Memorial service in Nova Scotia marks one year since mass shooting started

TRURO, N.S. — Mourners walked, ran and raised money in central Nova Scotia on Sunday as part of a series of tributes organized to honour the 22 people killed by a lone gunman one year ago.

The events in Truro, N.S., took place ahead of a memorial service for the victims. The closed service at Truro’s First United Church was slated to begin at 3 p.m. local time.

Hundreds of people took part in a series of walks and runs in the Truro area, with proceeds from the events going towards a permanent memorial.

Organizer Denise Burgess, a member of the Nova Scotia Remembers Legacy Society, said the events were aimed at healing and remembrance.

“We want to turn the lens away from what happened to who these people were,” she said in an interview.

“It gives us a chance to reflect on their lives — that they were full, beautiful lives and they were wonderful, giving people who contributed to our community.”

In Truro’s Victoria Park, which is where the races ended, a large art installation pays tribute to the victims. Crafted by welder Wayne Smith, the statue featured 24 hearts with the name of each victim, including an unborn child.

Blue markers have also been placed around the park, each with a Nova Scotia tartan and the name of each victim, with family members grouped together.

“There’s a bit of healing that takes place when we can make this for people,” said Burgess, a teacher in Truro whose students once included Emily Tuck, a 17-year-old Grade 12 student who was killed with her parents in Portapique on April 18, 2002.

Kaiwalya Puntambekar, a student who graduated from Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., was among those who competed in the full marathon, which started in Portapique.

Despite little training, Puntambekar said he completed the marathon by pushing past the pain and remembering those who died last year.

“They were taken so unfairly,” he said after the race. “Sports is a way to connect people. It brings people together …. There was some sadness in the air because we knew what had happened a year ago today.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was expected to offer a tribute of his own on Sunday through a pre-recorded message.

He issued a statement earlier in the day saying the solemn anniversary provided an opportunity to “hold the victims in our hearts and honour their memory.”

“Their deaths devastated close-knit communities in Nova Scotia, and all Canadians,” Trudeau said. “Our thoughts are with all of those who lost a family member, a friend, a neighbour, or a loved one, and with everyone who continues to live with the pain and sadness from this tragedy.”

The prime minister also drew attention to RCMP constables Heidi Stevenson and Chad Morrison. Stevenson was among the nine people killed by the gunman on April 19, 2020. Morrison was one of three people wounded during the gunman’s13-hour rampage, which started the day before in Portapique, N.S.

“These first responders, and many others, faced danger without hesitation,” the prime minister said. “On some of the darkest days in Nova Scotia’s history, we saw — through their extraordinary example — the best of this country.”

The anniversary was also expected to be marked by a peaceful march to the RCMP detachment in nearby Bible Hill, where some of the victim’s relatives planned to express their dismay with the Mounties’ response to one of the worst mass killings in Canadian history.

The RCMP’s commanding officer in Nova Scotia, Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman, issued a statement Sunday saying the police force would observe a moment of silence at 2 p.m. on Monday.

“The gunman’s actions were directed at innocent people, and no one has felt this more than the families of the victims. Their lives have changed in ways that most will never understand, and our hearts are with them during this difficult time,” the statement says.

Bergerman said more than 100 RCMP employees were part of the response last April, and hundreds more have been involved in the subsequent investigation.

“We understand people have questions and want to know as much as possible about the incidents,” Bergerman said, adding that a federal-provincial public inquiry will provide some answers.

“It is our hope that the Mass Casualty Commission will provide a full accounting of what happened for the families of the victims and the public.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2021.

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