Police in the city of Gatineau, Que., across the river from Parliament Hill, say they safely evacuated 53 children — five of them infants — from the Montessori daycare after responding to a report of shots being been fired.
Two people were found dead at the scene — a man who worked at the daycare and the suspected gunman himself. Gatineau police Chief Mario Harel said it's likely at least some of the kids witnessed the violence.
Omar Eltalawi rushed to the scene from his nearby home as soon as he heard about the shooting, fearful for his three-year-old daughter, Zain.
"It was horrible," Eltalawi said as he described the fear of not knowing what was going on inside the two side-by-side homes that house the Racines De Vie Montessori daycare.
"You see these things on the news and you don't expect it to happen to you."
A chilling scene played out in the aftermath of the shooting as visibly shaken parents sobbed and hugged while they waited for investigators to hand over their children.
"Just as you'd expect, it's scary, terrifying," said one parent who refused to give his name as he picked up his little girl, wrapping her in a yellow blanket.
"It's terrifying to hear that a gunman goes into a daycare, it's always terrifying. Every parent's worst nightmare."
Once inside one of the homes, they found the body of a man lying next to what appeared to be a shotgun.
A short time later, the other victim, whose name has not been released, was located in the second house, police said. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital directly across the street.
The children were sheltered at a nearby home as anxious parents flocked to the scene on a suburban street in this small city on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River.
"It's a small area, it's a close space," said Harel, the Gatineau police chief. "For sure, they should have been witness (to) the event."
Police said they believe the violence may have been sparked by the recent separation of a local couple. It was not clear whether the daycare worker who was killed was known to the gunman or if he was involved in the separation.
Yellow police tape cordoned off a section of the street, a stretch of older homes in a residential area adjacent to the hospital. Squad cars and emergency vehicles lined the curbs as parents, police and emergency workers mingled.
Investigators continued collecting evidence from the scene long after parents and children had left, with officers removing several brown paper bags of items from one of the homes.
"We are proceeding with a very careful investigation," said Gatineau police Sgt. Jean-Paul LeMay.