As families mourn, questions about why Montreal killing spree suspect was released from psychiatric facility
Quebec provincial police confirmed Friday that a man with mental illness suspected of killing three people at random used an illegally obtained firearm. Meantime, questions are being raised about why the man was released from a psychiatric facility.
Montreal police shot and killed Abdulla Shaikh, 26, in a motel parking lot early Thursday morning after he allegedly gunned down three men in Montreal and Laval, a suburb north of the city, within a span of about 24 hours. Two men, aged 64 and 48, were fatally shot about an hour apart Tuesday night before a third man, a 22-year-old, was killed Wednesday evening.
Police suspect the killings were committed by the same suspect, seemingly at random.
"As for the gun that was acquired by that person, the investigation is still ongoing as to where he could have been able to procure himself the gun," Benoit Richard, a spokesperson for the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), told CTV News.
"Right now, we know that he didn't have a permit for a firearm."
SHOOTER DEEMED 'SIGNIFICANT' RISK
As the police probe continues into the multiple homicides, a decision by Quebec's mental health review board is raising concerns about the health-care system's ability to properly monitor people with mental health issues who are released back into the community.
In March, a ruling from the mental health review board — the Commission d'examen des troubles mentaux — said Shaikh could continue living outside a mental health hospital even though his psychiatrist determined he was " a significant risk to public safety" due to his mental state. The mental health review board accepted testimony from his psychiatrist that he had some improvements in the months preceding the hearing last spring.
The doctor recommended — and the board agreed — that he be allowed to remain a free man as long as he abided by certain conditions set by the hospital, including following the recommendations of his treatment team. He made the recommendation despite flagging some concerns with his patient's behaviour, including "denial and trivialization of behavioural disorders, violence and psychiatric pathology" as well as "the heavy history of accusations of criminal acts of various kinds remains denied, which trivializes the future risks of acting out."
When reached Friday afternoon, the psychiatrist declined to comment.
Shaikh was found not criminally responsible in July 2018 after being charged with mischief after a series of incidents at Montreal-area airports. In one incident, he set fire to his passport with a candle near the entrance to the Montreal Trudeau airport.
CTV confirmed that the shooter had been released with conditions in 2021 from the Hôpital de la Cité-de-la-Santé in Laval.
On Friday, the CISSS de Laval, the regional health board that oversees the hospital, released a statement to CTV saying it was aware of the homicides this week, but that it could not answer specific questions — including whether Shaikh's release conditions were being followed — due to patient confidentiality.
The statement said it's the regional health board's responsibility to ensure "compliance" with the treatment and care orders patients must follow when released into the community.
"In the event that the CISSS de Laval is informed that a user is not complying with the conditions or is assessed as not complying with the conditions issued by the [Tribunal administratif du Québec] and the Superior Court, public security would be called upon to enforce these conditions," the statement read.
"The CISSS de Laval wishes to offer its sympathies to the families of the victims."
HOSPITALS OVERBURDENED: PSYCHIATRIST
A Montreal psychiatrist who is not involved in Shaikh's case suggested the bar is sometimes too low when deciding whether or not a person considered a public safety risk due to their mental state can be released.
"They have to reach the lowest condition that will still assure that the society is not in danger. They're looking for the [fewest] conditions possible," said Dr. Gilles Chamberland.
"But the problem is it's the hospital that will have to take care of those conditions. The hospitals are there to treat patients, not to follow people who could be dangerous again."
Dr. Chamberlain, who works at Montreal's Philippe-Pinel psychiatric hospital, also pointed to a lack of resources for people once they leave a mental health facility on a conditional release. In some cases, he said, outpatient clinics turn people away because they're too dangerous.
"We have a patient in Philippe-Pinel, and every resource refuses the patient. We have a court order to release him, but we don't know where because he's refused everywhere," he said.
Lawyer François Legault, who represented Shaikh in March at his annual release review, questioned if police acted too quickly, given his delicate mental state.
"It was important to protect the society. I fully agree with that, but why is it so important to not take maybe more steps before entering? Knowing that he might have in his possession a weapon, and also knowing that he had big issues with mental health," he asked.
"Why didn't you ask social workers or maybe a psychologist to come with the police team and try to begin a discussion with him?"
He noted that even if someone is "the worst [kind of] criminal," they have a right to dignity.
"Even though this person killed three other people, it doesn't mean that he deserves that," he said. "You have the right to be arrested... It is [up to the] justice system to take care of it. We don't kill people just because they kill others."
Legault added he hadn't seen Shaikh since March.
"We are all sorry about what happened to the three victims," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, on March 29, nothing let us think that something like that could happen."
'REST IN PEACE MY BROTHER'
Families of the multiple homicide victims are also trying to make sense of what happened.
Roxanne Crevier, the sister of the third victim — 22-year-old Alex Levis Crevier — said in a social media post that his death has been a "painful nightmare" and that she is unable to walk by the scene where he was killed.
Crevier was shot around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday on Clermont Boulevard and was pronounced dead at the scene. A skateboard was found near his body.
On Thursday evening, his sister posted a photo on Facebook of a makeshift memorial at the crime scene.
"All I have is those memories now... seeing you happy to be with us, to be with your nephews," she wrote in a text along with the photo.
"I miss you already."
The other victims were André Lemieux, the 64-year-old father of professional boxer David Lemieux. He was fatally shot around 9:45 p.m. near the corner of Jules-Poitras and Deguire boulevards in Montreal's Saint-Laurent borough.
About 65 minutes later, 48-year-old Mohamed Salah Belhaj was shot around 10:50 p.m. at the intersection of Sauvé Ouest and Meilleur streets in the city's Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough.
The case has been transferred to Quebec's provincial police force, the SQ, which said they believe the shooter acted alone and appears to have chosen his victims at random.
With files from CTV Montreal's Daniel J. Rowe and Ian Wood
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