Chance encounter: Lighting up with a witness to murder/suicide

Posted 09.18.06

[Editor's Note: Reporter Russell Cooper was nearby at 12:41 p.m. on September 13, 2006, when a 25-year-old non-student went on a shooting rampage at Montreal's Dawson College. Kimveer Gill shot 21 students, killing one, before being wounded by a city policeman and then killing himself. This is Cooper's take on the shootings two days later.]

MONTREAL, QC | I stood on the corner of de Maisonneuve and Atwater moments after the shootings at Dawson College and watched horrified people stream out of the school.

As a journalism student, I had the urge to find the story, to aggressively inquire, to search for the story, the truth. But my legs failed to move until a man with blood on his flip flops hurried past me. He was shaking and looked as if he had almost been shot.

I gave him a cigarette to calm him. We sat down and smoked.

"There was blood all over the ground, " he said. " I saw him die." He was speaking of Kimveer Gill, the man with the gun.

I had no idea who this person I was smoking with was. He looked about my age and could've been my new best friend in different circumstances. I listened as he spoke of the ordeal he had just witnessed. (I neglected to tell him I was mentally recording our interaction. At this point, I was just a fellow human being who might be able to help, with cigarettes or an ear. It was the most I could offer.)

We sat for a few moments until he needed to get on the telephone. He was being swarmed with frantic friends who were just coming out of shock, asking if they had seen other mutual friends.

So much was still unknown: Was there another shooter? How many were shot? Are we safe?

We parted shortly after. He walked away without telling me his name or anything else. I sat on the same de Maisonneuve stoop and watched as the pandemonium continued.

All I could think of was the loss of innocence. How somebody could be so selfish as to unload into a crowd of unguarded students is beyond all rational thought. I watched as he hugged his friends and cried.

We all know now that this had nothing to do with rational thought. It was an act of madness, of unmitigated revenge, of numbing violence.

This is a turning point is our history, I said to myself. No longer would I ever be able to bike past Dawson and not see a body with a river of blood streaming from it. This is a sombre vision, but it's the truth. Kimveer Gill's actions have marred me; I no longer believe that this world is as honourable as I thought it to be.

As the details emerge, we learn that Gill wanted to die in a "hail of bullets," that he called himself the "Angel of Death," that he said "Life is a video game, sometimes you gotta die."

Beyond the bombshell value of his statements, I am silenced by the weight of his testimony. We examine the direction of society and pose pointed questions about how we can improve. Hell, listening to the radio in these past days, all we have done is explain and wax poetic about what could've been done to avoid this tragic event.

The last thing I want to do is to detract from the seriousness of September 13th. What transpired was appalling and atrocious. My heart and my tears go out to those affected.

But we must have faith in the human spirit. We must understand that, though it does not excuse, these are symptoms of our society.

How do we expect someone who is unstable, ostracized by certain circles, and apparently unguided to react to a video game called "Super Columbine Massacre"?

What do we expect from a world-wide society that breeds conditions where violence and hate are okay?

There are no easy answers, I know. And I wish I could offer something to aid in the situation we as Montrealers and humans find ourselves in. And I can't, really. As I've finished my tenth cigarette and my hands are still shaking, all I can offer is some sort of naïve understanding.

Humans are extremely adaptable and strong. However staggering these events have been, it has happened throughout history and still happens today all over the world. Just because it happened three blocks from my school does not make it unusual.

Perhaps I am merely waxing poetic. After all, I am alive. Everybody I know made it out alive. All I have expended are heartbeats and cigarettes…

Russell Cooper, 29, was born in Sudbury, Ontario. He says he's a 'recovering musician and treeplanter'. "I'm now studying journalism," he adds, "but will probably one day be a recovering journalist, planting trees in a jazz bar.".

Copyright © 2006 Russell Cooper/Log Cabin Chronicles/09.06