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Gunman Had Planned Massacre Carefully, Police Said

April 6, 1996

VERNON, British Columbia (AP) _ A man who shot and killed his estranged wife and eight in-laws had planned the murders deliberately, but apparently killed himself only when he realized he could not escape undetected, police said Saturday.

Mark Chahal walked up to the home of his wife’s family Friday as relatives gathered for a wedding Saturday, and opened fire _ killing the bride-to-be, his wife, and seven others.

``He had two guns,″ said neighbor Rick Young, who was playing outside with his two children. ``One in each hand, just like the old western-style shooters, blasting away.″

It was the second-worst massacre in Canada’s history, behind only the 1989 killing of 14 female engineering students at a Montreal university, by a gunman who then killed himself.

Chahal, who had threatened his wife since their separation last year, returned to his motel room and shot and killed himself, after writing a short apology for the killings, police said.

Chahal had exchanged his own vehicle for a rental van before driving to Vernon, a quiet city of 30,000 about 185 miles northeast of Vancouver. To police, that suggested he intended to flee after the killings.

``In a murder-suicide, it really is irrelevant whether or not you’re using your own car,″ said Sgt. Doug Hartl of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. ``We think his decision to commit suicide is a result of what occurred in the house, maybe because he felt his identity would be known.″

A 60-year-old woman and a 6-year-old girl were shot but survived. Two children were the only ones to escape the gunman entirely. Police believed he had spared them intentionally.

Although Chahal had no criminal record, wife Rajwar Kaur Gakhal had complained about his violent behavior to police at their home in the Vancouver area, and then to police in Vernon when she returned to her family after separating from Chahal in January 1995.

The gunman first shot her, then her parents, their son, a son-in-law, and four other daughters, including the intended bride. All were members of a close-knit community of Sikh immigrants from India.

Friends and relatives continued to arrive Saturday for what was to have been a wedding celebration. Police managed to contact the groom Friday, as he traveled from Toronto.

Police believe Chahal was only in the home for three to four minutes, although all the dead had multiple gunshot wounds from a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun and a .38-caliber revolver.

Police found 28 spent revolver casings and two empty semiautomatic gun clips, which had each contained 10 shots.

A 12-gauge shotgun, not used, was found loaded in his rented van.

People trooped past the house Saturday, where blood had dried on the driveway. Some gawked. Others cried, and left flowers.

Update hourly