MONTREAL - Loss of innocence was the theme that echoed throughout the day Saturday as people remembered 14 women who were shot to death at the Ecole polytechnique 25 years ago because of their gender.
Various events were held to commemorate the anniversary of what became known as the Montreal Massacre after Marc Lepine entered the Ecole polytechnique and targeted female students at the Universite de Montreal's engineering school.
Nathalie Provost, who was shot four times, was one of them.
On Saturday, she described the events of Dec. 6, 1989, the day she saw friends and colleagues mowed down in front of her.
"December 6, 1989, a man comes into my classroom, he separates the men and the women," she told a special memorial gathering.
"He shoots. He kills 14 women. My sisters, our sisters.
"December 6, 1989, 14 lives interrupted. You tried to help us. We tried to console ourselves. Thousands of broken dreams. Theirs, but ours also. Our innocence disappeared."
Premier Philippe Couillard also spoke at the ceremony, telling people "time stopped on Dec. 6, 1989."
"The day is etched in each of our memories but also in the collective memory of Quebec," he said.
"Each of us remembers what happened, how we found out about it, the shock we felt and also the immense sorrow that swept over us.
"Another moment of innocence lost. The realization that there are also demons among us."
Michele Thibodeau-DeGuire, who was communications director at the Ecole polytechnique 25 years ago, couldn't help but think of everything that was lost on that cold afternoon.
"The innocence," she said after laying a bouquet of 14 white roses at a commemorative plaque outside the building where the massacre took place.
"How could something like that happen to us, to them, the girls? The girls at Polytechnique are the most precious. To go after what was most precious gets you in the heart."
Thibodeau-DeGuire, who is now head of Polytechnique Montreal (then known as Ecole polytechnique), said it took some time to understand the magnitude of the tragedy.
"We didn't know who was hit and it took a while before police told us it was only girls," she said.
Jacques Duchesneau, who was head of the Montreal police department's organized crimes unit in 1989, remembers being called to the scene because authorities believed two terrorists were shooting people.
"It was a real nightmare," he said at another event Saturday. "People were still inside. We had to evacuate. We had to take care of injured people and we had to find where the gunman was. It's a huge place. Five storeys, usually about 8,000 people in there.
"It was bad."
It was only later that the real impact of Lepine's actions truly began to sink in.
"When we were left together with all the victims, that is where it really struck me. And there was pure silence. Then we had to meet the parents, work with the coroner. That's where you grasp the magnitude of this tragedy."
One of his colleagues, Pierre Leclair, actually found his own daughter, Maryse, among the victims and went directly to Duchesneau to tell him.
Lepine took his own life following the carnage after ranting that feminists had spoiled his life.
The head of Quebec's main women's group said it's important for women to keep fighting for equality.
"Sometimes it takes 25 years of talking to be eventually heard, so that's why a movement never should give up hope when it comes to sending out messages," Alexa Conradi said in an interview.
"And the message since 1989 has been that this was a political crime against women who were attacked because they wanted to enter into the world of men.
"And we still are attacked when we want to enter the world of men."
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