Community grieves together one year after Nova Scotia mass shooting

TORONTO — One year after a mass shooting in Nova Scotia took the lives of 22 people and injured three others, family members look back at a year of loss and trauma.

Jenny Keirstead, whose sister Lisa McCully was killed in the April 18 attack in the Portapique community in Nova Scotia, is hoping community members can finally come together and grieve collectively.

“The commemorative walk has been designed to give the public an opportunity to grieve and to come together outdoors and to remember the victims of last April, and to process their grief,” she told CTV News.

Keirstead, along with other members of the Nova Scotia Remembers Legacy Society, will participate in planned memorial events on Sunday.

Restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have made it hard for communities to come together in the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting.

“I think it’s been really difficult for people to do that in a community setting. And so we’re hoping that people do come out and just take a quiet slow walk and contemplate and remember and grieve together,” she added.

A memorial service will be held today and there will also be a private memorial for family members only.

“I know how important that social engagement is in helping to repair the nervous system and, and restore faith and hope in humanity. And so we do encourage people to come together in whatever capacity they can to, to watch the ceremony,” Keristead said.

For Ryan Farrington, who lost his mother Dawn Madsen and stepfather Frank Galenchyn in the mass shooting, the people of Nova Scotia have helped carry him through the last year.

“Just the people of Nova Scotia, reaching out, they still reach out, pretty much on a daily basis,” he told CTV News. “People I don’t know, just, you know, sending their prayers and thinking of us and so that helps people move on.”

Still it’s been a difficult year for Farrington.

“A year is hard because things happen like birthdays. I became a new father in the past year,” he said.

While his mother and stepfather got to meet his older children from a previous marriage, Farrington and his wife had been trying for a child for sometime.

“To have another child, to have one on Dec. 1 was absolutely amazing. It’s just unfortunate. You know my parents will never get to meet their new granddaughter,” he said.

His wife has helped pull him through the worst of it, he said. Even when she was in labour, she kept him going.

“She always puts other people first before her, and she has been there for me through, through everything,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it that much more difficult for Farrington and his family to grieve their losses. After the deaths last April he was able to go from his home of Trenton, Ont. to Nova Scotia to take care of some legal proceedings and spread ashes with his father, but has otherwise been unable to grieve with Nova Scotians in person.

He won’t be able to attend the memorial event Sunday, but a friend he’s become close with since the deaths will go in his place.

“They’re going to do a Zoom or live Facebook for me so I’m able to, to be there and see it and they’re going to place a rose in place of my parents for me, and all that stuff and do the walk as well,” he said.

The relationship between his mom and stepfather was a match made in Canadian heaven. Madsen and Galenchyn met and bonded over a scratch on Galenchyn’s car, caused by a game of street hockey. Instead of being upset, he came over with tickets to a Toronto Maple Leafs game.

“From there, they just started to date, it just flourished from there. They bought a house together and got married,” said Farrington. “The rest is history.”

Farrington plans to take his family’s ashes and photos and have a private moment to say hello and talk with them before returning to the responsibilities of daily life that even grief can’t stop.

For Keirstead, she’s had to step away from the speed at which life usually moves.

“It’s been really crucial for me to just take the time this year to acknowledge that there’s been a really severe trauma,” she said. “And this year has been one of just gentleness, of healing.”

She remembers her sister as the one who could elicit a laugh out of almost anyone.

“She was such a joker, and was just a natural entertainer and just was the life of every party,” she added.

She joined the Nova Scotia Remembers Legacy Society because she was overcome with grief and she credits them with having helped her through the last year.

“I needed to dial into a vein of positivity and this Legacy Society has really been that for me and so many people and the volunteers with the Legacy Society, just their full commitment is to help heal the community and to create a better humanity and I am so grateful to everyone,” she added.

It’s not over yet, an inquiry into the mass shootings continues.

Farrington’s biggest concern is that this could happen again. He’s grateful that Nova Scotia is taking the steps to regulate the sale of decommissioned police vehicles and a bill to outlaw the sale of used police vehicles, equipment and uniforms has been introduced in Nova Scotia legislature, but he wants a nationwide ban on the sale of decommissioned police vehicles.

“I don’t want anybody to ever have to go through this, and I see it every day, when I’m driving back and forth to work I see these vehicles that look like police cars,” he said.

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