The widow, the wounded and the witnesses came to court to spill out the contents of their shattered lives, and they pleaded to a judge that killer Alexandre Bissonnette should get no leniency.
Five victims of the 2017 mosque shooting in Quebec City took turns in the witness box on Tuesday to speak about their losses, in heart-rending testimonials that will help determine how long the 28-year-old shooter goes to jail.
Mohamed Khabar, shot in the knee and foot the night of the attack, still has bullet debris in his leg and has never been able to return to work as a barber.
Saïd Akjour, shot in the shoulder, still plots a safe exit for himself when he goes to a Tim Hortons, a supermarket or library.
Louiza Mohamed-Saïd, who lost her husband to Mr. Bissonnette’s bullets, said her three daughters fear they will also lose their mother to a shooter.
Others are haunted by memories. Saïd El-Amari broke down recalling that he didn’t come to the aid of Azzeddine Soufiane as the 57-year-old lay dying on the mosque floor, while the shooter was still active. “I should have gone to help him. It still eats at me,” he said through tears.
The testimonials will inform Quebec Superior Court Justice François Huot as he weighs Mr. Bissonnette’s sentence for six counts of first-degree murder.
Until now, the sentencing hearing has heard mostly about Mr. Bissonnette, his suicidal thoughts, his anxiety and his growing obsession with violence, Muslims and weapons leading up to the Jan. 29 rampage at the Grand Mosque.
On Tuesday, the victims of his crime got to tell their stories on the second day of impact statements.
They said that, beyond their personal loss, they grieved for the vanished sense of security they believed they would find in their adopted homeland after emigrating from North Africa.
“I never thought a shooting, a terrorist act could happen in Quebec City,’” said Mr. El-Amari, who was shot in the knee and abdomen and spent a month in a coma. “We always thought the people of Quebec were a peaceful people. We never thought there was someone with such a twisted mind in Quebec society.”
Some offered a chilling recreation of the moments inside the mosque when Mr. Bissonnette walked in. Mr. Akjour said the shooter was calm. “He carried out his crime in a cold-blooded way, like he was playing a video game,” he said. Most vividly, he remembered how Mr. Bissonnette kept pitilessly firing at victims even once they were on the ground.
Louiza Mohamed-Saïd, widow who lost her husband in the 2017 mosque shooting— When this day comes [when Alexandre Bissonnette is freed on parole], it will be a second death for our victims and those who were spared.
While he and others delivered their thoughts, Mr. Bissonnette sat behind them in a baggy sweatshirt inside his glassed enclosure, fidgety and alert but showing no perceptible reaction to what was being said.
Mr. Khabar recalls being shot in the knee and toe and dragging himself to a maintenance closet downstairs, where he spent minutes in terror that the shooter would find the hiding place and kill him. His desperate flight left a trail of blood on the stairs and carpet of the prayer room. A Globe and Mail reporter saw the darkened patches of blood during a visit to the mosque two days after the shooting, and was able for the first time on Tuesday to see the man whose body spilled it.
The impact statements are meant to give a voice to crime victims and help evaluate the consequences of Mr. Bissonnette’s actions. Under the Criminal Code, Mr. Bissonnette could face back-to-back 25-year terms for each of his six first-degree murder convictions, meaning he would end his days in jail.
Mr. Bissonnette’s lawyers say they want him to serve all six sentences at once, meaning that he would be eligible for parole in 25 years, when he is 53.
Each of the victims was asked by Justice Huot for their input about sentencing.
Some were adamant that Mr. Bissonnette should not benefit from leniency.
“I’m terrified by the idea that a person with such a twisted mind will be in the same society as me in 25 years,” Mr. El-Amari said.
Ms. Mohamed-Saïd, whose husband, Abdelkrim Hassane, died in the attack, said the idea that one day Mr. Bissonnette would be free from jail terrified her.
“When this day comes, it will be a second death for our victims and those who were spared,” she said.
Victim impact statements continue on Wednesday.
The Canadian Press