Quebec City residents say social media posts, not police, were first to warn them of Halloween night attacks
Residents first to sound the alarm online, now coming together for comfort
It was 10:55 p.m. Saturday night when Old Quebec resident and business owner Steven Wong posted to a private Facebook group for local anglophones, warning people to stay inside their homes.
Just two minutes before, he wrote on his own Facebook profile — in both English and French — that there was someone stabbing people at random in the Old City.
Wong's alerts came an hour before Quebec City police tweeted to stay indoors while they searched for an armed attacker. The Twitter warning came at 11:57 p.m., about 90 minutes after the first 911 call.
Many of the neighbourhood's residents, who do not know Wong but are members of the private group, say he may have saved their lives with his warning.
"I don't think I did anything heroic or anything like that," Wong said. "I just did what I thought was the right thing to do — the appropriate thing to do — at the time."
Two people were killed, and five were injured in Saturday night's attacks.
Andrea Nevado was working at home when her phone pinged that there was a new post on the "Anglophones Living in Quebec City" Facebook page: the warning from Wong.
"I was really shocked," she said. "I was nervous, and I was really nervous about my husband."
Nevado's husband is a taxi driver, but was not in the Old City at the time.
Witnesses shared information
"I kept checking with the group to know what was going on," she said, adding that people were keeping the group up to date and reporting what they could see from their windows.
"Scrolling down, it was a live interaction, like you were there with them," she said.
Wong said he'd closed his restaurant earlier that night, on rue De Buade, within 100 metres of many of the crime scenes.
Normally, he would stick around after closing. But that night, before knowing what was happening outside, he locked up early, and headed to his home a few doors down.
Shortly after, he noticed the police sirens in the neighbourhood were louder than normal, so his partner went outside to investigate, and saw a body.
Wong's partner was ushered home by police and was told there was a killer roaming the streets.
Wong said his first thought was for his family members, who are lifelong residents of Old Quebec, and who live nearby. After checking on them, he wrote his social media posts.
"It is a very small community, and the original poster, Steven Wong, is a well-respected member of the community," said one of the Facebook group's administrators, Rebecca Gowins-Boucher. "He's a businessman, so when I saw it was him, I thought 'this is probably serious.'"
Gowins-Boucher said she wasn't sure what to do with the post, and a lot of members didn't believe the news at first. Still, many cautiously stayed put.
"There were so many messages where Steven's early actions had affected people's habits," she said. "That was really heartening, to know that his care for our community had perhaps affected the outcome that night and maybe even saved lives."
"He was really a hero to us that night," she said.
Nevado also helped convince members of the gravity of the situation by posting a photo of an alert on her husband's taxi screen.
"Then there was a shift in the messages," she said.
"I know a lot of people were freaking out, there was a lot of stress," she said, adding she received several messages from people looking for reassurance.
"They were terrified."
Community within a community
With the suspect now in custody, members of the Facebook group are sharing resources for psychosocial support, offering to walk each other home so people feel safe, and asking to go for physically distanced walks, so everyone can get outside for some fresh air.
"We had just an absolute outpouring within the community of virtual moral support," Gowins-Boucher said. "It's really giving me a feeling of being very thankful to be part of this community within our community."
Wong said he believes the city will eventually achieve a new normal, but that it'll take people time to cope with the "heavy feeling" in the neighbourhood right now.
He said despite Old Quebec being a tight-knit community, there can be disagreements online, especially with people on edge during a pandemic.
"It's so easy to insult people behind a keyboard," Wong said. "But it also brings people a sense of closeness when you can't be physically close, so I definitely think social media can help in times like this."
"People are definitely a bit closer now," he said.
With files from Susan Campbell and Brianne Fequet