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Canadian ‘hero’ died in Israel shielding others from Hamas, family says

Click to play video: '‘We just crumbled’: Montreal mother shares moment she realized son was killed in Israel by Hamas'
‘We just crumbled’: Montreal mother shares moment she realized son was killed in Israel by Hamas
'We just crumbled': Montreal mother shares moment she realized son was killed in Israel by Hamas – Oct 10, 2023

Shortly before midnight Eastern time on Saturday, Montreal resident Raquel Ohnona says she received a video call from her son, Alexandre Look, that would shatter her family forever.

Look, 33, was calling from Israel, where he was vacationing with friends and had been attending a music festival about five kilometres from the border with Gaza. But the festivities had been interrupted by Hamas militants storming into Israel, and Ohnona could hear screams and gunfire in the background as her son spoke to her.

“He said, ‘Mommy, we’re in the middle of a terrorist attack,'” Ohnona said in an interview with Global News on Tuesday.

A short while later, Look was dead, one of at least two Canadians who are among over 1,000 people now confirmed to have been killed in Israel since the attack by Hamas began Saturday.

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Click to play video: 'Montrealer believed to have been killed by Hamas attack at Israel music festival'
Montrealer believed to have been killed by Hamas attack at Israel music festival

As of Tuesday, about 900 people have been killed in Gaza and the West Bank, including 260 children and 230 women, according to authorities there. Israel says hundreds of Hamas fighters are among them.

Thousands of people have been wounded on both sides of the conflict.

'You could see the panic'

Ohnona believes she heard the moment her son was shot.

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She said Look was in a car when he called, having escaped “unimaginable” atrocities at the outdoor Tribe of Nova festival grounds where thousands of people had been dancing to electronic music. At least 260 bodies have been recovered from the site, according to Israeli authorities.

Look and his friends then found refuge in a nearby bomb shelter.

“You could see the panic” during the video call, she said. “There were about 30 of them and you could hear girls crying and they were scared.”

With cars of armed Hamas militants roaming the streets, Look’s group had nowhere to run, and Ohnona said she heard an Israeli security agent urging everyone to stay put. She said her son took it upon himself to act as lookout, scanning the area from the door-less entryway of the shelter.

“And then I hear him yell to his friends, ‘The white pickup is coming our way, and there’s a lot of them,'” she said. The militants had spotted the shelter.

A Montreal man is presumed dead after an attack by Hamas militants in Israel over the weekend. Alexandre Look is seen in an undated handout picture. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Lior Horowitz.

As the video call continued, Ohnona could no longer see her son’s face. She said she could only hear the resulting chaos.

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“I just hear scurrying, scurrying. And then I hear multiple rounds, shots, shots, shots,” she said, her voice breaking.

“And I crumpled to the ground and I said, ‘They are in the midst of killing our son.'”

Ohnona’s husband, Alain Look, picked up the phone she dropped “to see if there was any hope” their son was still alive, she said. But all he could hear was gunfire and people rejoicing in Arabic.

Then they turned on the news on television and saw the “carnage” taking place in Israel.

“The cowards grabbing babies, children, grandmothers, Holocaust survivors,” Ohnona said. “Cowards do that.”

Click to play video: 'Israel-Gaza crisis: Canadian man killed, several missing in Hamas attack'
Israel-Gaza crisis: Canadian man killed, several missing in Hamas attack

After a sleepless night praying for good news, a friend of Look’s called the family to confirm what they feared.

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“He said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, but Alex was murdered.’ We all just crumpled,” Ohnona said.

A day later, a friend who survived the attack in the bunker told the family that Look had “acted as a shield” at the doorway of the shelter, confronting a Hamas fighter who was trying to get inside.

“He fought a good fight,” Ohnona said. “He screamed, he yelled, he grabbed a knife. He did whatever he could until, of course, the coward shot him in the back, another one.

“[His friends] knew they killed him because Alex is loud and talks a lot. And there was no more talking.”

Ohnona and Alain Look said that according to the survivor, the militants then threw 15 grenades into the bunker “for good measure.”

Click to play video: '‘Where is humanity?’: Destruction in Gaza as Israeli airstrikes continue to rain down'
‘Where is humanity?’: Destruction in Gaza as Israeli airstrikes continue to rain down

'He's a hero'

The grieving parents say they have been receiving overwhelming support from friends, family and the larger Jewish community in Montreal in the days since Look was killed. They say they are determined to ensure their son is remembered for his actions protecting others.

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“He’s a hero,” Ohnona said. “We wish he was less of a hero, [because] he may still be here.

“We promise that we will respect his legacy and people will know his name.”

The Canadian consulate in Israel has also reached out to provide support and information on next steps for recovering their son’s remains, which have to be identified by Israeli authorities before they can be brought home to Canada, Ohnona said.

“We want his body back as soon as possible,” she said. “That closure needs to happen so we can begin a proper mourning of our son. Beyond that, we can’t even think.”

Global Affairs Canada has said it is aware of the death of one Canadian as well as reports of a second death. Global News has confirmed the death of Look, as well as the death of a second Canadian, 22-year-old Vancouver resident Ben Mizrachi, who also attended the festival. Three other Canadians are also believed to be missing, the agency said in an updated statement late Tuesday.

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One survivor of the attack on the festival described fleeing the violence as like “prey running away from a predator” in an interview with Global News in Israel.

Click to play video: 'B.C. man missing in Israel found dead'
B.C. man missing in Israel found dead

Look had been living in Los Cabos, Mexico, for the past four years and was described by his family as “a force of nature” with “boundless energy” and a generous spirit.

He had just celebrated his 33rd birthday in September.

“As one friend wrote, he was the life of the party, even if there were no parties,” Ohnona said.

She said she was horrified to see pro-Palestinian rallies in Montreal and other Canadian communities, which political leaders across the country including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier Francois Legault have condemned.

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“Do they even know what they are celebrating?” Ohnona said. “Innocent civilians butchered, slaughtered. This is ISIS behaviour. Nothing but cowardly terrorists. How dare [these rallies] be allowed?

“There are families that are being destroyed by these barbaric actions.”

— with files from the Associated Press

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