In December 1989, Marc Lépine killed 14 young women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique before taking his own life. For almost 20 years, Marc’s mother, Monique Lépine, lived like a fugitive, hounded by the media and shunning publicity. The tragedy at Montreal’s Dawson College in 2006, where one student died and 19 were injured in another senseless shooting spree, made her determined to confront her past. The result was Aftermath, a heart-wrenching yet uplifting story of those lost years.
Faith & Friends interviewed Monique in Montreal.
Why did you write this book?
Writing allowed me to turn the page on all the relationships that had been put on hold. I got in touch with many people who had spent time with my family and me over the years. I went to visit École Polytechnique for the first time and I met with the police officers who had conducted the investigation. They were all very helpful. I felt that God was guiding me through the process.
What do you mean when you say in the book that you wanted to turn the page on your role as a mother?
My daughter, Nadia, committed suicide a few years after Marc took his life. As a single mother, I devoted nearly 30 years of my life to my children, and suddenly I found myself alone. I had to reorganize my life.
I loved my son and daughter a great deal. They made their choices, and it’s been extremely difficult to accept. But I know that when God judges people at the end of time, I will have to be accountable for my actions, not my children’s.
What is your relationship with God?
Before I got married, I sought God and became a nun. I dedicated my life to Him, but after experiencing some disappointments, I left the religious community and turned away from God. I knew Him with my head but not my heart. After my divorce, friends made me see God in a different light and I began reading the Bible every day. That was in 1981, and I’ve never stopped. It took me a long time to understand God’s salvation and to feel loved by Him, but I succeeded.
Can you describe your healing process?
I cried my eyes out! Many times, at night, I’d wake up with terrible anxiety attacks. But eventually I felt the presence of the Lord and found peace again. I never abandoned the Church, and I believe that the prayers of my brothers and sisters in faith helped me heal. Without faith, I wouldn’t have survived.
For 15 years, I was afraid of being recognized. To introduce myself in public was an important victory for me, as if the shame and guilt I had been carrying all these years dissipated. By this very fact, I’ve made peace with Marc. I accepted that I am his mother in spite of what he did. In order to find healing, I had to forgive him.
Since the tragedy at École Polytechnique, I consulted many psychologists. I worked on my emotions, particularly the anger, fear, shame and guilt. I read a great deal on these subjects and took a closer look at my life. Today, I still bear a scar, but the wound has healed.
How do you explain Marc’s actions?
Marc never shared his feelings or his problems. And one day, he blew up. I could never have imagined he would do such a thing.
In hindsight, I realized he must have suffered a great deal emotionally. I asked myself if the anger he felt toward women was not directed against me. If I had my time over again, I’d try to make him confide in me or in someone else the feelings he was repressing.
What did suffering teach you?
Suffering taught me to reflect, not to carelessly pass judgment on people, to be attentive to the afflicted, to pray more, to live in the present and to be humble. Suffering is not an end in itself, nor is it a permanent condition. Suffering can help us heal and be restored, and brings us closer to God.
What is the central message of your book?
If I was able to overcome adversity, others can, too. I think my book can inspire hope. We must be able to dissociate ourselves from those who are the cause of our suffering. On many occasions, people have said I was courageous. Courage is, first and foremost, being able to go forward in spite of our fears. And God gave me the strength and courage to confront mine.
A Mother’s Heart
In Aftermath, Monique Lépine comes to terms with her son’s infamy and the horrific events of two decades ago
Reviewed by Christine LeBlanc
On December 6, 1989, Marc Lépine shot and killed 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal. As events were unfolding that night, Monique Lépine, a nurse and mother of two, had an impulse to ask her prayer group to pray for the mother of the mass murderer. She had no idea she was praying for herself.
Aftermath is not the story of Marc Lépine. It is the story of his mother, Monique, who for years tried to distance herself from her son’s infamy by concealing her identity, grief and shame from the outside world. She decided to speak out after the 2006 Dawson College shooting in Montreal, so that people “could truly understand what happens in the heart of a mother when she learns her son is a murderer.”
Monique lived a rigid life at a Catholic boarding school and became a semi-cloistered nun at the age of 20. She then began her studies in nursing. Disillusioned with Catholicism, she eventually abandoned the Christian faith and entered what she calls “the adult world.”
In the aftermath of the École Polytechnique tragedy, Monique barely clung to life. Therapy helped assuage the grief, but it was a defining moment with God that turned her life around. On a day she felt particularly burdened, Monique experienced God in a very tangible way:
“Who makes your heart beat?” I heard Him ask.
“It’s you, Lord,” I replied in my head. It seemed He was asking me to make a choice to decide whether to live or die.
“Lord, I want to live, but only if I can devote my life to serving You!”
With a renewed Christian faith, Monique has found a hope and purpose for her life. She has learned that “the ability to rise above the grief, horror and tragedy, and to love life passionately, is not an innate skill, rather it is one acquired through daily practice.”
Aftermath reads like a fast-paced, occasionally heart-breaking novel. Monique’s journey back from the abyss is remarkable, an uplifting example of how a close relationship with God can mean the difference between life and death.