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Jayantha Ekanayake, 66, mother of Barrhaven, Ottawa murder victim Darshani Ekanyake, in Colombo, Sri Lanka on March 8, 2024.Aanya Wipulasena/The Globe and Mail

Jayantha Ekanayake sensed something was off the last time she spoke to her daughter, Darshani, on Wednesday night.

The two phoned each other every evening – Darshani in her home in Ottawa, her mother in Polgahawela, located two hours outside the Sri Lankan city of Colombo.

Their conversation on Wednesday was unusually brief – just five minutes. Ms. Ekanayake felt something was weighing on her daughter’s mind, but they didn’t speak about it.

“She asked me to go to sleep,” Ms. Ekanayake recalled. She was planning to visit her daughter in two months.

Her worry grew when she didn’t hear from Darshani on Thursday night. The next morning, when Ms. Ekanayake heard from a local news outlet about a Sri Lankan family that had been killed in Ottawa, she knew immediately it was her daughter’s, she said.

Darshani Dilanthika Ekanayake, 35, was among six people fatally attacked in a suburban townhome in the Ottawa community of Barrhaven on Wednesday night, in what police described as the worst mass killing in the city’s history. Her four children, including an infant, were also killed, as was an adult acquaintance of the family who was living with them. Darshani’s husband, 38-year-old Dhanushka Wickramasinghe, was wounded but survived.

The accused in the killings is 19-year-old Febrio De-Zoysa, who Ottawa police said on Thursday had been living with the family in the townhome. They did not say how he knew the family or came to be living with them. He is charged with six counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, and police have said he is the only suspect.

Little else is known about Mr. De-Zoysa. Police have said they believe he is a Sri Lankan national who came to Canada as a student, and Algonquin College has confirmed he attended there until winter 2023. Investigators have not publicly speculated on a motive for the attack.

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Suramya Hettiarachchi, 65, aunt of Ottawa murder victim Darshani Ekanyake, points to family photos in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Mar. 8.AANYA WIPULASENA/The Globe and Mail

Ms. Ekanayake, who spoke to The Globe and Mail at her home in Polgahawela, a modest two-storey house where relatives and neighbours had gathered, said her surviving son-in-law had called her from the hospital where he is recovering, with a plaster over his eye.

“He said he was with me always,” she said. “It is like my life has ended. I always remember the children. They were like butterflies.”

The children were seven-year-old Inuka Wickramasinghe; four-year-old Ashwini Wickramasinghe; three-year-old Ranaya Wickramasinghe; and 2½-month-old Kelly Wickramasinghe.

Ms. Ekanayake said her daughter, son-in-law and their three oldest children were newcomers to Canada from Sri Lanka. (Kelly, the youngest, was born in Canada.) They were seeking work, she said, and good educations for the children.

Darshani was a devoted Buddhist who rejected the pull of materialism, Ms. Ekanayake said, adding that before leaving for Canada she had donated piles of her belongings to another family after a flood. More recently, she asked her mother to donate a child’s bicycle she had left behind when she emigrated.

Darshani would send photos from Canada, including some of the children sledding. “She said it was very beautiful when it snowed,” Ms. Ekanayake said.

Lashinka Dammullage, a minister counsellor at Sri Lanka’s High Commission in Ottawa, said the family acquaintance who was also killed in the attack, 40-year-old Amarakoonmubiayansela Ge Gamini Amarakoon, has family still in Sri Lanka, including two children.

Mr. Wickramasinghe, the attack’s lone surviving victim, was a regular at a Barrhaven-area temple, the Hilda Jayewardenaramaya Buddhist Monastery. Bhante Suneetha, a resident monk at the temple, said he had visited Mr. Wickramasinghe in the hospital on Friday morning.

He said Mr. Wickramasinghe was still in a state of shock and trying to recover from his injuries. Mr. De-Zoysa had been living in Mr. Wickramasinghe’s basement for at least a few months, Mr. Suneetha added.

“The whole community feels it,” Mr. Suneetha said. “It is a great tragedy and shock.”

He said there was a meeting at the temple on Friday to discuss next steps for helping the families of the victims. Funeral plans have not been determined, because autopsies must still be performed on the bodies.

Mr. De-Zoysa appeared in court on Thursday and is due to appear in court again next week.

When asked Friday about Mr. De-Zoysa being in the country on a student visa, the federal Immigration Department said in a statement that it can’t provide specifics of his case because of privacy legislation.

Chandra Arya, the Member of Parliament for the riding of Nepean, which includes the neighbourhood where the townhouse is located, said staff from some 15 churches have offered support to the community. There is also an online fundraising effort. A vigil is planned for Saturday in Barrhaven.

In a live recording on Facebook on Thursday evening, Bhante Saranapala, a monk at the West End Buddhist Temple and Meditation Center in Mississauga, Ont., said he had heard from others that Mr. De-Zoysa had problems while living at a previous residence, and “had no place to go.”

“But this family, being a Buddhist family, were very concerned. They were very kind and compassionate, caring. When a person becomes helpless, then of course we try to help them.”

He said the family had celebrated Mr. De-Zoysa’s birthday just a few days before the attack.

“They came here with big hopes, big dreams for their great future,” he said.

Mr. Saranapala said many foreign students come to Canada only to find the cost of living, including rent, beyond their means.

“They go through a lot of stress and anxieties,” he added.

Darshani’s aunt, Suramya Hettiarachchi, said she wasn’t surprised her niece’s family had taken someone in.

“Her husband helps everyone who is in need. He wouldn’t even have imagined what happened.”

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