Two children are dead and six seriously injured after a city bus crashed into a daycare north of Montreal on Wednesday morning in what police are saying was a criminal act.
The 51-year-old male driver has been arrested and faces charges of homicide and dangerous driving, Erika Landry, spokesperson with the police in Laval, Que., told reporters.
She said the injuries suffered by the six children in hospital are not life-threatening. Authorities did not release the ages of the dead and injured children.
Witnesses said several people had to subdue the driver after he got off the bus, adding that the suspect seemed delirious.
Hamdi Benchaabane, a neighbour to the daycare, said he rushed over to the scene of the crash. Benchaabane told reporters that he and three others managed to subdue the driver, who he said had stepped off the bus, removed all his clothing and started screaming.
“He was yelling, he didn’t stop yelling,” Benchaabane said. “The first thing he did was take off all his clothes after opening the bus door …. He was just yelling, there were no words coming out of his mouth.”
Aerial news footage from the scene showed a city bus that had smashed through the front of the Garderie Éducative Ste-Rose. Benchaabane said he believes the driver deliberately drove into the daycare, which is located at the end of a driveway off a cul-de-sac. There is a bus stop on the cul-de-sac, but the driver would have had to veer off the road and head down the long driveway to hit the building.
Mario Sirois said he helped stop the suspect as he tried to flee.
“It can’t be an accident,” Sirois said, adding that he was among the first on the scene. “There were no signs of skid marks. It was deliberate. He went directly into the daycare.”
Benchaabane said he and the others had to strike the driver to get him under control, before police handcuffed the man. The driver, he said, “was in a different world.”
He said he was able to help pull one child from the daycare, adding that he and the others tried to save a second child before firefighters ordered them to leave because pieces of the roof were at risk of falling.
“It was a nightmare, I can’t believe it,” Benchaabane said of what he witnessed. “It was horrible.”
Police said they received a call about the crash at 8:30 a.m., which is typically around the time parents drop their children off for the day.
Laval Mayor Stéphane Boyer said the driver has worked for the transit agency for about 10 years and had no incidents of note on his file.
“There is a theory that it was an intentional act, but that remains to be confirmed by the investigation,” Boyer said.
Montreal’s Sainte-Justine children’s hospital has received some of the injured. The hospital said in a statement it is “welcoming the young victims … with serious injuries requiring urgent care. The hospital centre teams are doing everything they can to treat patients, but also to support families in this tragic situation.”
Earlier Wednesday, Quebec Premier François Legault said his thoughts are with the children and their families, as well as with the employees of the daycare in Laval. “We are going to give the parents all the help we can, and as a father, I am shaken.”
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the crash. “Our thoughts are with families in Laval who are living incredibly difficult moments … we hope that everyone will be OK,” he said. “We are following the situation closely.”
Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino tweeted Wednesday that he was “devastated to hear of the bus attack …. Police have responded and we’re closely monitoring the situation.”
Dozens of police and emergency vehicles lined the blocked-off road leading to the daycare. Panicked parents tried to run down the road to the site, but were redirected to a nearby elementary school building that has been turned into a gathering point.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.