MONTREAL - A deadly daytime shooting that paralyzed Old Montreal was possibly linked to a violent feud involving Canada's most prominent Mafia family, police sources said Thursday.
Two men were shot dead and two others injured in a hail of gunfire that prompted a police shutdown of the historic streets near the landmark Notre-Dame Basilica.
Witnesses said the shooting suspects escaped the area on foot, walking at a brisk pace and shedding parts of their disguise as they fled. They discarded clothes and a Rastafarian-style dreadlocked wig on a nearby sidewalk.
Police sources said they were exploring possible links to another daytime shooting that recently shocked Montreal: the murder of the eldest son to reputed Mob boss Vito Rizzuto three months ago.
Thursday's killings occurred at a high-end clothing store that specializes in haute couture for men and women. Large drops of blood were spattered across the floor and stairs leading into the building.
“There was blood in the lobby,” said one man, Charles Thomas, who refused to give his family name.
“There were about 15 drops of blood in the exterior lobby. . . As big as quarters.”
One of the shooting victims was immediately declared dead in the store.
Another man, in his late 20s, died later in hospital. Police did not identify either man.
Police had little to say on the record.
“There's a lot of information out there,” said police spokesman Const. Olivier Lapointe.
“We're still examining our databases to ensure our information is reliable.
And, yes, that's something that interests us - to know who is behind that business.”
Two other people were being treated in hospital for gunshot wounds, including one bystander who was hit by a stray bullet and who drove himself to hospital.
Lapointe said both men were still in hospital late Thursday, in serious but stable condition.
The blocks around the store were sectioned off with orange police tape, as shocked onlookers milled about after they were told they couldn't re-enter their office buildings.
The shootings took place on a street - formerly known as St. James Street, called St. Jacques today - that was once the heart of Canada's financial sector and still houses elegant old bank buildings.
Police said they were flooded with a rash of 911 calls with reports of the shooting around 1:45 p.m.
The boutique is housed on the first floor of a multi-storey building and many of the other occupants remained trapped upstairs for a few hours.
Major-crimes detectives and police sniffer dogs scoured the area shortly after the shooting.
On an adjacent street, witnesses pointed to articles of clothing they say the suspects shed as they fled the scene.
A construction worker renovating a floor inside a St. Antoine Street building said he saw an employee from a nearby hotel chasing the suspects, who were speed-walking down the sidewalk.
He said he saw two men dressed in black, wearing white bandannas over their mouths. One of the men pulled off a black, deadlocked wig and tossed it on the ground.
Crime analysts have been predicting reprisals since the younger Rizzuto was killed on Dec. 28 in a gritty west-end neighbourhood. No arrests have been made in that slaying.
That December killing was considered an unprecedented, symbolic swipe at the powerful family patriarch.
Vito Rizzuto is in a medium-security prison in Colorado serving a 10-year sentence for racketeering, relating to three underworld murders in Brooklyn in 1981. He is scheduled to be released on Oct. 6, 2012.
In recent months, police have said they are exploring a variety of possible theories about a Mafia turf war.
They include a power struggle pitting Montreal's mobsters versus Toronto's, and a possible battle between Calabrian families and the Rizzutos' Sicilian clan.