An hours-long police operation and lockdown have come to end Friday afternoon after a 19-year-old man was arrested at a junior college south of Montreal.
Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu police said in a statement the suspect was wearing a “bullet-proof” style vest. He remains in custody and is facing charges, including uttering threats. He is expected to appear in court Saturday.
Police also originally said a girl under 18 was arrested, but in the afternoon, a spokesperson clarified she was taken in for questioning and “not involved” in the incident.
No one was injured, according to police. A pregnant woman was taken to hospital as a precautionary measure.
A lock down was ordered at Cegep Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, located about 40 kilometres south of Montreal, early Friday. A call was made to authorities about a man with “suspicious behaviour” around 9 a.m., according to police.
The junior college told students and staff to barricade themselves into closed rooms and to keep the lights off, saying the orders came at the request of police.
Nathalie Beaudoin, the college’s director general, said parents, students and others were asked to stay away from the school. All activities were cancelled for the day.
After the arrest of the man, police began a controlled evacuation of the school shortly after noon. It took several hours to escort more than a thousand people from the cegep.
Alejandra Montequin was one of the last students allowed to leave the school. Teachers kept them calm when they were told to shelter in place. She said she messaged her dad “I love you” because she was scared something bad would happen.
“We were scared. At the beginning we were very scared,” she said. “It was very tense, people were talking to their parents. It was sad.”
Her father Alejandro Montequin held back tears when speaking about the situation. He said as soon as his daughter messaged him, he left his job and headed to the school.
“All the things that were going through our heads,” he said.
“It was a very difficult day.”
Students and staff were asked to wait for police to arrive at each classroom and follow their instructions in order to leave. At 4 p.m., the cegep confirmed the evacuation was over, and that anyone still at the school could leave in an orderly manner and pick up their personal items.
“Thank you for your patience and your strength in this very difficult situation,” the message read.
Police say the operation officially came to an end at 4:30 p.m. Friday, and that several police forces were involved in helping throughout the day.
Quebec Public Security Minister François Bonnardel issued a message on social media, saying he was relieved and thanked police for their work.
“We will wait for the results of the police investigation to fully understand what happened,” he wrote.
‘A shocking way to wake up’
Becky McKnight, an English teacher at the cegep, told Global News she was supposed to be there in the afternoon when she received the message about the lockdown.
“It was a shocking way to wake up,” she said.
Jessie McKnight Lewandowski, a second-year student and McKnight’s daughter, was in the car with her friend on the way to school when they saw three police cars heading to the cegep. They were wondering what was happening when the school issued a statement online about the situation.
When she arrived, a police officer could only tell her the school was locked down for an indeterminate amount of time.
“At first I was mostly worried for the people I knew in the cegep,” she said. “It was stressful talking to my friends in the cegep, also with the rumours you’re not sure exactly what to believe. It was mostly confusion and stress, I would say.”
She said she was glad when the situation appeared to be under control and that her friends “slowly but surely” left throughout the afternoon.
— with files from Global News’ Karol Dahl and The Canadian Press