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Noise of gunfire still echoes for Mailhot Avenue residents in Moncton

Pioneer Ave. in a Moncton, New Brunswick trailer park where Justin Bourque lived after moving out on his own, photographed June 6 2014.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

In the moments after gunfire erupted from the woods behind Ryder Trailer Park, Kerry Fitzpatrick jogged down to his friend Justin Bourque's trailer. Some people in the park were insisting they had seen Mr. Bourque ambling along wearing military fatigues and carrying guns.

Mr. Fitzpatrick didn't believe it. When he cracked the door of the trailer, he expected to see Mr. Bourque inside. Instead he saw a wallet, perfectly arranged so that Mr. Bourque's photo ID was apparent to anyone who entered the home. Then he saw an open gun cabinet. His stomach turned.

"It looked like he wasn't ever planning to come back," Mr. Fitzpatrick said. "I haven't slept since."

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As Moncton returned to some semblance of normalcy on Friday – back to a busy little city of long Tim Hortons drive-thru lineups, friendly waves for strangers and impeccable road manners – a fuller picture began to emerge of Mr. Bourque and the moment-to-moment terror of the shooting rampage that gripped this region for 30 sleepless hours.

On Friday afternoon, Mr. Bourque appeared shaggy-haired and thin in a Moncton courtoom as he heard the charges against him: three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.

The courthouse was nearly packed as the public, media and about a half-dozen Crown attorneys in the viewing gallery got their first glimpse of the suspect since he sent this city into mourning. Hands clasped one over the other, Mr. Bourque stood in Courtroom 1's prisoner box, staring ahead as his future was discussed before him: a July 3 morning court appearance, and no psychiatric evaluation at this time.

For those who knew him growing up, the courtroom scene was nearly as surreal as the murderous acts Mr. Bourque is accused of committing. They recall him as a happy kid – one of five siblings – with a close family that attended Christ the King Church every Sunday.

Dianne Leblanc, a longtime parishioner at the church, said the Bourque parents, Victor and Denise, always attended services with their children in tow – something that drew her attention to what she described as a warm, quiet family.

The Bourque children lived for years in a small, beige house on a residential street near downtown Moncton. On Thursday, a young, clean-cut man who identified himself as a family friend stood watch over the home. His eyes watered as he stared across the small garden out front and offered confirmation that this was the Bourque home, but would say nothing more – the silence a stark contrast to the commotion that erupted on Thursday night when the RCMP arrived at the home and ordered everyone out.

"They're great neighbours," said John Doubt, who lives nearby, adding he moved there about a year ago and understands the family has lived there for several years. "They seemed a happy family."

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For the Bourques, news of their son's arrest apparently comes just months before the wedding of their eldest daughter, Chantal, who is roughly 30, Ms. Leblanc said, adding she believes Justin is the middle child.

With French the first language at home, the Bourques identify as francophone, Ms. Leblanc said. Her understanding is that the children were all home-schooled at one time or another, a fairly unusual choice in the community, she said.

"I think, because the family was such good Catholics, the mood will be sorry for them," Ms. Leblanc predicted of the upcoming Sunday service.

Throughout his teen years, Mr. Bourque retained a certain shyness. By the time Virginia Boudreau first met him, he was roughly 17 years old and "socially awkward," she said. She knew other home-schooled kids and recognized Mr. Bourque as one right away. "He was baby-faced and nice and quiet," she said. "You could tell he didn't grow up like everyone."

By 2010, Mr. Bourque was working at a distribution centre for Kent Building Supplies. He was reserved but with a sense of humour about him, offering up impressions of television characters from The Simpsons and Family Guy, according to Mr. Fitzpatrick, who worked with him. More recently, he'd started a job at Rolly's Wholesale, a warehouse in the city's northeast, a position he held up until "the incident," in the words of a manager.

"This wasn't a guy you worried about," Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

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Of late, however, those close to him did just that. He moved into the trailer park roughly one year ago with two roommates, neighbours said. While he was friendly to some here, others said he offered nothing in response when they said hello. His Facebook page was becoming covered with pro-gun slogans and anti-police propaganda.

A friend of the Bourques said the accused's father told him roughly four months ago he was "concerned" about his son, particularly with regard to his penchant for guns and the company he was keeping. The friend, who wouldn't provide his name but said he'd known the Bourques for more than two decades, said the family is "in a trench" over what transpired this week.

"They're not in a good place," said the man, who attended Friday's court proceedings as a show of support for his friends.

Those concerns now appear well-founded. On Wednesday night, a heavily armed shooter cut a path of destruction that will linger forever with those who witnessed it.

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday night, at least four calls rang the local RCMP detachment in quick sucession. They all described the same strange scene: a man dressed in army fatigues and carrying two guns sauntering calmly down the middle of the pot-holed street that bisects the trailer court.

"Judging by the reaction, I was the first one to call the RCMP," said Ms. Boudreau, who, despite meeting Mr. Bourque when he was a teen, did not recognize the stone-faced military figure walking down the street.

The operator on the other end of the phone line asked her if she was sure it was a real gun. "They sounded like they didn't believe me at first, but then they said they had another call coming in with information, and then another."

These were the first early warnings of what was to come. "I looked at this guy and thought maybe it was some kid playing a prank," said Christine Frechette, who lives near the end of the street, where the potholes end and a muddy walking trail leading to Mailhot Avenue begins. "Then I saw his eyes and knew it was no joke. This guy was on a mission. But for some reason he walked right by everyone. My dad was outside mowing the lawn and this guy passes by like he's not even there."

Ms. Frechette called 911, just before the gunfire began. By that time the call centre had been inundated with calls. She went inside, locked her door and remained there for the next 30 hours.

A single police car bounced down the street a few minutes later. "He slowed in front of my house," Ms. Boudreau said. "I pointed down the road. I said, 'He's down there and he's armed.' I really wished he didn't go in there alone."

Several more police cars came down the road a minute or so later, neighbours said. Nobody could say with certainty whether the backup arrived on the scene before or after the first volley of gunshots.

Medical student Mariah Giberson was driving down Mailhot when she saw several police cars stopped alongside the road.

"I looked to my left and saw a bunch of police runnning through someone's yard. Then there were gunshots and smoke." She sped away from the melee and took cover in a church parking lot.

Further down Mailhot, a woman thought she heard someone playing with a paint-gun outside her home. She peered out the window and saw the shooter squeezing off shots. An officer would die next to her front yard.

For a few moments, the snapping of gunfire ceased. A pilot living at the south end of Mailhot got a text from a cousin on the fire department: "Get Inside." The pilot looked out his window and saw a man sauntering too casually to be the source of the racket.

"He looked like he was out for a Sunday stroll," said the pilot, who did not want to be named. "He wasn't ducking or anything. It was like he wanted to get hit."

He called 911. He was on the line with an operator when a newer Nissan Altima rushed into the intersection of Mailhot and Islington in front of his home. A plainclothes officer with a frag vest popped out and started looking in all directions for the shooter, who had found the shade of some ornamental spruces.

One of the pilot's neighbours, Chris Bujold, could see what was about to play out. "I thought, how can I help this fella? I tried yelling."

It was no use. Rifle fire rang out.

Across the street from the Bujold place, a man who gave his name only as Floyd was in his living room when he heard a bang. "Something hit the house," said his wife.

Floyd checked out his back door and froze. "The guy in camo looked right at me," said Floyd. "When I saw that guy in fatigues, my whole world changed. But he must've decided I wasn't the target and he continued calmly, purposefully onward."

The shooter, according to multiple neighbours, walked slowly towards the fallen officer, looked down, and then continued on, in no particular hurry. From there, he would engage police once more before disappearing into the woods – and eluding capture for one more long day.

The noise of gunfire would end, but its echo would continue for all of Moncton, and especially those living around Mailhot. They can't shake the man's stare or the popping of bullets or the sight of bloodstains on their quiet residential road or, for Floyd, all of the above. "We just found a bullet fragment lodged in my garage," said Floyd, who was out walking his chihuahua, Spike, for the first time in two days Friday morning. "Something did hit the house."

On local radio, callers talked of getting past the massacre, of finding closure and moving on.

For Floyd and everyone else in the area, that won't come easy, if ever. Even after the arrest, and lacking any sleep, he's had a hard time settling down. So far the only remedy has been to crank Waylon Jennings tunes.

Back at the trailer park, Ms. Boudreau, the early caller, said she's tired of being told she should be happy now that a man is in custody.

"I'm supposed to be happy he's caught, but how can you be happy at a time like this?" she said. "It will be a long time before I can hear a car door slam or a garbage truck rumble by and not jump out of my seat. That's not something you can easily put in the past; it's not something Moncton will ever put in the past."

With a report from Josh O'Kane

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About the Author
National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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