MONCTON — A chilling portrait of a man obsessed with guns and anti-government rhetoric began to emerge as people in this eastern Canadian city struggled to reconcile the knowledge that the person charged with murdering three Mounties was the same one who had seemingly lived quietly among them.
Justin Bourque, 24, was caught and charged with three murders and two attempted murders Friday, ending a 30-hour manhunt that closed schools, forced residents to hide inside their homes and paralyzed Moncton with fear. He appeared briefly in court Friday after he was charged in the second deadliest attack on the Royal Canadian Mountain Police nearly 130 years.
But as neighbors of his parents and others who knew Bourque spoke of a quiet man from a well-liked, religious Catholic family that home-schooled its children, recent posts on social networks told a very different tale – a litany of paranoid conspiracies that included statements on Russia being a threat to Canada and deep animosity toward authority figures.
A friend, Trever Finck, said he noticed changes in Bourque’s behavior over the last year, particularly after he created a new Facebook page for himself in February and filled it with anti-police messages and conspiracy theories. His profile picture shows him standing in the woods with a friend, wearing camouflage gear and clutching a shotgun. What appear to be dozens of spent shell casings lie at their feet.
“I just want to know what was going through his head,” Finck said.
Church administrator Dianne LeBlanc said it had been many years since she had seen Bourque, who moved out of the family home about 18 months ago. But his parents never missed a Sunday service at Christ the King Catholic church, she said. They often arrived with at least a couple of their grown children in tow, she added.
LeBlanc said parents Victor and Denise home-schooled their children, who were raised speaking French.
“They’re a good family,” LeBlanc said. “They were such good Catholics. I’m sure (parishioners) are very sad for them.”
Bourque was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder Friday, during a short court appearance in which he appeared bearded and shaggy-haired amid high security. Clad in aqua-colored jail clothes, he stared ahead intently, paying attention but showing little emotion. Bourque nodded when the judge said his name. Officers stood guard outside the courtroom with their weapons drawn.
Bourque, who was represented by a court appointed legal aid attorney, is due back in court July 3. Prosecutors and the defense agreed that a psychiatric evaluation was not immediately necessary.
On Friday, police released the names of the victims: Constables David Ross, 32, originally of Victoriaville, Quebec; Fabrice Georges Gevaudan, 45, originally of Boulogne-Billancourt in France; and Douglas James Larche, 40, of Saint John, New Brunswick.
Roger Brown, commanding officer of RCMP in New Brunswick, choked back tears as he addressed journalists.
“Fortunately most people will never have to experience what our officers have gone through in the last two days,” he said. “I can’t dig deep enough to explain the sadness that we all feel.”
Ross’ mother, Helene Rousseau, said there was a difficult road ahead for her son’s wife, who has a one-year-old and is due to have a second child in September.
“These children won’t remember of course. They will not have had the opportunity of knowing their father,” Rousseau said.
Armed with high-powered long firearms, Bourque was spotted three times Thursday as he evaded the manhunt that all but shut down the normally tranquil city of about 60,000 people east of the Maine border. Schools and businesses were closed for a day and police asked residents of the city’s northwest section to lock themselves in their homes as nearly 300 police officers searched for Bourque. A tip led police to a wooded, residential part of Moncton where they found Bourque at 12:10 a.m. Friday. He wasn’t carrying any weapons, but some were found nearby, police said.
“I’m done,” a witness heard him tell the arresting officers.
Police have not given a possible motive for the shootings.
Meanwhile, residents moved from feeling relief at Bourque’s capture to grieving for the lives lost. Families and school groups placed flowers and notes on the steps of a downtown police station, where one person placed a portrait of a solemn Mounty atop a horse. Hundreds attended a vigil Friday night.
“It goes from fear to happiness to joy to sadness,” said Lynne Lannigan. “At this point it doesn’t matter if you’re blood related or not.”
Back in Bourque’s neighborhood, a trailer park community in the city’s suburban outskirts, Nathalie Aube described Bourque as someone neighbors rarely noticed – until her husband saw him for the last time Wednesday as he walked down the street carrying what looked like long firearms.
“It’s over now. We can breathe,” Aube said. “We’re still leery, but it’s nice that he’s away.”
Gillies contributed to this report from Toronto.