The shooting at a downtown Montreal college Wednesday that left one woman dead and 19 others injured, eight critically, was an extraordinary...

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MONTREAL — The shooting at a downtown Montreal college Wednesday that left one woman dead and 19 others injured, eight critically, was an extraordinary event in a country with relatively strong gun-control laws.

Eyewitnesses said a gunman in his 20s, with a Mohawk haircut and wearing a long black trench coat, started shooting randomly with a semi-automatic rifle at about 12:40 p.m. outside the Dawson College campus, near a spot where students gather to smoke.

Montreal Police Chief Yvan Delorme said officers arrived minutes after the shooting began and eventually shot the suspect, who died at the scene. Police did not know the identity of the man, or his motive, he said.

A search of his car nearby uncovered several other weapons and ammunition, according to Montreal police spokesman Robert Mansueto.

The victim was 20, and the wounded ranged in age from 18 to 22, he said.

The gunman fired 12 to 15 shots in quick succession before entering a campus cafeteria, where he opened fire again, according to witnesses, who started running or dived to the ground. Some of the shots sprayed across the street into the Alexis Nihon Plaza, one of Montreal’s most important shopping complexes.

As officers arrived, the gunman fled into a cafeteria, where he chased down students and aimed at others lying on the floor, according to witnesses. Students began running out of the school into the bloody scene where the shooting began. Others were told to run back into class and were stuck there.

“We ran out of the building as a SWAT team was coming in,” student Michel Boyer told CBC, Canada’s national network. “They were screaming, ‘Where is he?’ And when you have 20 police running at you with guns, you really know that your life is in danger.”

The suspect was shot inside the school. Witnesses said the incident lasted about 20 minutes.

The shooting had echoes of the Columbine massacre in a Colorado high school in 1999, when two students in trench coats killed 13 people in a shooting spree, before shooting themselves. But for Montreal citizens, it also evoked two other college killings in the past 15 years.

In 1992, Valery Fabrikant, a former associate professor of mechanical engineering at Concordia University, killed four of his colleagues. In 1989, Marc Lepine, a rejected student, killed 14 women at Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal. That shooting sparked calls for gun control, and the federal government later introduced a stringent national firearms registry.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who condemned Wednesday’s shooting, is trying to eliminate the gun registry, saying it is expensive and does not reduce gun use or smuggling by criminals.

“Cases of young people bringing weapons to schools are increasing, there’s no doubt about it,” said Stu Auty, founding president of the Canadian Safe School Network, based in Toronto.

But use of weapons like those in the Columbine shooting, is rare, he said.

James Sheptycki, associate professor of criminology at York University in Toronto, noted that ordinary Canadians cannot obtain military assault weapons or semi-automatic weapons without special licenses.

Compiled from Reuters, Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press.