10 years after Dawson: Meaghan Hennegan has healed
Published Monday, September 12, 2016 9:57AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, September 12, 2016 1:06PM EDT
Meaghan Hennegan wasn't even going to class on Sept. 13, 2006.
She was standing with her mother outside Dawson College, chatting with friends and noting the arrival of a police car before heading to an eye doctor's appointment a few blocks away.
That's when she spotted a man, dressed all in black, carrying what looked like a rifle.
Her first thought was that some film students were going to get in trouble.
Then he raised his weapon and fired a stream of bullets.
Hennegan was hit twice.
The number of those injured at Dawson College has varied, but the coroner's report says 16 people were injured by bullets, one person was killed, and one man took his own life.
There is no public list of shooting victims but Dawson College believes that most of those shot were students with one-third of the victims being staff, former students, or people walking down De Maisonneuve.
The nature of the attack, as the gunman fired his semi-automatic carbine until he emptied a clip, then reloaded it to fire again, meant he hit groups of friends standing or sitting together.
The litany of injuries from people who have gone public about being shot is horrifying and oddly similar.
Leslie Markofsky was shot twice in the head.
Hayder Kadhim was shot twice in the head and neck.
Kaloyan Gueorguiev was shot in the head.
Meagan Hennegan was shot in the upper thigh, and in the arm.
Katherine Mandilaras was shot in the thigh.
Joel Kornek was shot in the arm, and the bullet travelled through his chest.
Jessica Albert was shot in the abdomen and suffered massive internal damage.
Silvio Comanaci was shot in the left shoulder and right kidney.
Catalin Ilie was shot in the lower torso.
Liza Mezzacappa was shot in the arm and knee.
Meaghan Hennegan points to a scar left by a bullet going through her arm
The people who were hit by bullets initially thought someone was just goofing around.
"I remember the first shot like somebody just threw a rock at me. It felt like it bounced off, like it was a little sting. And I went to see who had thrown it at me because I figured somebody else had come out to say goodbye," said Hennegan.
Then she collapsed, as her body reacted to the bullet that went through her upper leg and just missed her spine.
"My arm shot out as I was going down and a bullet caught that too, and after that it was just a lot of confusion," said Hennegan.
Her mother crouched over her, and Hennegan asked her what had happened.
"I remember asking her why somebody would do this."
Half an hour later Hennegan was in the Montreal General Hospital's ER, one of 11 gunshot victims in the hospital that day.
The actions of Kimveer Gill on the day of the shooting are well documented in the coroner's report that examined the background of the introverted, hypersensitive, unemployed man who abused alcohol.
Gill wrote a last will and testament around 2 a.m, made a blog post at 3:30 a.m., and woke up at 8 a.m.
He blogged that he had problems putting in his contact lenses, then had several drinks and was near the legal limit for driving when he arrived at Dawson Colleged and parked his car near Wood Ave. shortly before 12:40 p.m.
Gill already had two firearms concealed under his trenchcoat, grabbed a bag with additional weapons and ammunition, and started walking toward the school.
As soon as he stepped out of the car a witness spotted the weapons and called 9-1-1, describing what he saw to agents.
On the way he pointed a weapon at a passerby and ordered him to carry the bag.
One minute later Gill spotted the police car parked in front of Dawson College and opened fire, shooting six people in front of the school.
After the first salvo Gill dashed inside the building and Constable Alain Diallo, who was sitting in the squad car when Gill began shooting, gave chase.
Gill passed through several doors and entered the school cafeteria, then turned a corner and hid behind a wall as he dropped his carbine on the ground, pulled out his pistol and started firing.
Anastasia De Sousa was turning around to see what the noise was when she was struck by some of the first bullets fired inside the building.
Diallo saw De Sousa fall, then reached a position where Gill could not leave his corner without being shot.
Pinned in place, Gill held two people at gunpoint and took cover, making them act as human shields.
Gill screamed at officers and alternated between insults, orders to leave, and putting his pistol in his own mouth.
The standoff ended when Gill decided to attempt to walk out of the cafeteria using two hostages as human shields.
One of those hostages was James Santos.
Twenty minutes after the shooting began it ended with Gill's death.
Police officers on a mezzanine saw the hostages walking forward with their hands up, and realized Gill was trying to walk away from the area.
WIth his view obscured by the cafeteria's walls and ceiling, officer Denis Coté saw the gunman's feet, then his legs, and took aim at where the gunman's torso would appear in a matter of moments.
He fired several bullets, one of which hit Gill in the arm.
Gill dropped to the ground, and his hostages ran off, looking back to see Gill kill himself.
Meaghan's box of mementos from the day she was shot
Hennegan has a box of mementos of the shooting, and of her survival. She goes through it every year.
"It shows there are good people," said Hennegan.
It holds the shoes she was wearing -- high top sneakers that had the laces cut out so they could be removed.
A card given to her at the memorial service following Anastasia's death. (Hennegan was still in a wheelchair, unable to walk at that time.)
The box also holds sheets of paper that were in her mother's purse.
"These are my mum's papers. She was a teacher at the time," said Hennegan.
Several days after the shooting, Hennegan's mother took the student essays out of her bag in order to grade them -- but she couldn't.
"She opened them up and saw the big hole all the way through, so all got 100 percent," said Hennegan.
"A bullet. It went right through her purse."
Even though Hennegan spent weeks in a wheelchair, she considers herself lucky.
"I deal with pain every day. It's not fun but it could have been a lot worse," said Hennegan.
Ten years later, her arm is still in pain.
"I developed chronic pain syndrome," said Hennegan.
Her arm has been checked out repeatedly, and there are no bullets or fragments in her arm. But her brain is still convinced something is damaged.
Hennegan doesn't let it stop her.
"I've always seen it as wrong place, wrong time," said Hennegan.
"If it hadn't been me it would have been somebody else, and I prefer that it's me because I think the outlook I have on a lot of stuff helped me deal with something so big very well."
She is a shooting victim, but it does not define her and keep her passive.
"Any negative feelings I had, I could put them into it and turn them into something constructive and doing something with them instead of just sitting there and not knowing what to do with them," said Hennegan.
Instead it gave her a purpose: to actively campaign for gun control.
She has spoken to politicians in Quebec City and in Ottawa, and is glad that Quebec is creating its own long gun registry, despite the federal government abolishing its list of weapons.
"We're saying we want a registry and even if you don't give it to us, we're going to go ahead and do this because we think it's good," said Hennegan.
If Hennegan bears any resentment for being a shooting victim, it's not directed at Gill.
She is upset that officials at Dawson College fail to acknowledge those injured in the shooting. Hennegan doesn't think the list of speakers at the memorial service for the tenth anniversary of the shooting needs to include survivors, but she wishes that everyone who was shot received an invitation to the event.
She also feels that, given the long list of so-called lone wolf shootings in Canada, the United States, and Europe, that young men who reached out for help were not considered weak.
"I'm no psychologist but I think there's something on an emotional level, on a spiritual level, we're not doing for boys and young men," said Hennegan.
"If you're dealing with something and you're keeping it inside and it's growing and growing... we need to find a way to let them know it's okay to let them talk about it."
Tears came to her eyes as she thought about men who turn to violence.
"To know that they're in this place of such despair that these acts of unspeakable violence are the only way that they have to express what they're going through... that must be awful to live with. That must be awful."