Moncton photographer Daniel St. Louis held his composure until the parade.
Through his lens, he saw the duty dog that just six days before belonged to a Mountie he’d seen lifeless the evening of the Moncton shootings.
As the dog followed the casket of a master fallen, Mr. St. Louis’s eyes welled so fully with tears he had to rely on his camera’s auto focus. He was struck, just then, with the sad reality of what he’d seen only one hour after the June 4 gunfire erupted: bullet-riddled cars, smashed windows, blood, an officer downed, a woman so terrified she was speechless.
Because Mr. St. Louis was one of the only photographers within the security perimeter, his pictures, posted online, provided some of the first visual evidence of a gunman on the loose. Many people have described what they witnessed that evening, but Mr. St. Louis saw it differently: through a lens.
“Whether it’s right or not, you just do your job,” he said of taking crime scene photographs, which he has distributed for free. “I don’t chase firetrucks. I don’t do that anymore, but it’s instinctive [to shoot] if something bad is happening.”
A Moncton resident since 1986, Mr. St. Louis – who does commercial and portrait work and dabbles in news – recalled the terror serial killer Allan Legere unleashed on the province in 1989. Mr. St. Louis tried unsuccessfully to track down the murderer on the loose, instead landing an image of him at a New Brunswick courthouse.
Over the course of a week, he shot the Moncton crime scenes. He shot the vigil. He shot the parade. He shot the funeral, where he recognized one of the pallbearers as the groom in a wedding he photographed a few years ago. Mr. St. Louis has also been working his “real job” out of a sprawling studio in a 100-year-old home drenched in natural light.
Two realtors, in for promotional shots, live in the lockdown zone and had seen the heavily armed gunman. One of them saw suspect Justin Bourque as she pulled up her driveway, but dismissed him as a paintball player, he said.
Mr. St. Louis, as it happens, is the landlord of a building next door to the Bourque family home. Mr. Bourque, 24, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Constables Douglas Larche, Fabrice Gévaudan and Dave Ross. He also faces two counts of attempted murder in the wounding of Constables Darlene Goguen and Eric Dubois.
The evening of the shooting, Mr. St. Louis was at a friend’s barbecue when guests started hearing of a gunman eluding police and a helicopter deployed to track him down.
“I said, ‘There’s no helicopter,’” Mr. St. Louis said from his studio, tidy but busy with cords, lighting equipment and cameras. “And then we all quieted down and sure enough, I could hear it. I thought, ‘Okay, this is for real.’”
He happened to have his gear in his car, so he jumped in and started driving toward where the violence had broken out just 40 minutes earlier.
“I definitely knew [the gunman] wasn’t shooting at citizens,” Mr. St. Louis said. “He was shooting police. … I felt confident enough, reasonably safe.”
He came upon a police car draped in yellow tape and started documenting the scene. A man on a motorcycle told Mr. St. Louis there was another shooting not far from there. The 51-year-old got back in his car and soon spotted a dark, bullet-riddled SUV.
He started taking pictures again. Eerily, he said, the neighbourhood was quiet, no police in sight. A woman stood at her door looking out at the SUV, only nodding when asked if she’d seen anything.
“Then somebody pointed out there was somebody lying beside the house,” Mr. St. Louis said. “When I went over, I saw the bottoms of the soles of the feet of somebody in the little walkway beside the garage.”
He called 911. Officer down. An off-duty fireman rushed over to check the man’s pulse. Mr. St. Louis had had enough. He went back to his friend’s house but “couldn’t settle” so he went home to his computer and started editing what he’d captured.
“I really didn’t want to see any more,” he said, adding he’s been having trouble sleeping since. “I wanted to believe he was alive.”
The fatally wounded man proved to be Constable Ross, he said, an officer he recognized as the handler whose dog sniffed his gear at high-security local events. “Somebody’s world is going to be wrecked,” he said of his thoughts at the time.
Mr. St. Louis’ pictures, some taken on his iPhone and immediately uploaded to the local Newschaser website, were soon picked up by the media – including, he believes, CNN. He said he wishes he’d thought about how those initial pictures would affect the community as it followed the breaking news. But he doesn’t regret taking them.
“I’m not ashamed of having my name on them, at all,” Mr. St. Louis said. “I was there. It’s what it is. It’s what we do.”