GRAPHIC WARNING: This story contains details that some readers may find disturbing.
Blood stains form dark patches on the carpet. Bullets pierce gaps in the plate glass outer walls. Two days after the attack on a Quebec City mosque that left six worshippers dead, members returned to their sanctuary late Tuesday to behold the gruesome carnage left behind.
They gathered inside Quebec City's main mosque and opened it to outsiders, offering a glimpse into the violence visited on ordinary citizens gathered in prayer inside a house of worship.
"It was important for me to be here. It confirms it wasn't a dream," Mohamed Haroun, treasurer of the Centre culturel islamique de Québec, said as he walked through the prayer room. "At times, it just seemed like a nightmare."
Mr. Haroun arrived minutes after a shooter entered the sanctuary and fired bullets following the Sunday evening prayer. He saw bodies splayed on the floor. One man he knew well and recognized was lying on his back, shot through the head.
Other signs bear witness to desperate struggles for survival. At the front of the prayer room, a heavy trail of blood leads down the stairs to the basement and into a back room. Mr. Haroun said it belongs to a man who had been shot in the lower leg and ran downstairs in an attempt to escape the gunfire.
He survived and his life is not in danger. The bloody outline of a bare foot – worshippers remove their shoes before prayer – is still visible.
In a small alcove in the front of the mosque, where numerous men tried to huddle to escape the gunman, bullet holes have left torn shreds in the wall. At least one worshipper was struck.
For many, the visit was necessary though painfully fresh. One man inside the sanctuary sat on a folding chair, sobbing. Others said they wanted to return and open the mosque to journalists so the public could see the tangible remnants of the assault, macabre as they may be.
"I know who that was, and who that was," said Samir Djadja, pointing to blood stains where people were shot dead. "These were my friends, who I'd known for years. We wanted people to see how horrible it was. This wasn't a movie. There were lives lost and orphans created."
Since Sunday, the mosque had been off bounds, separated from outsiders by police tape. It was a crime scene. On Tuesday, worshippers wanted to remind the world it was also a place of lost innocence, shared pain and deep personal loss. They said nothing will ever be the same.