that there were no other suspects at this time.
Though the shooting itself lasted mere minutes, the search of the six-floor complex for more potential shooters, and the subsequent evacuation of the building, lasted for most of the afternoon.
“The majority of officers on duty in the area were deployed [to the scene of the crime], in addition to special units,” said police spokesperson Olivier Lapointe. SWAT teams scoured Dawson, which spans an entire city block, with dogs, searching for students, teachers and other staff who had barricaded themselves in classrooms. Among them was business professor Robert Soroka, who heard the shots from his office.
“It was around a quarter to one, when classes end, so there were a lot of students in the corridors who were panicked and confused,” Soroka said. “Basically, myself and several [colleagues] got students to remain in classrooms. The priority was to get the students safe.”
Many students and faculty members also said Dawson security guards were instrumental in the evacuation process, which safely led many students to the metro level of the school (just below the second-floor Atrium where the shootings took place) and eventually to street level via Atwater metro station.
“We were in emergency mode,” added Soroka. “We were working on adrenaline.”
Dozens of students were led out of the subway system as the afternoon wore on, many of whom were greeted by relieved classmates before receiving phone calls from deeply shaken family members.
Immediate assistance for Dawson students was also provided by the Concordia Student Union, which began to mobilize 15 minutes after the incident occurred.
“We immediately got people together to help with the evacuation,” explained Taylor Noakes, CSU’s VP Campus Relations. “We’ve got counselors waiting. We have food, we have drinks. We wanted to create a safe place for students. We had a lot of staff working for orientation and their jobs have been changed for the day.”
The Montreal Police have not offered possible motive for the shooter’s actions, but an investigation of the event is ongoing.
“We’re going to have to reflect as a society,” said Mayor Tremblay late in the afternoon.
-Additional reporting by Matt Campbell and Kayvon Afshari