On Sept. 13, Cynthia Moramarco started off the day like any other. The 17-year-old Dawson Commerce student arrived at the Atrium at about 8:30 a.m. The smells of coffee brewing and freshly baked Jamaican patties in the cafeteria swept under her nose, as they did every morning since she began attending the school, a mere three weeks before. Moramarco was unaware of it, but the grey sky foreshadowed the tragedy that was about to unfold.
Before her first class of the day, the young woman and her friends hung out in front of the main doors on de Maisonneuve Blvd.
“Everyone is always standing outside over there, smoking or just talking,” she said. Moramarco took her last puff from her cigarette, threw the butt on the ground and went to her psychology class. After class, she met up with friends in the Atrium at about 10 a.m.
“I had a break from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., so it was a pretty long break. I stayed in the Atrium playing cards with my friends. That’s what I do every Wednesday.”
She decided to meet up with some friends at Place Alexis Nihon just across the street from the school around 11 a.m. After a long brunch with them, she decided to leave and return to the front entrance of Dawson College and hopefully catch up with another friend for a smoke.
When she arrived in front of the building’s de Maisonneuve entrance, where she had been earlier that morning, she was struck by an abnormality.
“I was the only girl just standing there,” she said. Any present or former Dawson student would understand the extreme rarity of such a situation. What is usually the most populated part of the street was, at that moment, in dead silence. When she turned to her right, her eyes fell upon a young man’s body on the ground, covered in blood.
“I was so confused. I thought he had fallen or something, but I didn’t know what had happened to him,” she said. Moramarco stepped back from the body of a victim whom she had believed at the time to be dead. Frantically looking around, the next figure she saw would make an impression on her like never before. It was a tall man with a Mohawk haircut, wearing a long black trench coat. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘who is this guy?'”
In the midst of her confusion, Moramarco scanned the darkly dressed man for a moment and spotted a huge rifle in his hands as he swung open the door and made his way into the school. At nearly the same instant, a police officer and a paramedic arrived to the aid of the young man bleeding on the ground, only a few feet away from her.
The police officer told her that a man had begun shooting outside the building right where she had been standing only moments before, but the crowd had scattered just before she had arrived. “‘You got lucky,’ he told me, because the man with the gun hadn’t turned around and seen me. I was only two metres away from him. If he had turned around before opening the door and seen me standing there alone I think he would have shot me,” Moramarco said.
From Alexis Nihon came a call from a close friend who had just fled the scene himself, warning Moramarco not to go back to school, not knowing she already had. She hung up the phone and ran to Alexis Nihon to take cover while the lone gunman, later identified as Kimveer Gill, was making his way into Dawson’s Atrium to begin his attack on the innocent students.
Moramarco managed to find a few friends, but soon enough, police evacuated Alexis Nihon as well and she and her friends were forced outside, where she witnessed a scene she thought could only exist in movies.
“I saw a bunch of my own friends with gunshot wounds. One of my friend’s jerseys was covered in blood,” Moramarco said with her still fearful eyes glued to the ground. The shocking scene will be etched in her mind forever.
Police urged the students to continue running and everyone moved in different directions; frantic, nervous and scared.
“Everyone wanted to help out their friends, but when you literally have to run for your life, all you can think about is saving your own life.” She found refuge behind a police car parked outside. She had lost her friends by now and thought she was alone. Suddenly, she heard faint panting and heavy breathing beside her. “An older woman, she was about 70, was shaking beside me. She was crying for her life and she held my hand,” Moramarco said. The unknown woman’s fear, which shone through her eyes, made the situation all the more real.
“I didn’t think it was fair that a woman of her age had to be going through this. I just started to cry because I felt so bad for her.” Moramarco said the woman’s revealing eyes showed her the true meaning of fear.
Again, police came and assured the two women it was safe to run away and to get as far away from the scene as possible.
“I just ran. My heart was beating 120 miles an hour. I just never thought I would ever have to literally run for my life like that,” she said in disbelief.
Moramarco met up with friends afterward outside, a few blocks away from the scene. She said the cafeteria lady, a veteran Dawson employee who served her a morning coffee everyday, was crying hysterically not far from where she and her friends were standing. Moramarco asked her why she was so frantic and the woman explained that the shooter had fired shots towards students inside the Atrium.
“She said, ‘I just saw four of my beautiful kids get shot.'”
The cafeteria woman’s words brought a flowing river of tears to Moramarco’s eyes. Her tears were now spilling uncontrollably and all she could wonder about was where her friends had ended up.She was soon reunited with some friends, each grateful to be alive.
“I met up with my brother’s friends and we were hugging.” She and other students were taken in by a military base on C