WATCH: Ottawa gunman wasn’t on list of high-risk travellers being investigated by RCMP
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau arrived in Ottawa hoping for a passport and a flight to Syria.
Instead, three weeks later he was at the city’s War Memorial shortly before 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, high-powered rifle in hand.
He shot Corporal Nathan Cirillo twice, from Cirillo’s blind spot, shot at – and missed – the guard beside Cirillo, then made his way first by a tan car, then by a hijacked black sedan belonging to Tory Minister Michelle Rempel to the entrance of the Centre Block.
By the time a trio of RCMP vehicles drove up behind him, Zehaf-Bibeau was already engaging guards in fire at the doorway before dashing into the Centre Block – RCMP officers on his heels.
The outcome of that chase, bullets ricocheting off the Hall of Honours, was Zehaf-Bibeau’s death. But his minutes-long rampage was enough to kill a father (and husband, and friend of fur on four legs) and stun a country.
A police press conference Thursday afternoon confirmed Zehaf-Bibeau was never among the 90 people authorities deemed “high-risk.”
And while they’ve since concluded Zehaf-Bibeau had “an association with some individuals who may have shared his radical views,” that was only the most tenuous of associations.
“This person’s email was found in the hard drive of someone we’ve charged,” Commissioner Bob Paulson said Thursday.
“It’s the weakest of connections.”
Authorities had no information, when Zehaf-Bibeau applied for a passport, to suggest he’d be a national security risk. And he hadn’t been turned down.
That said, police have no idea how he came to possess the high-powered rifle, a 30-30 Winchester lever action gun, he used to kill a young Hamilton father.
Residents of the Ottawa homeless shelter where Zehaf-Bibeau spent his final days are asking themselves the same thing.
“How the hell do you bring a rifle inside,” a shelter with such scant privacy, where six or eight men sleep in bunks in one room, demanded resident Robert Duval.
“You can’t even smuggle a beer up there without somebody knowing.”
WATCH: RCMP Commissioner Paulson on why Zehaf-Bibeau wasn’t on high-risk list
The men who lived with Zehaf-Bibeau for a fortnight at the Ottawa shelter were astounded, they told Global News, to see in the news a photo of a man they thought they knew – only with tidier long hair and without the keffiyeh hiding half his face in the Twitter photo, released by an ISIS-affiliated account, that’s been circulating this week.
He wasn’t without his dark side, however: Norman Leblanc, a sometime resident of the Mission, said Zehaf-Bibeau struggled with drug addiction and became increasingly frustrated over the past several days with his inability to obtain a passport – reportedly taking out that anger on his fellow shelter residents.
But by then, even Susan Bibeau felt like her son had become someone she didn’t know.
A lunchtime meeting last week was the first Bibeau had seen the 32-year-old in five years, she said in an emotional email to the Associated Press.
“We have no explanation to offer. I am mad at our son, I don’t understand and part of me wants to hate him at this time.”
Was he vulnerable, the AP reporter asked. She couldn’t say. Her son “was lost and didn’t fit in.”
While in custody for 66 days in Vancouver almost three years ago, over a 2011 robbery charge reduced to a guilty plea of uttering threats, a psychiatrist evaluated Zehaf-Bibeau and deemed him fit to stand trial.
Zehaf-Bibeau, a Canadian convert to Islam with a rap sheet of petty crimes in Quebec and British Columbia, told the men he lived with at the Mission he’d come to Ottawa (from Vancouver, via Calgary) in order to get a passport – and became upset when he couldn’t get one.
“I told him he must be on a no-fly [list],” resident Lloyd Maxwell told Global News, repeating what at the time must have been meant as a lighthearted jibe. “He gave me this weird look.”
Zehaf-Bibeau was quiet but liked at the Mission, where he prayed and washed his feet multiple times a day and told people he believed in the Quran but never came across as a zealot.
“He was quite personable,” said shelter resident David Duchesne.
“He was a handsome man. He had good teeth,”
Duchesne recalls Zehaf-Bibeau’s thoughtfullness in acting as translator for an elderly Arabic-speaking shelter resident who’d had trouble communicating.
“I saw him there on Tuesday morning at the other end of the block and I said, ‘Thanks for taking care of this guy. … The old man was extremely grateful; I was extremely grateful.”
That was Duchesne’s final interaction with Zehaf-Bibeau, he said. But in the days leading up to Wednesday’s rampage, several residents recalled his frustrated efforts to rent a car.
He could be heard on the phone with Hertz, Maxwell recalled, hoping to rent a car and pay for it over the phone.
On Sunday, Maxwell said, Zehaf-Bibeau lost his cool.
“He said, ‘I’ve gotta get out. This place is driving me crazy.'”
WATCH: Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s connections to British Columbia
Montreal criminal court database shows a man named Michael Zehaf-Bibeau with the same age arrested five times while living in Montreal.
Zehaf-Bibeau was charged in Feb. 2004 for possession of marijuana and possession of PCP. He pleaded guilty to both charges in Dec. 2004. He served one day in prison for marijuana possession and 60 days for PCP possession.
Zehaf-Bibeau also pled guilty to a March, 2004 charge of failing to respect parole conditions. He served one day in prison for that offence.
The criminal court database also shows a “Michael Bibeau-Zehaf” was convicted of marijuana possession in 2009.
The Vancouver police and the B.C. RCMP have confirmed they are working with the municipal police and Mounties in Ottawa, though they have declined to provide any more information.
As of 2004, Zehaf-Bibeau’s address was located in Montreal’s Villeray neighbourhood along St. Dominique.
The Ottawa Citizen reported that a Zehaf-Bibeau listed an Aylmer, Quebec address when he was charged with breaching release conditions from a previous charge.
With files from Global News Staff, the Associated Press and the Canadian Press