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Montreal man visited Toronto Zoo in middle of killing spree, coroner's inquest hears

MONTREAL — A coroner's inquest heard Monday that a man killed two people at random in Montreal in August 2022, then travelled to Ontario to visit the Toronto Zoo and Canada's Wonderland before returning to Quebec to murder again.
Coroner Gehane Kamel comments on her report on the death of Joyce Echaquan during a news conference in Trois-Rivieres, Que., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. A coroner's inquest will open today in Montreal into the murders of three men seemingly killed at random over a 24-hour span at the hands of a 26-year-old man in August 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL — A coroner's inquest heard Monday that a man killed two people at random in Montreal in August 2022, then travelled to Ontario to visit the Toronto Zoo and Canada's Wonderland before returning to Quebec to murder again.

Police identified Abdulla Shaikh, 26, from video at the Ontario amusement park and zoo, and receipts from the venues were found in his car, provincial police investigator Alexandra Caron Vadeboncoeur told the inquest. She provided no explanation for why he took the trip.

Shaikh killed three people in the Montreal area in a 24-hour period before police tracked him down and fatally shot him, the inquest heard Monday. Coroner Géhane Kamel is presiding over the inquiry into the murders of André Lemieux, Mohamed Belhaj and Alex Lévis-Crevier as well as the police killing of the 26-year-old suspect.

Caron Vadeboncoeur was one of four law enforcement agents who took the stand on the inquest's first day after Kamel opened by saying the hearings aim to shed light on the deaths and produce recommendations to prevent similar murders.

The investigator testified that there were no links between Shaikh's victims. She said that according to witnesses and video footage, a white Dodge Challenger was in the vicinity of all three killings.

Police have said that within about one hour in Montreal on Aug. 2, 2022, Shaikh fatally shot Lemieux, 64, who was inside a bus shelter and Belhaj, 48, who was walking to work. About 24 hours later – after driving to Ontario and back – he killed 22-year-old Lévis-Crevier, who was skateboarding on the street in the Montreal suburb of Laval.

Shaikh, who had a history of mental-health problems, had no criminal record despite some brushes with the law. Caron Vadeboncoeur said he was diagnosed with schizophrenia around 2017 or 2018, and his family said he was not taking his medication as prescribed: one injection every three months. She did not say what the medication was.

Before the killings, Shaikh had been living alone in a Montreal apartment and did not have any friends, Caron Vadeboncoeur said. He was close to his mother, who had been messaging him on the WhatsApp application around the time of the murders. His mother told investigators he had been acting normally.

"Nobody in the family saw this coming," Caron Vadeboncoeur said.

Quebec's mental-health review board had ruled in March 2022 that Shaikh, who was under the supervision of a mental-health hospital, posed a "significant risk'' to public safety but could continue living in the community, having shown improvement over the previous six months.

On the morning of Aug. 4, 2022, police tracked him to a motel room in Montreal's St-Laurent borough, where officers killed him after an exchange of gunfire.

Caron Vadeboncoeur said police recovered two weapons linked to Shaikh. One, found on Shaikh, was a 9-mm pistol without a serial number, which had a clip with a 31-bullet capacity. The other, a Glock 19, was found in a Dodge Challenger, which Shaikh had rented through a car-sharing app and was parked near the motel.

In separate testimony, retired Montreal police major crimes detective Donald Simpson told the inquiry police initially had the wrong vehicle under surveillance. The decision to check the app for a possible vehicle match came down to a hunch from a colleague, Simpson said. 

The car's owner identified Shaikh and said he'd rented the vehicle to him between July 29 and Aug. 5, 2022. The vehicle was spotted in a Tim Hortons parking lot near the motel with burn marks in the back seat, Simpson said. 

Police kept Shaikh's room under watch until moving in at 7 a.m., using a "dynamic entry" to breach the door. Claude Thibault, a Montreal police sergeant, said the suspect fired twice and a colleague fired three times.

Earlier, Caron Vadeboncoeur said Shaikh had no permit for a weapon but the guns themselves were not prohibited. "They were possibly found on the black market, or could have been assembled," she said.

Earlier this month, the province's prosecutor's office said no charges would be laid in connection with Shaikh's death.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2023.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the surname of Alexandra Caron Vadeboncoeur