For 18-year old Dawson College student Anastasia DeSousa, yesterday began as a regular day at school. But by 1:30 in the afternoon, she would have been shot by a gunman on a rampage, along with 20 others.
The other 20 wounded would survive the day.
I am haunted by the image of Anastasia’s family, frantic with worry, searching Montreal-area hospitals for their daughter and unable to find her. They were certain they’d seen her on TV being carried into an ambulance with a wound in her arm. They asked Bell Canada to trace the whereabouts of her cell phone; the carrier reported that the phone was in the building and had changed locations three times that afternoon.
At various times throughout the day, reporters interviewed her mother and aunt and chronicled their mounting concern. They wouldn’t find out the truth until after 9 pm – that Anastasia lay dead at the scene of the crime.
I feel for all the young students who had to flee in panic for their lives, many of whom sustained serious injuries. But I weep for the DeSousa family, as much for their loss as for the manner of it.
A Dawson student called a Montreal radio station earlier in the day and described how a badly wounded girl lay shaking between her and her friend James.
When the gunman trained his weapon on James and told him to check if there were police nearby, James pleaded to bring the wounded girl to safety. According to the witness, the gunman asked, “Is she dead?”
James felt for the girl’s pulse and replied that she was still alive. Chillingly, according to the caller’s account, the gunman said, “Not anymore,” and pumped several more bullets into the girl’s body.
I don’t have any reason to doubt the caller’s veracity, but I don’t know if the story is true. And I don’t know if the wounded girl in question was indeed Anastasia. Another witness described seeing the lifeless body of a girl with long, curly brown hair, but wasn’t sure if she was still alive. I have no reason to connect the girl with the long, curly hair to Anastasia. I don’t even know what she looked like. But all the same, I can’t stop speculating.
And yet, in all the tales of horror and panic, a few stand out and comfort me.
A 16-year old girl recounts trying to find her mother and sister in the shopping plaza attached to the college. They had gone to the bathroom when reports of the attacks began circulating in the mall. She ran to find them, and when a man tried to grab her arm, probably to lead her out of danger, she ruefully recalls punching him in the face.
A Dawson student worried about his brother, also a student at the college, was relieved to discover that his brother had chosen that day to play hooky.
A female student who found herself in the college atrium when the gunman entered and began shooting remembers a fellow student turning to her and saying, reassuringly, “Don’t worry, it will be OK.” Another female student, unaware of the cause of the pandemonium, found her arm yanked by a visiting student from another college, who pushed her to the elevator where they descended to a safer location.
One young woman told reporters that she would continue to attend Dawson as usual, because life must go on and she needed an education.
I like to think that I too would exhibit an admirable coolness and presence of mind, ushering people to safety while murmuring words of encouragement. But the truth is, I am more likely to be found cowering under a desk screaming repeatedly, “We're all going to die!” So I find these vignettes of spunk and sense and serendipity oddly reassuring. They demonstrate that, like the student said, life goes on.
Just not for Anastasia DeSousa.
All information, except where indicated, courtesy of the Montreal Gazette's superb coverage of this tragedy.