Robert Charron entered the large daycare facility with a shotgun and told staff to take the 48 children out of the building.
He had already shot and killed one person in an adjacent building – a 38-year-old French-born educator caring for five toddlers – and he was looking for his ex-wife. Mr. Charron knew his way into and around the facility; he was the handyman and he had been in a long-term relationship with the daycare’s director, Nathalie Gagnon, until a few days earlier.
He found her in her office and started spraying a flammable liquid on her and in her office. Mr. Charron tried and failed to ignite the liquid, and Ms. Gagnon managed to escape. At least two more gunshots were fired, including one by which Mr. Charron killed himself last Friday.
The chronology of the murder-suicide in Gatineau was laid out by the city’s police force on Monday, showcasing a horrific incident that, given the locale, could have been even more tragic. Mr. Charron was carrying a hunting shotgun and fired at least four shots that day in two separate buildings that housed 53 children, plus staff.
“The investigation has concluded that the children were not the target of the shooter,” Gatineau Police Chief Mario Harel said at a news conference. “As the drama unfolded, the suspect asked the adults present to get the children out. They did so in a cool-headed and exemplary fashion.”
Everything happened quickly. The 911 call was made at 10:27 a.m., and police arrived on the scene three minutes later and found Mr. Charron’s body lying next to his gun. The children, meanwhile, had taken refuge in a neighbour’s home, where they waited until they were picked up by parents who arrived in a panic after hearing about the shooting on the news.
Police don’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle at this point, and some details might never emerge: Investigators will not be interviewing any children as part of the probe, and it is possible that Neil Galliou was the only adult in his section of the daycare when Mr. Charron entered the building and killed him.
It remains unclear whether Mr. Galliou was specifically targeted by Mr. Charron, or whether he died in a struggle with his killer. At this point, the police chief said, there is no evidence of a love triangle or any other reason why Mr. Charron would have gone after Mr. Galliou.
“It is still under investigation whether Mr. Galliou was at the wrong place at the wrong time, or whether he knew Mr. Charron,” Chief Harel said, adding autopsy results might also provide clues.
Mr. Galliou was in Quebec to learn about the use of arts and craft in daycares and was planning to return to France to ply his trade soon. Through the police force, Mr. Galliou’s family said that he loved children and would have done anything in his power to protect them.
Chief Harel said investigators have yet to speak to Ms. Gagnon, pointing out she was in no condition to talk to them to this point. He said police will not know exactly what happened both on Friday and the days leading up to it until they hear her version of events.
“[Ms. Gagnon] got away from Mr. Charron, we don’t know exactly the circumstances right now,” Chief Harel said.
Ms. Gagnon had broken up with Mr. Charron in the days leading up to the shooting. Before going to the daycare, Mr. Charron left a letter at his home in Denholm, Que., north of Gatineau, although police refused to provide more information on its content.
Chief Harel said Mr. Charron’s shotgun was legally registered, that he had no criminal record and that there was no evidence of any distress calls to police or medical services in recent days.
The daycare centre, called Racines de vie (Roots of Life), remained closed on Monday as parents and daycare professionals met with health officials to decide on the best course of action in coming days. A spokeswoman for the parents said many children still don’t know what happened last Friday. Julie Galienne added that the parents’ priority is for the school to reopen and for things to return to normal as soon as possible, while praising daycare staff as “heroes.”
“It’s been an emotional day for us, we had a desire to meet, hug and cry together,” she told local media after a first meeting.