Nova Scotia memorials mark 1st anniversary of mass shootings

Nova Scotia is honouring the victims of last year’s mass killing with a memorial race, special ceremony and moment of silence on Sunday — exactly one year after the tragedy.

“It’s going to be a hard one, but there’s a lot of us here who are doing it to remember the people,” Jillian Arany, a marathon runner from Bible Hill, said from Portapique, N.S., on Sunday morning.

“It will be good, and I think it’s going to help a lot of people as well, just showing the community and the strength.”

On April 18-19, 2020, a gunman disguised as a Mountie torched homes and killed neighbours, acquaintances and strangers in what would become one of the worst mass killings in Canadian history.

Twenty-two people were killed over a period of 13 hours — including a 23-year veteran of the RCMP, a pregnant continuing-care assistant and a 17-year-old girl.

The rampage started in the rural community of Portapique, located about 95 kilometres north of Halifax, before the shooter was killed by police at a gas station in Enfield, south of Portapique and about 32 kilometres north of the capital.

The tragedy has weighed heavily on Nova Scotians, as questions have gone unanswered as to what happened during that fateful weekend.

But on the one-year anniversary, Nova Scotians are coming together — virtually and in-person — to remember the lives that were lost.

WATCH | Memorial anniversary service for Nova Scotia mass shooting victims:

The family members of the victims of the Nova Scotia mass shooting are gathering with federal and provincial leaders for a memorial service in Truro, N.S., to remember their loved ones a year after the tragedy. 1:09:55

The Nova Scotia Remembers Legacy Society, a volunteer group formed in the aftermath of the killings, organized the memorial race, which started in Portapique at 7 a.m. on Sunday.

About 30 runners participated in the full marathon, including Arany, who wore a Nova Scotia Strong sweater decorated with the names of the victims.

Arany said she ran the marathon as a way to honour those who died, their families and loved ones.

Jill Arany ran in the memorial marathon on Sunday as a way to honour the victims of last year’s mass killing. Among the 22 people killed on April 18-19, 2020, were a 23-year veteran of the RCMP, a pregnant continuing-care assistant and a 17-year-old girl. (CBC)

“Each mile is dedicated to someone, so the first one I’m dedicating to the families, the 13th mile I’m dedicating to the friends and loved ones and the last one is for Nova Scotia,” she said.

Dennis Mbelenzi of Halifax was the first person to finish the full marathon.

He said he decided to run the marathon as a way to express his sympathies and love for the victims and to remind the families that they will never be forgotten.

Arany ran the marathon wearing a Nova Scotia Strong sweater with the names of the victims on hearts attached to her back. (CBC)

Before the race, Mbelenzi said he learned that a woman who had lost her mother during the shootings was running in the marathon.

“We draw strength from people like those,” he said. 

“When I was running, sometimes it gets hard … and I always said, ‘Behind me is somebody who had to lose her mom and she’s running for the first time — let me keep going. Not only for myself but for her and for people in her position.'”

Proceeds from Sunday’s road races will go toward installing a permanent memorial for the victims.

Dennis Mbelenzi of Halifax was the first person to finish the full marathon on Sunday morning. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

‘We will never forget,’ premier says

The Nova Scotia Remembers Legacy Society organized a private gathering for the families of the victims and special guests on Sunday afternoon at the First United Church in Truro, N.S.

At 3 p.m. AT, master of ceremonies Jeff Douglas asked people around the province to observe two minutes of silence in memory of those who lost their lives. 

Addressing the gathering, Premier Iain Rankin said while the tragedy had caused “shock and terror,” it had also led to an outpouring of love, compassion and a sense of community.

“Your loved ones touched the hearts of all Nova Scotia, as well as Canadians and people from around the world,” he said.

Ranking said the thousands of messages of support the province received from people around the world had been compiled into a book of remembrance. 

“We will never forget,” he said. 

A memorial at Victoria Park in Truro, N.S., was a focal point for many of the people gathered to honour the victims. (Paul Pourier/CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also offered condolences to the families of the victims and to all Nova Scotians.

“This act of evil, it will not define the memories of all those we lost a year ago today, it will not define the communities that still grieve them,” he said. “This speaks to the love that Nova Scotia has have for each other and that all Canadians share.

“The pandemic means that we can’t all gather in person to hold each other in grief and healing, but to the families, friends and the entire community know that today nothing can keep all of us from holding you in our hearts.”

A memorial service was held at First United Church in Truro, N.S., on Sunday. (CBC)

Rev. Valerie Kingsbury, the church’s minister, spoke of the symbolic significance of the 22 rocks placed in front of the altar — each bearing the name of one of the victims. 

“Each of the individuals that we come here to honour today,” she said, “was a rock for someone.” 

“Flowers are a gift of creation that speak to us,” she said. “Of beauty and wonder and possibility. About life and new life.”

As a piano played, the names of the victims were called out, family members walked up the aisle  and placed a vase of white roses next to the rock bearing the name of their loved one.

‘Lost faith in our police force’

About 400 people attended a peaceful march to the local RCMP detachment in Bible Hill on Sunday afternoon to honour the victims and the police officers who were on duty during the rampage, but also to highlight the many questions that still remain one year after the killings.

The RCMP continues to face scrutiny and questions about why it took police 13 hours to stop the gunman.

“We will not go away until we find out what happened. We are here in peace because violence is what caused us to lose our families,” said Tara Long, the sister of Aaron Tuck, one of the victims.

“We want to make sure that everybody here is acknowledged, everyone here matters. A lot of us lost our family, but a lot more of us lost faith in our police force.”

At the church, roses were placed next to rocks bearing the names of the victims. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia RCMP issued a statement earlier Sunday acknowledging that people still have questions.

“We understand people have questions and want to know as much as possible about the incidents,” Lee Bergerman, the Nova Scotia RCMP’s assistant commissioner, said in a news release.

“Charges related to the investigation are currently before the courts, and we are participating fully in the Mass Casualty Commission, which is underway. 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.”

A public inquiry is also underway, in an effort to to examine issues such as the response of police, steps taken to inform victims, their families and the public, the role of gender-based violence and whether there was any specific relationship between the gunman and RCMP.

About 400 people attended the march to the Bible Hill, N.S., RCMP detachment on Sunday. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Coverage will continue with a CBC News special called Stronger Together, which will explore how the people and communities most affected are moving forward after the tragedy. 

The special will be carried live starting at 6 p.m. AT on CBC TV throughout Atlantic Canada, the CBC Nova Scotia website, CBC Nova Scotia’s Facebook page, on CBC Gem and on CBC Radio One and CBC Listen.

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