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‘This isn’t Ottawa’: A city shaken, rumour-ridden – but coping

Ottawa's Wellington Street remained behind a police cordon late Wednesday afternoon after a fatal shooting at the War Memorial. Anna Mehler Paperny/Global News

Alex was on the bus on his way to work.

“A guy came up to the bus … and said there was a guy with a gun.”

The bus continued down Wellington and Alex heard no gunshots.

“But I saw a construction worker – hiding behind a post, running low, along the railing, hiding behind a post. It was crazy.”

IN DEPTH: Ottawa under attack

Psychology student Chloe McIntosh was in class when it happened – and found herself in lockdown, lights off, for more than two hours.

“It was terrifying when we found out initially what was going on, and that it was still happening.”

Dina Escobar was near Parliament Hill, hoping to get inside for a tour, when she and her friend Sofia found themselves herded out of the area by police. It wasn’t until watching the news afterward they realized why.

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Escobar, a Venezuelan studying in Montreal, ended up spending her Ottawa day trip taking photos of police barricades.

She’s accustomed to shootings in her hometown of Caracas, she said.

“But not in Parliament.”

READ MORE: MPs, staffers describe the shooting

At 3 p.m. the sun came out, bathing downtown Ottawa in bright amber light. But the streets were subdued. Even the media frenzy near the Chateau Laurier had thinned out to a mellowed buzz.

Hours earlier, a fatal shooting had ripped through the heart of Canadian symbolism – the War Memorial and the halls of Parliament.

Police put the city’s core in lockdown, expanding a cordoned-off area around the war memorial and the Chateau Laurier hotel as police with snipers’ rifles dashed across the street, causing momentary pandemonium when they bellowed at a crowd of journalists and onlookers to “Get Down” and as far away as possible.

A press conference hours after the event provided a rattled public with little in the way of information or assurance.

“It’s just a weird situation – the way the press conference went down, the information they’re releasing,” said Chris Cusson, who watched the news from his York Street workplace.

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His co-worker Celina Levesque, glued to the news all morning, agrees. Her kids at school in Rockland were on lockdown Wednesday.

“[The press conference] was very limited,” she said. “They aren’t answering any questions at all. … We’re hearing one thing, then another thing. “Who knows what’s really happening?”
Chris Cusson and Celina Levesque work at Fluidware on York Street in downtown Ottawa. Anna Mehler Paperny/Global News

And in that information vacuum, they’re left to come up with their own theories.

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Was there one gunman, now the single suspect confirmed dead? Or are police still looking for more?

Was this tied to the attack in Quebec on off-duty soldiers in Quebec? Was it random? Was it ISIS?

Wayne, who works in the same York Street building but didn’t want to give his last name (he’s worried about his three young kids), is convinced there must be more gunmen.

“If this has anything to do with ISIS, this is the calm before the storm,” he predicted.

READ MORE: Soldier killed in Ottawa identified

But despite the uncharacteristically dark Rideau Centre and other central businesses, many simply adjusted and moved on.

German tourists Gabriele Sürhrer and her husband had their guided tour of Ottawa take an unexpected detour the moment the bus dropped them off – only to be turned back when they tried to approach Parliament Hill around 12:30 p.m.

“It’s strange – to be here in this moment, when that happened. I thought, ‘No. It’s not true,'” she said.

The couple checked into their hotel early, then ventured outside a few hours later.

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“Now we want to have a look if it’s free to go over there. The weather’s so nice.”

German tourist Gabriele Sürhrer and her husband had their tour of Ottawa abruptly detoured Wednesday. Anna Mehler Paperny/Global News

One elderly couple was not to be deterred from customary shopping in the Byward Market – even if the streets were deserted and shops closed early.

“It’s so weird,” the woman said, declining to give her name.

“This isn’t Ottawa.”

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