Twenty-five years ago today, on December 6, 1989, in Montreal, fourteen women were murdered for being women in what their murderer perceived to be a space that rightly belonged to men:

Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student

Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student

Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student

Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student

Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student

Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student

Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department

Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student

Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student

Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student

Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student

Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student

Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student

Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

They were murdered because their killer was disgruntled that he been denied admission to the École Polytechnique, the site of the massacre, and because he blamed women occupying positions that were traditionally occupied by men for this disappointment, among others. When their killer entered the engineering classroom where the killing began, he first told the men to leave the room, because his goal was to kill the women. In their killer’s pocket, discovered after his death, was a list of more women he had planned to kill, if only he had the time.

Shelley Page was a 24-year-old reporter who was sent to cover the Montreal massacre for The Toronto Star. On this, the 25th anniversary of the event, she writes:

I fear I sanitized the event of its feminist anger and then infantilized and diminished the victims, turning them from elite engineering students who’d fought for a place among men into teddy-bear loving daughters, sisters and girlfriends.

Twenty-five years later, as I re-evaluate my stories and with the benefit of analysis of the coverage that massacre spawned, I see how journalists— male and female producers, news directors, reporters, anchors — subtly changed the meaning of the tragedy to one that the public would get behind, silencing so-called “angry feminists.”

Twenty-five years ago, I was a 21-year-old finishing my first term in a chemistry Ph.D. program. I was studying for final exams and the qualifying exams that would be held in January, so I was not following the news about much of anything outside my bubble of graduate school. When I did hear about the Montreal massacre, it was a punch in the gut.

It was enough already to fight against the subtle and not-so-subtle doubt (from the faculty in our programs, from our classmates, even from our students) that women were cut out for science or engineering. Now it was clear that there existed people committed enough to science and engineering being male domains that they might kill us to enforce that.

The murders were political. They did not target particular individual women in the forbidden domain of engineering on the basis of particular personal grievances. Being a member of the hated group in the social space the murderer thought should be for men only was enough.

But the murders also ended the lives of fourteen particular individual women, women who were daughters and sisters and friends and girlfriends.

The tragedies were deeply personal for the survivors of the fourteen women who were murdered. They were also personal for those of us who understood (even if we couldn't articulate it) that we occupied the same kinds of social positions, and struggled with the same barriers to access and inclusion, as these fourteen murdered women had. They made us sad, and scared, and angry.

The personal is political. The challenge is in seeing how we are connected, the structures underlying what frequently feel to us like intensely individual experiences.

I'm inclined to think it's a mistake to look for the meaning of the Montreal massacre. There are many interconnected meanings to find here.

That individual teddy bear-loving girls and women can still be formidable scientists and engineers.

That breaking down barriers to inclusion can come at a cost to oneself as an individual (which can make it harder for others who have gotten into those male preserves to feel like it's OK for them to leave before the barriers are completely dismantled).

That some are still dedicated to maintaining those barriers to inclusion, and where that dedication will end -- with words, or threats, or violent acts -- is impossible to tell just by looking at the gatekeeper.

Because they were murdered 25 years ago today, we will never know what contributions these fourteen women might have made -- what projects they might have guided, what problems they might have solved, the impact they might have made as mentors or role models, as teachers, as colleagues, as friends, as lovers, as parents, as engaged citizens.

In their memory, we ought to make sure other women are free to find out what they can contribute without having to waste their energy taking down barriers and without having to fear for their lives.