At 12:35 p.m. on Wednesday, Pina Salvaggio got herself a cup of coffee, took out her bag lunch and sat down in her Dawson College office to correct some homework. "All of a sudden, I heard: bang, bang, bang. I immediately thought gunshots."
Ms. Salvaggio looked out her office, and saw students milling around. "It's a joke," one of them told her. She returned to her office and this time closed her door. Then she heard more shots, many this time, and she knew. She opened her door, saw two students standing in the hall, and yanked them into her office.
"Get under the desk," she ordered. Ms. Salvaggio phoned Dawson security. No answer. And then she lost it. Like an extraordinary number of faculty at this university-preparatory college in Montreal, she had a child studying there, too.
"My son is out there," she wailed, as tears streamed down her face. At 12:45 p.m., Ms. Salvaggio's son, Alexander Matthew, was just getting out of class. He took the stairs down to ground level. He had his head phones on and was listening to Sound Garden, a rock band. That's why he was quite startled when four or five girls burst into the stairwell screaming and crying. One of them screamed, "I've been shot."
"I thought they were joking," said Alex, 19. "Then I noticed she was bleeding around the waist."
The girls ran back into the hallway. Still not comprehending, Alex followed them. A staff member, whose office was across from the stairwell, heard the commotion and came out to scold them. "What the hell are you guys doing?"
"I've been shot," the girl screamed. "Call an ambulance."
Stunned, Alex began walking toward the atrium, inside the ground-floor cafeteria. Students were running from there as fast as they could. He inched closer.
"I saw two policemen," he said. "They must have just arrived. They had their guns drawn."
Cara Genest, 17, didn't hear anything either. She was standing near the atrium when other students stampeded past, shouting to get out. She ran outside, and saw someone lying in a pool of blood.
Upstairs, in another cafeteria, her friend, Erin Neilson, 18, heard the gunshots. "Somebody shouted, 'Get out! Get out!' Everyone just got up and bolted for the door."
This week, Montrealers were asking: Why us? Youths elsewhere in Canada are addicted to violent video games. Youths elsewhere in Canada live in soul-less suburbs. Youths elsewhere are alienated and into Goth culture. Yet while there have been similar high-school tragedies, all three rampages at Canadian postsecondary institutions occurred here, not in Toronto, or Vancouver or Halifax or Calgary.
"A lot of people are saying: Why does this always happen in Quebec?" says Jay Bryan, a business columnist for the Montreal Gazette, the city's only English-language daily. "Three doesn't mean anything. But three out of three in Quebec means something."
What many outsiders don't realize is how alienating the decades-long linguistic struggle has been in the once-cosmopolitan city. It hasn't just taken a toll on long-time anglophones, it's affected immigrants, too. To be sure, the shootings in all three cases were carried out by mentally disturbed individuals. But what is also true is that in all three cases, the perpetrator was not pure laine, the argot for a "pure" francophone. Elsewhere, to talk of racial "purity" is repugnant. Not in Quebec.
In 1989, Marc Lepine shot and killed 14 women and wounded 13 others at the University of Montreal's École Polytechnique. He was a francophone, but in the eyes of pure laine Quebeckers, he was not one of them, and would never be. He was only half French-Canadian. He was also half Algerian, a Muslim, and his name was Gamil Gharbi. Seven years earlier, after the Canadian Armed Forces rejected his application under that name, he legally changed his name to Marc Lepine.
Valery Fabrikant, an engineering professor, was an immigrant from Russia. In 1992, he shot four colleagues and wounded one other at Concordia University's faculty of engineering after learning he would not be granted tenure.
This week's killer, Kimveer Gill, was, like Marc Lepine, Canadian-born and 25. On his blog, he described himself as of "Indian" origin. (In their press conference, however, the police repeatedly referred to Mr. Gill as of "Canadian" origin.)