OTTAWA – Grieving Ottawa-area residents and members of the local Sri Lankan community tearfully offered flowers, gifts and prayers in tribute to a slain family on Saturday as they gathered for a vigil in honour of the victims of a crime described as one of the worst mass killings in the city’s recent history.

Mourners gathered under rainy skies in Palmadeo Park in Barrhaven, the suburb where a young mother, her four children and a family friend all died on Wednesday night. A 19-year-old Sri Lankan national who was living with the victims at the time is facing murder charges in their deaths.

Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe, Police Chief Eric Stubbs and the Sri Lankan High Commissioner were among the dozens of people who attended the sombre gathering, which included a presentation of flowers and prayers.

“Those in misery, be free from misery,” said Bhante Suneetha, a resident monk at Hilda Jayewardenaramaya Buddhist Monastery where the family worshipped.

Flowers, toys, notes and candles piled up in a gazebo over which six balloons flew bearing the victims names: 35-year-old Darshani Ekanayake, her seven-year-old son Inuka Wickramasinghe, her daughters four-year-old Ashwini, three-year-old Ranyana and two-and-a-half-month-old Kelly, and family friend Ge Gamini Amarakoon, 40.

Dhanushka Wickramasinghe, the children’s father, was the sole survivor and is in hospital recovering from injuries allegedly sustained in a struggle with the suspect, who came to Canada as an international student and was living with the family at the time of the killings.

Community leaders at Sunday’s vigil said members of the Sri Lankan diaspora have been grieving the tragedy across the country, noting how unusual it is for something like this to occur in their community.

Naradha Kodituwakku, director of the Buddhist Congress of Canada who spoke on behalf of the community, thanked first responders, elected officials and other organizations that have reached out in support of the family.

He said Dhanushka Wickramasinghe was still in shock during a hospital visit on Friday. But the bereaved father is drawing strength from the outpouring of support, Kodituwakku said.

“He sees that people are behind him. And just so I think, a gathering like this only (makes) him stronger,” Kodituwakku said.

He said Wickramasinghe authorized the local temple to arrange a funeral after autopsies on the victims are completed.

Anzul Jhan, deputy high commissioner at the Sri Lanka High Commission in Ottawa, says family members are expected to fly in from Sri Lanka for the funeral. Amarakoon’s relatives have asked for his body to be sent back to Sri Lanka.

Chandra Hapuarachchi, who works for the Buddhist Congress of Canada and helped organize Sunday’s gathering, expressed her appreciation for the support coming from people outside of the Sri Lankan community.

“It didn’t just affect just Sri Lankans,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2024.

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