Quebec mosque shooting: What happened to Alexandre Bissonnette?
QUEBEC — Alexandre Bissonnette had visited the mosque before.
Just a few blocks away from the university student’s nondescript apartment in Ste-Foy on Tuesday, a source with close ties to the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec said several of its members had seen the young man before — recently — and urged police investigating the shooting to check the mosque’s surveillance footage.
Bissonnette, 27, was charged Monday with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder using a restricted firearm.
In the hours after he was identified as the only suspect in the massacre, those who knew him from near or far wondered how the young man allegedly transformed into a cold-blooded killer.
Michel Kingma-Lord grew up with Bissonnette in the tranquil Quebec City neighbourhood of Cap Rouge.
“We were good friends. He was a really good guy, and his parents were great,” said Kingma-Lord, now an international business consultant in Quebec City.
Bissonnette, who has a twin brother, Mathieu, was bullied at school for being a “nerd” with “unpopular tastes,” he said. Together they used to go looking for quartz rocks at recess. Bissonnette also played chess.
“People were mean to him, and called him a weirdo. Your popularity is important as a child,” Kingma-Lord said. “But he would be mean back at them. He developed a very thick skin.”
The two lost touch after high school but Kingma-Lord said he crossed paths with him again about a year ago, in the halls of Université Laval where both of them were students – Bissonnette in political science.
“There was no sign of anything wrong; he seemed comfortable in his skin,” Kingma-Lord said. “He was still in the chess club. … But now we’re all asking ourselves about his motives.”
Kingma-Lord said he was Facebook friends with Bissonnette but never saw him post anything about his political ideology or agenda. Bissonnette was independent, not antisocial, he said.
In the wake of the shooting, Kingma-Lord said he felt terrible for the victims, but also worried about Mathieu and Bissonnette’s parents.
“My first thought was that it wasn’t possible he did this alone. Was he pushed by an extremist group who accepted him for who he is? I think someone pushed him over the edge or coached him to go over the edge,” he said.
Another more recent acquaintance, Eric Debroise, suggested Bissonnette had become radicalized in that last year, however.
Debroise met Bissonnette for the first time in November, when Bissonnette’s best friend brought him to a gathering over dinner and beer, where Debroise and his friends regularly met to discuss politics.
But Bissonnette didn’t want to talk about the same things, Debroise said.
Debroise and the others wanted to talk about politics — left to right, the national debt, public service, ecology. Bissonnette wanted to talk about French Front National leader Marine Le Pen.
“I said, ‘No,’ ” recounted Debroise, who was born in France. “I’m allergic to her. People say I’m paranoid, but I’m not. I’m allergic. So I said no, we’re not talking about that. And that struck him and he stayed silent the rest of the evening.”
The two stayed Facebook friends, however, and one day near the end of November, Bissonnette sent him a link about the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, after Debroise had posted that he didn’t mourn dictators – right or left wing.
“(Bissonnette) was very unhappy that the media spoke highly of Castro, a dictator, while everyone speaks badly about (Donald) Trump, who was democratically elected,” Debroise said. “That really aggravated him.”
But Debroise didn’t think about Bissonnette again until his name resurfaced as one of possibly several suspects in the massacre at the mosque.
He called police Monday, thinking he should warn them about Bissonnette’s views in case that information could help lead them to other suspects. The police might want to increase security around synagogues in Quebec City, he thought. Police came to Debroise’s apartment at 3 a.m.
“The police also asked me about his politics,” Debroise said. “Before he (allegedly) did this, I would have said he is extreme right. But with what he (is accused to have done) and his political opinions, he is more extreme than extreme right.”
Bissonnette’s best friend has since told Debroise that Bissonnette stopped talking to him or returning his messages a month ago.
“(Bissonnette) isolated himself,” said Debroise, whose company, Aventis Conseil, works on intercultural management issues and radicalization. “That’s something we see regularly. But I didn’t think he could be radicalized. I didn’t see anything. Most of the time there are hints. An obsession about the same subject.”
Debroise described Bissonnette as a boyish, skinny young man who didn’t make an impression.
“If he wasn’t there, you might not notice,” he said. “So it’s hard to understand that he could become so violent.”
Walking down Ste-Foy Rd. in front of the mosque where six people were killed and hundreds have now left flowers and cards of support for the victims, Maxime Fiset, a former neo-Nazi, said Bissonnette was just like him.
“He was a smart kid, good at school, he loved firearms, didn’t have many friends and he was bullied at school,” said Fiset, who now studies extreme right-wing radicalization at Université Laval in the same faculty as Bissonnette.
“I might have even have crossed paths with him.
“About a month ago, he distanced himself from friends. That was a clue that he was not happy with something. But what was the trigger?”
Fiset said he believes Bissonnette was radicalized on the Internet. Refugee advocates and community organizers have said he regularly trolled them with anti-immigrant and anti-feminist statements.
“They weren’t face-to-face (online) but the Internet provided a network for him. Terrorists don’t come out of nowhere.”
A man who was visiting the memorial for the victims Tuesday said that people at the mosque didn’t think police had taken the warning signs — such as anti-Muslim statements or a pig’s head being left at the mosque’s doorstep last year — seriously enough.
There needs to be a stronger condemnation of hate speech and incidents before worse things happen, he said.
“In the U.S. with (President Donald) Trump, they are normalizing anti-Muslim discourse, and it seeps into people. And if you allow it to fester, you end up with this. … Now police are asking how they can help – after six people are dead. I hope people treat this like the Polytechnique massacre (which raised awareness about women’s rights and misogyny). This is a wake-up call.”