Swift police action praised in Dawson College shooting

A Montreal police officer who maimed a gunman in the Dawson College shooting last year says he only had a split second to aim and fire.

Montreal police officer Denis Côté only had a split second to aim and fire on a gunman who stormed Dawson College last year.

The gunman, who marched into the school last Sept. 13 armed with semi-automatic weapons had already shot 20 people and killed 18-year old Anastasia De Sousa by the time police officers cornered him in the cafeteria atrium.

By that time Kimveer Gill had two hostages in his grip and was using them as human shields as he crouched near a row of vending machines.

Côté was about 20 metres away with his gun cocked.

"It was an opportunity— either I took it or I didn't," he said in an interview Tuesday with Canadian Press.

Côté fired his gun and the bullet whizzed by both hostages, "then it hit him, and it made him drop his gun, a bit like in a film. His gun was gone, then he was thrown to the floor under the impact of the bullets."

Gill was shot in the arm, but wasn't fatally wounded. A few seconds later, he committed suicide.

Côté and four other officers who were first to arrive on the scene are being commended for their actions as Montreal gets ready to mark the one-year anniversary of the Dawson College tragedy.

Deputy police chief Jean-Guy Gagnon, who was in charge that day, said while it was hard for officers to communicate with each other, they acted swiftly and with purpose.

The tragedy was also Montreal's first real-time test of its relatively new emergency response plan, and the preparations held up successfully, Gagnon said.

The police force's thoughts are with De Sousa's family, he said.

Year anniversary approaches

Other officers on the scene that day say they did what they could to save lives.

Constables Anne-Marie Dicarie and Alain Diallo were answering a routine drug call at the downtown college when Gill opened fire in front of the school.

"I saw him out of the corner of my eye," Diallo said.

"I saw him shooting students, then I saw him go into the school. I got out of my car, and I yelled 'Police, drop your gun!' I maybe yelled that three or four times," he said this week.

"By the time I got into the school, he was between two doors and he was waiting for me with his gun, I dodged away, and he went into the atrium, and he had already started to shoot by the time I caught up," Diallo said.

The rookie officer tried to shoot Gill, but he couldn't get a clear line of fire because of panicked students running in every direction.

Police reinforcement and ambulances arrived, and other officers tried to bring Gill down.

"I tried to neutralize him," said Const. Marco Barcarolo, using the police term for shooting a suspect. "But I had way too much adrenaline, and I couldn't shoot with precision."

Instead he yelled at students to get away from Gill, who then noticed Barcarolo and shot at him.

'A page in history'

The constable noticed Gill had a magnifier on his gun and he was shooting with incredible precision, sending bullets whistling by his head.

That's when Côté showed up and used his one chance to shoot kill. Côté says he's relieved there weren't more victims.

"We think about that day, but it's part of our overall experience," he said. "We always have to be ready, because Dawson, it's a page in history, it's a page in a book. There were others before it, and there will be others after it. We saw Virginia Tech.

"The important thing, is to know that as an individual, as a police officer, we can make a difference."

With files from the Canadian Press