Update: Aug. 8, 2014: Justin Bourque has pleaded guilty to three first-degree murder charges in the fatal shootings of three RCMP officers in Moncton. Bourque, 24, also pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted murder in the wounding of two other officers during his appearance in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Moncton.
Behind the window of his rented trailer, shielded by bedsheet curtains, Justin Bourque prepared for a battle only he understood. It was June 4, a Wednesday, and the clocks in Moncton, N.B., were approaching 7 p.m. In his mind, twisted as it is, the time had come.
Bourque pulled on a camouflage army jacket—the green sleeves rolled up to his elbows—and tied a matching bandana around his mop of brown hair. He grabbed some large knives and an ammunition belt, and slung the strap of a pump-action shotgun across his chest. Bourque then reached for his prized firearm: an M305 semi-automatic rifle, ordered from an out-of-country supplier. (The weapon took more than six months to get across the border. “I remember when it finally got released from Customs, and how happy he was,” recalls one close friend. “He was stoked he could finally take his new rifle and go test it at the range.”)
As Bourque walked outside the trailer and onto his dilapidated porch, children played nearby. Barbecues were grilling.
“He just had this blank stare on his face, just a dead look in his eyes,” says Virginia Boudreau, a friend and neighbour who first spotted the rifle-toting 24-year-old. “He was calm as could be. He was just walking at a steady pace. It wasn’t fast. It wasn’t slow. He did not waver, not even to avoid a pothole.”
Outside with her two young kids, Boudreau immediately phoned police. She decided to call the local Codiac RCMP detachment rather than 911, “in case it was just some punk trying to scare people.” Even the dispatcher seemed skeptical it was anything more than a false alarm. “They kept asking: ‘Are you sure it’s a real gun?’ ” Boudreau says. “ ‘What makes you think that he’s a threat?’ ”
In hindsight, Bourque’s alleged plan worked to perfection. Confused, then panicked, other witnesses started phoning police about the strange man strolling down the street, armed to the teeth. The trap was set.
A lone officer arrived within minutes and Boudreau pointed him toward the end of a dirt road, where Bourque had disappeared into a thicket of trees that separates the trailer park from Pinehurst, a high-end Moncton subdivision full of two-storey houses and neatly trimmed lawns. “He sped off really fast and as he was pulling away I yelled out: ‘He’s heavily armed and the bullets are real,’ ” Boudreau recalls. “That’s what broke our hearts the most. We knew he was alone and we sent him down there.”
When the first wave of gunshots pierced the air, Kerry Fitzpatrick, another trailer-park resident, sprinted outside. “I asked my neighbour what he looked like and she described Justin to a T,” he recalls. “I thought: ‘Oh God, that’s him.’ ”
A former co-worker, Fitzpatrick headed straight for Bourque’s trailer (number 13), hoping his hunch was wrong. “His door was open and I saw he had a wallet on the table just laid out for basically everyone to see,” he remembers. “I took a step in and I could see the gun cabinet; it kind of looked like it was left ajar. Then I came back outside and the key to the gun cabinet was on the steps.”
By sundown, three RCMP officers had been executed, two others wounded, and a massive manhunt was on. At 10:30 p.m., with the north end of town completely locked down, the Mounties tweeted the first photo of their camouflaged suspect, rifle in hand. “Its justin,” one friend wrote on Facebook.
“F–k he lost it,” typed another.
A fugitive for 30 terrifying hours, Justin Bourque is now behind bars after being cornered in a backyard near the killing zone. (“I’m done,” he reportedly told the arresting officers.) He is charged with three counts of first-degree murder, one for each constable he allegedly gunned down—Fabrice Georges Gévaudan, 45; Douglas James Larche, 40; and David Ross, 32—and two counts of attempted murder in connection with the officers who survived.
For devastated loved ones left behind, no explanation will ever be enough. Although investigators have already begun the exhaustive task of retracing Bourque’s final steps, the answers won’t turn back time. Three Mounties are gone, and they shouldn’t be.
But the question inevitably lingers, as it always does after senseless tragedies like this: Why? Why would a witty, intelligent young man with loving parents, supportive siblings—and a legendary knack for hilarious pop-culture impressions—allegedly load his guns and go hunting for cops? What could have triggered such unthinkable violence?
Only Justin Bourque knows for sure (and even he may not). But his downward spiral appears to have begun more than two years ago, as he grew increasingly fixated on faraway wars and the right to bear arms. He talked to buddies about the looming apocalypse, and his desire to “live off the grid.” Some friends feared that Bourque, a regular pot smoker, had turned to much harder substances, fuelling his paranoia.
“Ask yourself, would you fight for the future of your children or grandchildren, or your family and friends sons and daughters?” he wrote on his Facebook page April 7, two months before the rampage. “The answer is: no you’re too stupid to know what to fight for, cause we’re already losing the silent war you don’t wanna believe is happening.”
Bourque’s parents were concerned enough about their son’s odd behaviour—his growing anxieties, the guns, his fanatical talk about perceived injustices—to reach out to retired friends in the police. Nothing could be done, they were told. “I don’t know what caused this,” Victor Bourque, Justin’s father, tells Maclean’s. “A gentle soul like him who wouldn’t hurt a fly all of a sudden flips over, so there’s something there that’s unanswered and we’ll only find out as time goes along. Everybody will have to be patient.”
In the meantime, one chilling possibility has emerged: that Bourque was bent on revenge, seeking supposed “justice” for a dead Moncton man, Dan Levesque, who was shot four times last July by a pair of RCMP officers. At a press conference just two weeks before Bourque walked out of his trailer for the final time, investigators cleared the two Mounties of any wrongdoing.
At least one of Levesque’s friends seemed convinced that Bourque was out for revenge that bloody night. “He’s doing this for us I love this guy,” the friend posted on Facebook, while the drama was still unfolding. “He’s righting all the wrongs.”
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Justin Christien Bourque is the third of seven children (five girls, two boys) raised in a tightly knit, deeply devout Roman Catholic family. Neighbours marvelled that such a large clan could fit into their relatively small house, located in a leafy middle-class neighbourhood near Moncton’s core. By all accounts, life at the Bourques was idyllic. Father Victor worked two jobs, walking to his shifts at a nearby dental office and doubling as a parking attendant downtown. Mother Denise, a talented cook, home-schooled all seven kids.
She ran her lessons like any typical school. Neighbours would see the children bouncing on the backyard trampoline during short recesses and again when classes let out around 3 p.m. Victor tells Maclean’s that the decision to home-school the kids was driven by their strong religious values. “The public schools have good things, but unfortunately there’s a lot of lack of morality in a secular society,” he says. “So we chose to move our children away from that.”
To suggest that home-schooling somehow contributed to his son’s alleged killing spree is deeply misguided, Victor says. Above all, the Bourques taught their children to treasure the sanctity of human life, strongly condemning abortion, euthanasia and all forms of violence. “Public schools don’t teach you how to shoot, nor do we,” Victor says, standing outside the family home, a Jesus emblem hanging on the front door. “If we revere life, these things won’t happen.”
On Sundays, the whole clan would attend morning mass at nearby Christ-Roi Church. “The children would look like little ducks in a row,” one neighbour remembers.
Bourque shared a bedroom with his younger brother, and although many have described him as shy and awkward, he was a funny kid. His impersonations were priceless, from Bill Cosby and his Jell-O pudding pops to Herbert from Family Guy. “He did the greatest impression of Beavis and Butt-head that you can imagine; it was spot-on,” says Tim Doucette, who first met Bourque, then 19, when they worked together at Wal-Mart. “He was a really big comedian.”
They didn’t share the same taste in music (Tim, a cashier, liked country and hip hop, while Bourque, a cart collector, wore heavy-metal T-shirts), but they became fast friends, spending countless hours playing the video game Call of Duty in Bourque’s bedroom. “His family welcomed me with open arms,” Doucette recalls. “They are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” He ate untold suppers at the Bourques’ table, where the family always thanked God for their food and shared stories about their days.
Doucette certainly wasn’t the only outsider to join them for dinner. Friends of all the children would regularly drop by, engaging in long, deep discussions as they enjoyed the meal. “People and friends that we know here, they were always welcome,” Victor says. “They would call us mom and dad. They feel welcomed here. They feel at peace. We’re not afraid to show our friends, our children, and the people around us that we pray.”
Even back in 2009, Bourque had a passion for weapons—including that brand-new M305 rifle. In those days, at least, Bourque was a serious sportsman who preached safety above everything else. Each of his guns was properly registered, and he had all the necessary firearms and hunting licences. “I’ve gone shooting with him, and he was the safest person with a weapon,” Doucette says. “If you were not safe handling his weapon, you were never handling his weapon again.”
If nothing else, Doucette says, Bourque was a genuine, loyal friend. When a pal’s mom suddenly passed away, he was a key source of support. One night, Doucette phoned his buddy at 2 a.m., asking for a ride because his truck had died on the outskirts of the city. Bourque didn’t hesitate to come pick him up. “There was nothing different about him,” says Doucette, now 22. “He was exactly like you and me: a nice person all around.”
In 2010, Bourque took a job at Kent Distribution Centre, a building-supplies warehouse where he first met Kerry Fitzpatrick, his eventual neighbour in the trailer park. Like so many others, Fitzpatrick remembers Bourque’s uncanny impressions. “He liked to joke around, he liked to have fun,” he says. “He never talked about guns, never talked about hating police.”
Despite outward appearances, all was not well inside. Victor Bourque says the family began noticing a troubling change in his son’s behaviour a few years ago. “It started to happen slowly and gradually,” he says. “His worries and anxieties. His restlessness. His concerns over injustice and wars and stuff like that going on. [He was] over-concerned. I wouldn’t say paranoid, but very worried.” The family even sought the advice of people in law enforcement. “The police are limited in what they can do; they can’t confiscate guns until something happens,” Victor says. “We’re not psychologists, we can’t see everything. We asked questions and thought: ‘Well, maybe we’ll try to give him a chance.’ ”
By 2013, Bourque had moved out of the family home and was living in a rented house with a group of friends. His bed was the couch. “He was a great guy, very chilled, very down-to-earth,” says one friend from that period, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “He liked to play video games and have a puff or a drink with the guys.”
He was a huge fan of the heavy-metal band Megadeth. He baked “special brownies.” And he often went on “Ted Nugent rants,” channelling the aging conservative rocker and National Rifle Association champion who famously proclaimed he would be “dead or in jail” if U.S. President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012. But Bourque was still the same laid-back jokester—and safety-conscious hunter. “If he saw anybody around wearing orange, he automatically dropped his weapon,” says the friend, who once went quail hunting with Bourque. “He would let them pass through, and gave them the head’s up that other hunters were around.”
In early 2013, Bourque also made another decision that, in hindsight, offered a window into his shifting personality: he cancelled his original Facebook account, wiping away all his old friends and photos.
Later that summer, something else happened that some say may have contributed to Bourque’s disturbing mindset.
In the early morning hours of July 13, RCMP officers responded to a complaint of a man armed with a knife near the Moncton Coliseum. According to police, 30-year-old Dan Levesque had tried to get into a parked car in which a man, unknown to Levesque, was napping between work shifts. Police found their suspect roughly an hour later; though bleeding heavily from still-unexplained stab wounds, the two Mounties say he was acting aggressively and ignored their orders to drop the knife.
They shot Levesque four times. Like many others in the community, Bourque was furious—unaware at the time that it wasn’t the officers’ bullets that actually killed Levesque.
“I know he was upset when that happened,” says the friend who does not want to be identified. “His exact words were: ‘This is absolutely bulls–t that the cops can get away with this.’ ”
By Christmas, Justin Bourque had settled into his white and brown trailer in Ryder Park, a two-bedroom unit he shared, over time, with various friends. The new arrivals had no furniture, so some neighbours helped them knock on doors to scavenge for spare tables and chairs. Bourque returned the favour, helping one neighbour free a visitor’s car that got stuck in the snow.
Trailer 13 was the kind of place where “the lights were off all day and on all night,” says another neighbour. There were frequent early-morning jam sessions and many hours spent playing video games. Heavy-metal band posters decorated the walls, as did a red, blue and white Confederate flag.
Though long gone from the house where he was raised, Bourque did spend last Christmas Eve with his family—at one point, squeezing onto the couch with his siblings for a group photograph. He was dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt, red and green.
As Victor says now, the changes in his son’s personality remained a major source of concern. In and out of jobs, he was also struggling financially, so much so that his parents worried he’d be unable to afford a decent suit for his sister’s September wedding. “We’d ask him to come in, sit down, talk, but he wouldn’t,” Victor says. “I don’t know if he realized it, but we noticed it. He was going down, down, down low and there was just nothing we could do to reach him. He wouldn’t want to go for help. It’s like an alcoholic: they’ve got to go but you can’t push them.”
Six weeks after Christmas, Justin Bourque suddenly reappeared on Facebook. His profile picture, taken over the winter, shows him standing among dozens of spent shell casings in a snowy forest, gripping a black firearm and wearing what appears to be the same green army coat he donned on the night of June 4. Standing beside him, striking a similar pose, was his friend Nate Plewes, who worked in the gun department of a Moncton outdoors shop, Worlds End Warehouse. Another friend, Mike Barkhouse, also posed for a photo with Bourque that day, guns raised. (Barkhouse could not be reached for comment, and Plewes, approached in his driveway, declined to be interviewed. “I’m not trying to be rude,” he told Maclean’s. “I’m just really upset.”)
The Justin Bourque who liked to get high, play guitar and imitate Bill Cosby had become increasingly silent, replaced by an angry man who railed against police and saw a state conspiracy in every corner. “If we are born poor, we die poor,” he wrote on Feb. 27. “We live under their reign, under crownless kings. Unless the people take notice, fight, and destroy the 1% the battle for the futur [sic] is lost, because the new age of the tyrants is already upon us.”
“In today’s society anger and aggression are not allowed,” he typed later that same day. “What other basic instincts and emotions are they gonna take next[?]”
Bourque’s posts touched on everything from the salaries of politicians to the conflict in the Ukraine. He said the “U.S. army improvised munitions handbook should be a New York Times best-seller!” He obsessed over a potential Russian invasion, mocking “the youth in Canada” who naively believe “everyone loves us, and we’re special, and that the world is in a new era of peace and understanding.” And he uploaded cartoons lambasting liberal gun-control advocates. “Free men do not ask permission to bear arms,” one said.
“So you’re okay with the government having the weaponry to annihilate all life on earth,” said another, “but you’re upset I have a rifle that holds 30 rounds?”
On March 26, a Wednesday, Bourque shared a photo of a portly police officer eating a donut—one of his many jabs at law enforcement. “Obey the state, it’s the law,” the caption read. “Using the phrase ‘it’s the law’ to validate government is a fallacy. As if a codex of pompous and incomprehensible legalese magically validates coercion, theft, intimidation and violence.”
Tim Doucette, who moved to Alberta for a job last year, exchanged some private messages with Bourque in late April. Bourque mentioned he was behind on his cellphone bill, but appeared to be the same guy Doucette visited so many times at the Bourque home. He even offered his old friend a place to stay if he ever came back east for a visit. “When I asked him what he was up to, he told me he had just made some brownies,” Doucette says. “Everything seemed normal.”
If the ensuing investigation unearths any connection to Dan Levesque’s death, May 23 was a critical day. The Fredericton Police Service, called in to investigate last July’s shooting, held a press conference that Friday, exonerating the RCMP officers who shot Levesque. In fact, Insp. Gary Forward said none of the Mounties’ four bullets struck a vital organ—and that Levesque ultimately died of the knife wounds he sustained prior to being shot, not the bullets. (Who stabbed Levesque, and why, is still under investigation.)
The same day as the news conference, Bourque’s mom and dad posted a quote to their joint Facebook account. “Sometime you have to stop worrying, wondering, and doubting,” it read. “Have faith that things will work out, maybe not how you planned, but just how it’s meant to be.”
Twelve days later—June 4—Justin Bourque’s account was especially active. And prescient. He uploaded an image of officers in riot gear, lamenting the “international militarisation” of police. He shared a joke from comedian Dave Chappelle: “You ever notice a cop will pull you over for a light out, but if your car is broke down they drive right past you?” In his final post as a free man, Bourque typed the lyrics from Megadeth’s heavy-metal song Hook in Mouth. (Matthew de Grood, the 21-year-old University of Calgary student who allegedly stabbed five people at an April house party, also posted Megadeth lyrics to his Facebook page just hours before the attack.)
You say you’ve got the answers, well who asked you anyway?
Ever think maybe it was meant to be this way?
Don’t try to fool us, we know the worst is yet to come.
I believe my kingdom will come.
By suppertime, Bourque was putting on green fatigues and loading his guns.
Like millions of Canadians mourning the loss of three brave police officers, Victor Bourque is still trying to understand what may have driven his son over the edge. “We’ll only find that out as time goes along,” he says. “Anything I would say right now would be sheer speculation, so it wouldn’t be just to him or to anybody to speculate. When a person gets a troubled mind, you can’t pinpoint one thing.”
One thing, though, does appear certain: everyone who knows Justin Bourque—even those who listened to his anti-establishment, anti-cop rants—never truly believed he was dangerous. He seemed a big talker, nothing more.
Dozens of friends and acquaintances contacted by Maclean’s did not want to talk about Bourque, having already endured hateful, ignorant messages from so many Facebook strangers. Some friends (including Nate Plewes) actually changed their profile pictures, expressing their deep condolences to the families of the murdered Mounties.
But in the early moments of the manhunt, as friends realized who the alleged killer was, their utter shock filled social media.
“Jesus,” wrote one.
“U were a friend man,” wrote another. “Give up it’s horrible what u did give up.”
On Bourque’s Facebook page, still active at press time, friend Phil Hache wrote: “You knew this wasn’t the answer…”
Was the Levesque investigation the final straw for Justin Bourque? Was he so unconvinced by the official conclusions—that Levesque wasn’t killed by an RCMP officer’s bullet—that he felt compelled to do something about it?
Bourque never mentioned Levesque’s case on his Facebook page (or at least on any threads that weren’t deleted) and Stella Arsenault, Levesque’s girlfriend, has said neither of them ever met Bourque. But others, including Levesque’s friend Joey Leblanc, literally cheered Bourque on during the dramatic manhunt. “He’s doing this for us,” he wrote on Facebook, multiple times.
Levesque’s mother, Marie-Anne Murray, agreed. “It’s cruel to say but I’m going to agree with u Joey,” she wrote. (Neither Murray or Leblanc responded to interview requests from Maclean’s.)
Another of Bourque’s acquaintances, Jasper Stam, wrote on his Facebook page that his “most respectable” friend felt it “necessary to take justice into his own hands and set things right for the family and loved ones of the dead boy”—an apparent allusion to Levesque. (The RCMP has since charged Stam with uttering threats in connection with an unrelated incident that occurred last month.)
Asked about the potential Levesque connection, Bourque’s father says he has heard the same rumours, but did not know who Dan Levesque was until after his son’s arrest. “It’s nothing more than speculation,” he says. “We don’t know if he did know [him], or whether or not he tried to justify that or to do something to try to vindicate. I don’t know. Nobody knows.”
Tim Doucette has heard the same rumours, but at this point he doesn’t know anything more than what people are saying. “I really don’t know what happened, but I really wish I did know,” he says. “I wish there was something I could have done along the way to steer him away from this. If I had the chance to sit down and talk with him for just a couple of hours, I would want to know what happened—and why he didn’t reach out to somebody who could have helped him through any rough time he was having.”
Now living in Alberta, Doucette contacted the RCMP in New Brunswick as soon as he saw the photo of his old pal. Over the next few days, he was inundated with messages from reporters and strangers, many with nasty words for a person who kept such a notorious friend. Doucette agreed to speak to Maclean’s because he wants Canadians to understand that the Justin Bourque they’ve come to know was not always that man in the picture.
“Never once did I think he would be capable of doing something like this,” Doucette says. “He is not the monster that people are making him out to be, but my thoughts and prayers are definitely with the officers’ families and their colleagues.”
Victor Bourque says he is also praying for the loved ones of the fallen, and every other Moncton Mountie who “thanklessly put their lives at risk.” Despite such terrible circumstances, he says police have been nothing but respectful of his family, their pain and suffering now linked by a shared tragedy. “I was speaking to one of the chief officers of the investigation and he was almost crying on the phone,” Victor says. “That’s a human being.”
Victor hopes the media and the public can find it in their hearts to let his family grieve in peace, too. The Bourques spent five days in protective custody after the rampage, and have yet to be able to visit Justin in jail. Shattered in their own way, they must now pick up the pieces and plan for a fall family wedding that will now be celebrated by only six of the seven children.
“We are victims,” he says. “We didn’t ask for this at all. Our feelings are strong for life and we want to preserve it at all costs. Nobody has the authority to take a life.”
He also hopes that somehow, something positive will emerge from such horror. Perhaps his son’s case will spur changes to the law, allowing police more powers to intervene when someone appears to be dangerous but hasn’t yet committed a crime. And perhaps his son will get a full psychiatric evaluation, a first step toward finally receiving treatment.
“I hope my son does get the help that he needs so he’ll be able to live with himself after and forgive himself and seek the forgiveness that he has to,” his dad says. “Like Jesus said, you can take the easy road or the hard road. It’s going to be the hard road for him.”
For so many others, left to wonder why—knowing the answer won’t change a thing.