The parents of the 28-year-old accused of murdering six men at a Quebec City mosque called the attack inexcusable and inexplicable, and said they too are living "a real nightmare."
Manon Marchand and Raymond Bissonnette ended a silence that lasted just over a year by releasing a six-paragraph statement to Radio-Canada. The first anniversary of the shooting was marked on Monday.
"The immense pain and suffering imposed on innocent victims and their families by this inexcusable act remains, to this day, completely inexplicable," the parents wrote. "So many lives were needlessly destroyed."
Alexandre Bissonnette faces six counts of first-degree murder in the shooting spree at the Islamic Cultural Centre on Jan. 29 last year. His trial is set for March 26.
His parents wrote that they have been living with "pain and fear," and both they and their accused son have been subject to death threats. The police intervened but the family continues to worry about reprisals.
"Alexandre remains our son. We love him and he will always remain part of our family," they wrote. "Like all parents, we had hopes of seeing him succeed and be happy in life. In a sense, we also lost a son."
Ms. Marchand revealed to Radio-Canada that she, her husband and Mr. Bissonnette's twin brother, Mathieu, have obtained psychological counselling.
The family lives with the curtains drawn and had an alarm system installed.
Though the letter released this week marked the Bissonnette family's first public statement, it was not their first apology. In April, they wrote a letter to the families of the six men who were killed; the one-page message was sent to mosque president Mohamed Labidi, who distributed it to each family.
One of the widows who received it, Khadidja Thabti, said it contained "kind words" and an apology. Still, it left her feeling empty, and she tore it in half.
"Their apology did nothing for me, it did not bring back my husband," Ms. Thabti said in an interview on Wednesday about her spouse, Aboubaker.
Still, Ms. Thabti said she doesn't hold Mr. Bissonnette's parents accountable for the alleged deeds of their son.
"It's not the family who's responsible," she said. "I don't hold it against them."
Mr. Labidi said that while he appreciated the parents' gesture, the focus should remain on the criminal trial.
"We understand their pain. We are all parents, and we know that if it was our child, we wouldn't be able to be happy for the rest of our lives," Mr. Labidi said. "But the person who committed this act has to take responsibility for it."
A police warrant made public last fall revealed that on the night of the mosque shooting, Mr. Bissonnette ate dinner with his parents and told them he was heading to his shooting club, Les Castors de Charlesbourg. They never saw him again.
Police say the accused owned two handguns – a Sig Sauer and Glock – and a Browning long gun. The suspect's father told police the guns were registered and kept in a locked storage unit in his mother's basement.