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A 25-year-old female police officer was shot to death yesterday, and police say that the paroled convict arrested in connection with the shooting had expressed fantasies about policewomen.

Constable Valérie Gignac, who was a month shy of her fourth year of police service, was the first officer to die in the line of duty in the city of Laval, north of Montreal.

The man surrendered to police at 6:45 p.m. after keeping officers at bay all afternoon outside an apartment building.

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The man, described as in his 40s, was the tenant of the apartment and was alone at the time. He faces murder charges, police said.

Another police spokesman said the suspect was recently released from prison under certain conditions. Neighbours told CTV News that police had been at his apartment a few days ago.

Police also revealed that the man was known to have a history of erratic behaviour. He often turned up at a police station near his home, expressing his fondness for women on the force.

"I'm told he had fantasies about women police officers," Constable Guy Lajeunesse said in an interview.

"He'd go by the police station and say, 'I love women police officers. I find them beautiful.' It was known."

Constable Gignac was answering the kind of routine call officers in Canadian cities answer every day. There was commotion in an apartment. Neighbours worried something was wrong and phoned 911.

The officer and her male partner responded to the disturbance when a man inside fired on her through the door.

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Constable Gignac was struck by a single projectile from a powerful hunting weapon, Constable Lajeunesse said. Her bulletproof vest couldn't help her. She fell to the ground, mortally wounded, and died in hospital.

Her death deeply rattled the force. Images of her last moments, captured by a television crew, show ambulance technicians pumping furiously on her chest as they wheeled her stretcher into a Montreal hospital.

"It's as if she was my own daughter. She's 25. At my age, I see them as my own children," Laval Police Chief Jean-Pierre Gariépy told reporters on the site. "I feel this tragedy inside me."

According to eyewitnesses, Constable Gignac only had time to announce "Police" to the suspect through the door, when he allegedly opened fire. She fell to the ground immediately.

After the 911 call came in about 11:15 a.m., police swarmed the site and set up a large security perimeter around the apartment block. The building was evacuated and children in neighbourhood schools were kept indoors through the lunch hour as a safety precaution.

Constable Gignac lived with another Laval constable who was on duty when his partner was shot. Chief Gariépy said that by the time he arrived at hospital, the partner, who works in the canine unit, was already at Constable Gignac's side.

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The victim's parents from the Quebec City area were also brought in, Constable Lajeunesse said.

Neighbour Danielle Lajoie, 51, heard the gunshot and later saw Constable Gignac's partner dragging her down the hall and was asked to call 911.

"The noise that I heard sounded like a door being slammed shut, not the sound of gunshot," said Ms. Lajoie, who works nights.

"Then I heard some noises in the stairway and I saw a police officer on the floor with another officer who had brought the [injured]officer down the stairs.

"She was shot upstairs and the other officer brought her down to my floor. I opened the door. The police officer asked me to call 911. I called and I passed the phone to the officer who was doing first-aid on his partner," she said.

Constable Gignac was the eighth Canadian police officer killed in the line of duty this year. While she was the first officer to die in the line of duty in Laval, she is not the first in the Montreal area. Constable Benoît L'Ecuyer, 29, was fatally shot four times in a shootout on a Montreal highway in March, 2002.

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CORRECTION

Before this week, two female Montreal police officers were killed in the line of duty: Officer Jacynthe Fyfe was shot on Oct. 26, 1985, and Officer Odette Pinard was shot on Nov. 11, 1995. An article yesterday gave incomplete information.

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