The driver of a bus that crashed into a Montreal-area daycare this morning, killing two children, has been formally charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and assault.
Pierre Ny St-Amand, 51, appeared by video at the Laval, Que., courthouse and will remain detained.
Six other children were injured and transported to hospitals in Laval and Montreal, but doctors said their lives were not in danger.
Four injured children were taken to Montreal’s Sainte-Justine pediatric hospital, said Dr. Marc Girard, head of professional services. The preschool-aged children — two boys and two girls — were conscious when they arrived at the hospital and are being evaluated, he told reporters, adding that one child was in intensive care.
Officials at Laval’s Cité-de-la-Santé hospital said they received three crash victims, one of whom died. The other two were under observation in the emergency department, said Dr. Patrick Tardif, head of emergency at the hospital.
Witnesses who arrived at the daycare soon after the crash said several people had to restrain the driver after he got off the bus, adding that the suspect seemed delirious.
Hamdi Benchaabane, a neighbour to the daycare, said he rushed over to the scene of the crash. Benchaabane told reporters that he and three others managed to subdue the driver, who he said had stepped off the bus, removed all his clothing and started screaming.
“He was yelling, he didn’t stop yelling,” Benchaabane said. “The first thing he did was take off all his clothes after opening the bus door …. He was just yelling, there were no words coming out of his mouth.”
Aerial news footage from the scene showed a Société de transport de Laval bus that had smashed through the front of the Garderie Éducative Ste-Rose. Benchaabane said he believes the driver deliberately drove into the daycare, which is located at the end of a driveway off a cul-de-sac. There is a bus stop on the cul-de-sac, but the driver would have had to veer off the road and head down the long driveway to hit the building.
Police said a 911 call about the crash was received at 8:30 a.m., which is typically around the time parents drop their children off for the day. Mario Sirois, another neighbour, said he was among the first on the scene and helped stop the suspect as he tried to flee.
“It can’t be an accident,” Sirois said. “There were no signs of skid marks. It was deliberate. He went directly into the daycare.”
Sirois’ wife, Ginette Lamoureux, described a scene of horror inside the daycare. “The children were screaming and crying, they were all in a room …. A mother arrived and collapsed,” she said. “The policewoman was trying to calm her down. I left, I was no longer able.”
Benchaabane said he and the others had to strike the driver to get him under control before police handcuffed the man. The driver, he said, “was in a different world.”
He said he was able to help pull one child from the daycare, adding that he and the others tried to save a second child before firefighters ordered them to leave because pieces of the roof were at risk of falling.
“It was a nightmare, I can’t believe it,” Benchaabane said of what he witnessed. “It was horrible.”
Dozens of police and emergency vehicles lined the blocked-off road leading to the daycare. Panicked parents tried to run down the road to the site, but were redirected to a nearby elementary school building that has been turned into a gathering point.
Parents, some in tears, could be seen walking away from the school with their young children in their arms. When asked how she felt, one mother said only that she was “relieved.”
Diane Pilon, a grandmother, said she rushed to the daycare after learning of the crash. She said she was relieved to learn her one- and five-year-old grandchildren were doing well, but she said her thoughts were with the families of those injured or killed. “It’s a test for all parents,” she said.
Laval police chief Pierre Brochet told reporters at the scene Wednesday afternoon that he was having trouble controlling his emotions.
“I saw colleagues crying; it’s difficult,” he said. “The job of police officer requires you to be ready for any situation, but when it comes to children it’s hard.” Brochet said the suspect was still being interrogated, adding that police did not have information about the motive.
Laval Mayor Stéphane Boyer said the driver has worked for the transit agency for about 10 years and had no incidents of note on his file. “There is a theory that it was an intentional act, but that remains to be confirmed by the investigation,” Boyer said.
The Quebec branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents drivers with the Laval transit service, tweeted that it was “truly devastated” by the tragedy. “We will co-operate fully with the authorities in the investigation,” it said.
Quebec Premier François Legault said his thoughts are with the children and their families, as well as with the employees of the daycare. “We are going to give the parents all the help we can, and as a father, I am shaken,” he said in Quebec City. Legault said later on Twitter that he will visit Laval on Thursday.
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he could not imagine what families of the victims were going through.
“There are no words for parents who’ve lost their children this way,” he said. “All Canadians are grieving with them and we’ll do whatever we can to support them in their horrific pain through the coming days and months and years of grief.”
Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino tweeted Wednesday that he was “devastated to hear of the bus attack …. Police have responded and we’re closely monitoring the situation.”