MONTREAL, DEC. 9 -- Muffled against the cold, clutching each other's arms, the families of the women murdered here on Wednesday walked slowly into the main building of the University of Montreal today. Inside, beneath the tower that overlooks the city, lay nine coffins holding their daughters and sisters. In other rooms elsewhere in Quebec, five more families grieved at five other coffins. The official mourning for the 14 murdered Ecole Polytechnique students has begun in Montreal; it will culminate with Monday's public funeral, which will be broadcast live on national television. The flowers left in the snowbank outside the school have lost their scent, and workers will soon finish painting over the blood that stains the classrooms within. But for students at the university, their teachers, families, and the people of this city and province, Wednesday's violence is not yet over. "I think it has no end," said Alain-Xavier Turgeon, a student at the Ecole Polytechnique, the university's engineering school where the attack took place. "We will always think about it. I think we will be 60-year-old engineers and we will still think, 'A guy came in the classroom and started shooting everyone.' " When the 25-year-old unemployed Marc Lepine shot 27 people, mostly singling out women for his gun before turning it on himself, he did more than shatter the lives of hundreds of students here. He threw into question this country's most basic assumptions about gender and national character, and he forced Canadians to grapple with the subjects of violence against women, relations between the sexes and the possibility that an anonymous breed of murder long assumed to be endemic to the United States has arrived here. Students describe again and again the feeling that the world no longer makes sense, that the earth is unstable, that -- like survivors of the earthquake that struck the San Francisco Bay Area -- they are stunned by their own ineffectivness in the face of violence. "Impuissance," they say -- powerlessness, impotence. They cannot sleep. One student, Etienne Ali, who was in the building when Lepine walked in and started shooting, but who did not see the killer, was haunted by his inability to act. His friend, Michel Guy, was in one of the classrooms where women were killed. Guy, said Ali, "could react, he could scream to a definite purpose, to warn people not to go to the second floor. He could do something." All Ali could do, once he heard the gunshots, was run. "For all of us who were not that close, we will have to take more time." The violence began late Wednesday afternoon, when Lepine entered the Polytechnique's main building, a massive modern structure of metal, glass and marble. He was carrying a Sturm Ruger semiautomatic .223-caliber rifle. He went first to the cafeteria. There he killed three women. He went next to a classroom, told the men -- about 50 of them -- to leave, and he opened fire on the 10 women who remained, leaving six dead. Lepine shot another woman in an office and several more in another classroom. By the time he killed himself, he had also injured 13 other men and women. "It's like the earth wouldn't stand still under your feet," said Marie-Andree Bertrand, a University of Montreal professor of criminology, who has spent the last three days talking to distraught students and colleagues. "In Canada, we've been so protected against any kind of violence, so people are very ill-prepared." The campus's student federation president Nicolas Plourde today called for universities to launch a national movement to combat violence and sexism. But others begged the public to wait before drawing conclusions from the deaths here. "I think people are taking that isolated act in a general sense," said Alain Perreault, Polytechnique student body president. "It's very important to talk about it later, but now we're too emotionally involved." Classes at the Polytechnique were canceled this week and exams postponed, and students have spent the last three days in a state of collective shock. On Friday they were allowed to return to the main building, with its brightly painted orange and yellow lockers, where about 1,000 people were attending their final class before exams when Lepine began his shooting spree. They collected the books and coats abandoned in the chaos and wept in each other's arms. "At first, nobody could believe it happened, nobody realized what happened," said Polytechnique student Heidi Rathjen today, her face still blank with shock and her eyes frequently filling with tears. "I even remember people being surprised that the press was here, because it was all just inconceivable. "The next day and the day after that," she said, "the students were reuniting and calling each other, to be together and talk. People aren't ready to go home to their parents. They need to be with their friends here. They need to be together." Counselors have been stationed around the campus to help. "We wanted them to learn to take care of themselves so they can heal," said university psychologist Odette Arsenault, who took part in a Friday counseling session which drew about 150 students. "Everyone is frightened. Everyone has a very primitive fear: 'Am I going to die? Am I going to suffer?' " The fact that Lepine told his victims, "You are all feminists!" and wrote in a letter that he felt feminists had ruined his life has galvanized the Quebec feminist community, which Canadians say is particularly strong, well-organized and more ideological than the U.S. women's movement. "Now, you know, it's frightening to be called a feminist," criminology professor Bertrand said. "There are people who say you mustn't make it a political issue, but he made it a political issue," said Anne Molgat, spokeswoman for the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, a Toronto-based coalition of almost 600 Canadian women's groups. Molgat and others, including members of Parliament, view the attack as a reminder of pervasive violence against women and have warned against dismissing the murders as the inexplicable acts of a madman. "The extreme expression is unique, but I think the social climate in a way is propitious for anger against women," said criminologist Bertrand. The Montreal Gazette reported today that a recent study showed Quebec men are more likely to be victims of murder and armed robbery than are women and that reports to the police of sexual assaults and family violence against women have fallen slightly in the last seven years. But feminists said this week that several recent events on college campuses concern them, particularly the way male students mocked women protesting date rape. At the Polytechnique, where women constitute less than 20 percent of the student body and a drive was launched recently to attract more, students said they felt great solidarity between men and women. But some professors here worried the attack could scare off women considering entering professions traditionally associated with men. "Some have said they are considering giving up their higher education," said Bertrand of her students. Men, too, have been unnerved by Lepine's misogyny. From students to cab drivers to journalists, they say they are worried they will now be seen as a threat solely because of their gender. "Both girls and boys are shaken up, but in different ways," said Marie-Claude Marseille, a psychologist and counselor in one of the university dormitories. "Men say, 'Because of this act of one man, women walk by and look at us as if we are like him.' Women feel more insecurity and fear, but men feel anger and powerlessness." The tensions surrounding gender rose to the surface here during a Thursday night candle-lit vigil, when the secretary of the student association, speaking in French, referred to the murdered women by the male pronoun ceux rather than the female celles. Women in the crowd shouted Nicolas Plourde down in outrage, with one calling out, "It is women who are dead, goddamnit!" As in the United States, the word "feminist" has fallen from favor among many younger women in Canada. On Friday, student Nathalie Provost, who was shot in the leg and whose head was grazed by a bullet, told reporters that she tried to reason with Lepine before he shot her. "Listen," she told him, "we are only women studying engineering, not necessarily feminists ready to march on the streets to shout we are against men." "There's still this great negativity attached to feminism, as if feminists were guilty of dividing men and women," journalist Francine Pelletier said Friday. Pelletier, a columnist for the paper La Presse and former editor of a feminist magazine, has been told her name was on a list of 15 prominent women Lepine had with him on Wednesday. "I'm not going around fearing for my life," Pelletier said. "It is one hell of a shock, though, and I think it's a cruel reminder that we haven't come as far as we would like to." The deaths here, which Montrealers refer to as "the massacre," may have struck particularly deep because of the closeness of the extended Quebec community, said psychologist Arsenault. The University of Montreal has more than 50,000 students, and "Quebec society is quite small and almost everyone knew somebody or was the friend of somebody -- it's a collective trauma for Quebec." One of the dead women, 21-year-old Genevieve Bergeron, was the daughter of city council member Therese Daviau and babysat in the home of Montreal mayor Jean Dore. Another, Maryse Leclair, was the daughter of the police spokesman. The papers here have been filled with threads of information about Lepine, including a story today in the Montreal Gazette saying Lepine's mother testified in divorce court that her husband beat her and her children. For the students of the Polytechnique, such facts offer little solace. They tried to understand what made Lepine act as he did, said student leader Plourde today. "We thought about it, but we gave up. We can't explain it, and maybe we don't want to try."