The killer was cool. The students who escaped Marc Lépine’s slaughter talked about the gunman walking calmly through the University of Montreal engineering school in search of targets. “He was not agitated,” said student Vanthona Ouy, 22, who watched part of his shooting from behind a second-floor stairwell. “He stood in the hallway and spun around just firing the gun until he ran out of bullets. Then, he reloaded and walked away.” But in the aftermath, as police investigators and psychiatrists struggled to understand Lépine’s murderous rampage, it was apparent that his passionless demeanor masked a private fury. The portrait of Lépine that emerged last week revealed a 25-year-old man who repeatedly failed to achieve his ambitions in work—and with women. Said Dr. Renée Fugère, a forensic psychiatrist at Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute:
“Lépine probably did not have the capacity to mourn his failed relationships, so he kept it inside. Those feelings piled up and finally exploded.”
Brutal: Until that outburst took place, there was little remarkable about Marc Lépine’s life. His neighbors in the city’s working-class east end recalled little about him beyond his habit of blaring loud music late at night. And Montreal police said Lépine—who apparently did not smoke, drink or use drugs—had no criminal record. But one of Lépine’s former teachers recalled that the reserved young man with the “strange, faraway” eyes seldom seemed happy. And in a three-page handwritten letter found on his body, police disclosed, Lépine blamed his unhappiness largely on women. Said Jacques Duchesneau, director of the Montreal police organized-crime unit: “He said feminists had ruined his life.”
Born in Montreal to an Algerian father and a French-Canadian mother, Lépine was officially named Gamil Gharbi—the family name of his father, real-estate broker Rachid Liass Gharbi. He used his Arabic name in school, but family friends—including Marthe Cossette, mother of Lépine’s close childhood friend, Eric—said that he was known from an early age as Marc Lépine, taking his mother, Monique’s, surname. Lépine’s parents separated when he was
7, and he and his sister, Nadia, were raised by their mother—a nurse. Later, in a court statement that she made during divorce proceedings, Monique Lépine described her estranged husband as a brutal man who beat her and the
children and who believed that “women are servants to men.” Rachid Gharbi denied the allegation. But in 1982, at 18, his son legally changed his name to Marc Lépine.
Fitful: For the past two years, Lépine had shared a $285-a-month apartment with his friend Cossette, now 24, in a threestorey row house, just a fiveminute walk from his mother’s home. From there,
Lépine made frequent forays to a nearby sporting-goods store, where he would linger over the gun racks. According to one friend, his interest in firearms dated from several summers that he spent after his parents’ separation at a farm owned by an uncle, a former paratrooper who liked guns and hunted. Certainly,
Lépine was a proficient marksman. Recalled 24-year-old Jean Bélanger, a friend of the young Lépine: “He was good. He saw a pigeon flying and he was able to shoot it.” Unemployed at the time of the shootings, Lépine had proven only fitfully interested in establishing a career. After showing intelligence in high school, he enrolled in a junior college to study science—but dropped out less than four months before graduation. He began a computer course in February, 1988, but quit that last March. Later, he took an evening course in chemistry—where he earned marks in the 90s, but seldom spoke with other students. Lépine’s note also disclosed that he had been refused entry into the Canadian Armed Forces because of “antisocial” behavior.
His apparently unsuccessful relationships with women were another area of thwarted ambitions. Bélanger recalled that Lépine “had a lot of problems” with girls and never established an enduring relationship. Added Bélanger: “Maybe the way he approached women was not exactly the way women like.” Indeed, one woman—a lab mate in his chemistry class—who went out with Lépine said that he frequently displayed a domineering manner. But one former friend of Nadia Lépine’s recalled the young man more kindly. Said Isabelle Lahaie,22: “Marc Lépine was not a monster.”
Manly: According to Elliott Leyton, an anthropologist at Newfoundland’s Memorial University and author of Hunting Humans, a 1986 book about multiple murderers, Lépine’s history fits a “stereotypical” pattern set by other mass killers. Added the professor: “He was frustrated and angry. He did not get to be who he wanted to be and it was the target group’s fault. He was going to get even and go out in a burst of manly glory.”
Still, those who lived near him said that they saw few signs of aggression from their neighbor. Noëlla Milville, 48, remembered Lépine as “very friendly, with lots of hellos and goodbyes.” And Marthe Cossette said he was a “shy, withdrawn man who was always polite and sweet.” She said Lépine never spoke of his father and was animated only when talking about electronics. Said Cossette about the shooting: “The kid obviously was not himself. Something drastic must have happened.” But, in the end, Lépine’s death sealed the enigma of his final fury. It will now be impossible ever to discover for certain how a retiring young man evolved into a methodical, suicidal killer.
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