A man entered a Gatineau daycare facility packed with 53 children and killed a worker in front of many of them before turning his shotgun on himself.
The tragedy left two people dead on Friday, but none of the children located in the facility's two buildings were hurt. Still, dozens of nervous parents scrambled to pick up their children after hearing media reports on the shooting, and many had panicked looks as they waited for police to retrieve their children from a neighbouring house where they had found shelter.
"I have never been so afraid in my life," a mother told reporters at the scene.
The children were generally in good humour as police officers handed them over to their parents, but the deadly event in such a sensitive locale – and the potential for a much bigger tragedy – left the city shaken.
"It is not a very happy day in Gatineau. We didn't expect that kind of a situation," Mayor Marc Bureau told reporters.
Gatineau Police Chief Mario Harel said marital strife could be at the root of the shooting, stating the dead gunman had been going through a separation, but said authorities have no information indicating a "romantic triangle" of any kind. However, the chief refused to state whether there was a link between the shooter and the victim, or whether the victim had simply been trying to protect a co-worker or the children from the gunman.
Late in the day police identified one of the deceased as Robert Charron. Police have also identified the worker as a 38-year-old French citizen, but would not release the man's name.
Police received a 911 call at 10:27 a.m. from inside the daycare. Officers arrived three minutes later and quickly found a body lying next to a shotgun. The man had taken his own life in a building that was housing five toddlers.
Police said the gunman had initially entered a bigger building, which is part of the same Racines de Vie Montessori daycare facility, and shot one of about 10 workers on site. The wounded man was transported to hospital and declared dead a short time later.
Parents rushed to the daycare centre to pick up their children as soon as they received a call from police or heard about the shooting on the news. The handover was slow, however, with one nervous mother describing it as a "trickle" as police ensured that the children were delivered to their proper parents.
The children were placed in a neighbour's house as they waited for their parents to pick them up. Many of them had not been able to retrieve all of their belongings inside the daycare centre, which was being treated as a crime scene. One shoeless girl, for example, wore a large winter jacket belonging to an ambulance driver as she was handed to her parents. Others were wrapped in all types of blankets.
"We are simply glad to have our children back," said a father after he and his spouse picked up their two children.
"We just want to go home," added a mother of a four-year-old who gave her name as Geneviève.
Parents received their children from the hands of police and the families were sent into a city bus for processing before being allowed to leave the site.
"The good news is that the 53 children are safe. A neighbour is acting as good Samaritan and keeping them safe," said Gatineau Police Sergeant Jean-Paul Le May shortly after the shooting.
Sgt. Le May said the shooter had spoken to daycare staff before he turned the gun on himself, and that several crying children were near the body when police arrived.
"Considering how small the area was and the number of children present, some probably witnessed something," the police spokesman said.
Counselling services have been set up for the children and staff.
The daycare facility is located across the street from Hôpital de Hull in Gatineau, and both Chief Harel and Mr. Bureau thanked all police officers and health workers who intervened quickly.