Among the victims were health care workers, correctional officers, a teacher, a police officer, a military veteran. Young couples, new parents and retirees.
As identities of the victims of Canada’s worst mass shooting continued to be made public by their families and friends, each one brought devastating new tributes and memorials on social media – the only collective place to grieve, during a period of physical distancing.
The magnitude of the loss – spanning several communities in Nova Scotia – has left an entire province reeling, with mourners trying to wrap their heads around the seeming randomness of the attacks. As the investigation continues, The Globe and Mail combed online tributes and spoke with family and friends of those who died and those who were presumed dead to paint a picture of the many lives lost.
Sean McLeod and Alanna Jenkins
Sean McLeod, 44, and Alanna Jenkins, 36, were both correctional managers for the Correctional Service of Canada – she at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, he at the Springhill Institution in Springhill.
The couple lived in Wentworth, a rural community about a 40-minute drive from Truro.
Mr. McLeod’s daughter, Taylor Andrews, said Monday that her favourite memory of her father and stepmother was tubing with them in the river behind their house.
“They always made sure that everybody I brought was welcome and taken care of," she said. “They loved having everybody there.”
More than anything, Ms. Andrews said, they loved having her daughter (their granddaughter) – who will be 2 in June – over for sleepovers.
“She was their world,” she said.
“They were the most selfless people I know. They would have done anything for anyone. They loved living where they lived because everybody on the road, they were all friends and they all got together all the time.”
Corrie Ellison was “killed for going to help someone,” his brother, Clinton Ellison, wrote in a Facebook post Monday, alongside a photo of the two brothers as children.
“RIP my brother CORRIE ELLISON,” he wrote.
Mr. Ellison of Truro was a social-services worker in his 40s, according to family friends who said he had been visiting his father on Portapique Beach Road in Portapique when he was killed.
“He was a good kid with a huge heart,” family friend Jonas Baas said. “He idolized Clinton … there was nothing he wouldn’t have done for his family and his friends.”
“He was a great guy,” his friend Ryan McLeod said. “Always up for a good time hunting and fishing.”
Gina Goulet, a denturist in Shubenacadie, was an avid bass fishing enthusiast and could often be found on the riverbanks, her daughter, Amelia Butler, said.
Ms. Butler said her mother’s laugh was one nobody could forget – and that she loved her job because it allowed her to quite literally put smiles on people’s faces.
Ms. Goulet had survived cancer twice – the most recent diagnosis came just last year.
“She really loved life,” Ms. Butler said. “She was a fighter.”
Ms. Goulet vacationed regularly in Cuba and loved dancing.
Annette Fisher befriended her through salsa dancing, which they had both taken up in recent years. “She was a real tenacious go-getter,” Ms. Fisher said Monday, of her friend. “So much energy.”
Thomas (Tom) Edward Bagley, 70, left his Wentworth cottage as he did every day for a morning walk, his sister Mary Karen Creighton said.
Mr. Bagley, a military veteran and retired firefighter, saw a house on fire down the road and his training kicked in.
“He would go to fires, whether he was asked or not,” she said. Mr. Bagley was shot moments later.
“Right from the start, we knew Tom was special in our family,” Ms. Creighton said. “He had such a loving heart.”
Growing up, she recalled sometimes waking up to a stranger sleeping on the couch – a hitchhiker Mr. Bagley had found on the highway and taken in for the night.
“That’s the type of fella he was,” she said.
His first love was his family – especially his wife, Patsy, and daughter, Charlene. His second love was his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which he would ride every year from Nova Scotia to South Dakota for a bike rally there.
Lifelong friend Wayne Wilkins said Mr. Bagley was a “hell of a guy.” They served in the Canadian Armed Forces together as firefighters, including on HMCS Bonaventure, Canada’s last aircraft carrier. After Mr. Bagley left the military, he worked in the fire department at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.
Kristen Beaton was a young wife and mother who worked for the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) as a continuing-care assistant in Debert.
“All of our front-line care providers are heroes. Yesterday, two of those heroes, Heather O’Brien and Kristen Beaton, were taken from their families, and from VON,” Jo-Anne Poirier, VON president and chief executive officer, wrote in a statement Monday. "We mourn their loss, and we mourn for their families.”
Ms. Beaton’s husband, Nick, took to Facebook to remember his wife, who had been working in the fight against COVID-19. He wrote that “we need to be her voice now” and help get her co-workers the personal protective equipment they need.
“So please for Kristen’s sake protect the ones who are protecting us,” Mr. Beaton wrote. “She cried every day before and every day after work, scared to bring this COVID home to her son she loved more than I could even imagine anyone could love one person.”
Lillian Hyslop is remembered in Wentworth as a community-minded woman with a gentle soul.
“She was a quiet and, over all, very nice lady,” her friend Heather Matthews said. “We would often see her walking her dog outdoors and she wouldn’t miss a community event.”
Ms. Hyslop was in her 60s and married with children.
John Zahl and Elizabeth Joanne Thomas
A GoFundMe page for the family of John Zahl and Elizabeth Joanne Thomas said the couple were missing and presumed dead after their house on Portapique Beach Road was found burned down.
The page said they leave their sons, Riley and Justin Zahl. In a series of Facebook posts, Justin described his struggle to get answers from police and said it might be more than a week before he hears about the identities of those found in the burned house.
“Finally heard from the police and my house is gone,” read one post. “They said they’re pretty sure they [my parents] were in the house but nothing is confirmed.”
According to the GoFundMe page, the couple volunteered at St. James Presbyterian Church and Ms. Thomas was the head of the “Laundry Project,” a non-profit that gave people in need access to clean laundry.
Constable Heidi Stevenson
Constable Heidi Stevenson was a 23-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and well known for her previous role as media spokesperson for the province’s RCMP force.
Constable Stevenson was a married mother of two children, aged 10 and 13. Her husband, Dean Stevenson, teaches at a Halifax-area high school, according to a statement from Paul Wozney of the province’s teachers union.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said her heart was broken.
“Losing one of our own – it’s like a family member. But also, in a province like Nova Scotia, Constable Heidi Stevenson, she would be part of that community. Her kids would be going to school in that community," Commissioner Lucki said.
Friend Patti Greenlaw posted a photo to Facebook of a uniformed Constable Stevenson, smiling and giving a thumbs up in her patrol car.
“A beautiful soul with eyes and a smile that would light up any room,” she wrote. “You will be missed by so many people.”
Lisa McCully was a teacher in Grades 3/4 at Debert Elementary School, according to the website of the school, located in a town roughly 20 kilometres west of Truro.
Her sister, Jenny Kierstead, confirmed the news of her death in a Facebook post Sunday afternoon.
“This is so hard to write but many of you will want to know. Our hearts are broken today as we attempt to accept the loss of my sister, Lisa McCully, who was one of the victims of the mass shooting in Portapique last night,” she wrote.
Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Mr. Wozney said that Ms. McCully was known “not only as a passionate teacher but as a shining love in [her colleagues’ and students’] lives.”
Greg and Jamie Blair
In Facebook tributes by family and friends, Greg and Jamie Blair were remembered as “two beautiful souls.”
Tyler Blair wrote Sunday that “2 huge parts of my life and family” were taken from him. He posted a photo of Greg and Jamie, with a caption, “I love you guys so much. You truly don’t know how much you need a person until you can no longer talk to them.”
Friend Stewart Dowe said he and Greg Blair had bonded over the mutual respect they shared as small business owners in the trades. Mr. Dowe installs oil tanks and boilers to heat homes in cottage country, while Mr. Blair's business handled propane.
"He was a good, hard worker," Mr. Dowe told The Globe on Monday. "We've known each other quite a long time."
Heather O’Brien was a licensed practical nurse, working for the VON for almost 17 years.
In a Facebook post Sunday, her daughter, Darcy Dobson, wrote that her “kind” and “beautiful” mother had been murdered by a “monster.”
“I want everyone to remember how kind she was. How much she loved being a nurse. The way her eyes sparkled when she talked to her grandchildren and the way she just loved Christmas. Let those things define her. Not the horrible way she died,” Ms. Dobson’s post read.
Ms. O’Brien’s niece, Megan Brown, also took to Facebook to remember her aunt as a spiritual woman who loved her family. “She is not just my Aunt Heather. She is a wife, a mother, a big sister, a grandmother, an aunt, a nurse, a healer, a listener, a guide, a bright light in so many lives. I can’t believe she is gone,” Ms. Brown’s post read. “The world is a darker place without you.”
Dawn and Frank Gulenchyn
Dawn and Frank Gulenchyn had relocated to Portapique after spending decades of their lives in Oshawa, Ont.
Jon Farrington, one of Ms. Gulenchyn’s two sons and a security guard in Oshawa, posted a frantic message on Facebook late Sunday afternoon after he was unable to reach the couple. They lived on the street where the first shootings took place.
Within hours, prayers turned to condolences on his feed, after he wrote that the couple’s home may have been burned down.
Ms. Gulenchyn had retired last year after a long career at Hillsdale Terraces, a long-term care home in Oshawa.
John Henry, regional chair and CEO for the Regional Municipality of Durham, said Ms. Gulenchyn’s presumed death hit close to home and sent his condolences to all families affected by the tragedy.
“We can never understand these senseless acts of violence,” Mr. Henry wrote in a statement. “But, we hope these communities can find comfort and support in the nation that stands behind them.”
It’s unknown when the couple moved further east, but the Gulenchyns are listed as having applied for a building permit in 2011 for a property in Portapique.
Ms. Gulenchyn’s Facebook profile stated she was “finally living the dream.”
A photo she posted to in January shows her and Frank dining at their favourite restaurant, Swiss Chalet, right before they took off for the Dominican Republic to celebrate a friend’s 60th birthday.
Jolene Oliver, Aaron Tuck and Emily Tuck
Aaron Tuck, 45, met Jolene Oliver 20 years ago when Mr. Tuck’s cousin, Shelly MacLean, set them up at a dinner at her Calgary home.
The two hit it off immediately, chatting as if they had picked up from a previous life.
“It was like they knew each other,” Ms. MacLean recalled. “They were inseparable from day one.”
Ms. Oliver, 40, was the youngest of three children, an avid reader of poetry and books. She laughed lots, said her sister, Tammy Oliver-McCurdie, and enjoyed the beauty in life.
Mr. Tuck, originally from Nova Scotia, had been in Calgary for about a year, seeing if there might be a better life for him there. When he decided to move back east, Ms. Oliver didn’t skip a beat in quitting her job to go with him.
They moved into a house in Portapique left to Mr. Tuck by his late father. They had a daughter and named her Emily.
Ms. Oliver in the hospitality industry. Mr. Tuck worked as a mechanic. Emily, 17 this year, took an interest in welding and fixing vehicles, like her dad.
Mr. Tuck’s uncle, Scott Dean, gifted Emily with a fiddle from his mother and said she had enjoyed playing it ever since.
The family had been making the most of their quarantine together during the COVID-19 pandemic, posting a video on Facebook on April 6 in which they urged everyone to – as Nova Scotia’s Premier Stephen McNeil put it – “Stay the blazes home!”
As blues rock played in the background, Mr. Tuck raised a beer can and Ms. Oliver lifted her wine glass to exhort everyone to do their part.
“Have a good time with your family – this is what it’s all about,” Mr. Tuck said. “We’ll never get this chance again.”
Joey Webber, 37, grew up on his family’s homestead near Wyses Corner. He and his father worked together as loggers, hauling lumber out of the surrounding woods by horse.
Mr. Webber had gone out for furnace oil on Sunday morning, long-time friend Darren Bezanson said.
“Joey was a great man, one of the kindest people I had the pleasure of knowing,” Kelsey Henley said in a Facebook comment. “He will be so greatly missed.”
Mr. Webber enjoyed being with his family and spending time at the local racetrack. A talented stock-car racer, he won Rookie of the Year at the 2003 Scotia Speedworld Awards.
A GoFundMe page organized by the family said that Mr. Webber leaves his father, three daughters and his partner, Shanda MacLeod.
“We’re all materialistic, but Joey wasn’t. He was always happy with what he had,” Mr. Bezanson said. “That’s the way everybody should be.”
Joy and Peter Bond
Joy and Peter Bond met at a sardine plant in Back Bay, New Brunswick, where she was working at the plant and where he – a truck driver – was doing deliveries.
It was a love story they told hundreds of times, but one their son Harry never tired of hearing.
Even after 40-plus years of marriage, Harry said, his parents did everything together. Every errand. Every grocery trip.
They’d moved to Portapique from Chester, N.S. – where they raised Harry and his brother Cory – after they retired, just over a decade ago. It was a beautiful spot, Harry said. You couldn’t quite see the water through the trees, but you could smell the saltwater. They missed family, though, and had been mulling the idea of moving back to the Chester area to be closer to their grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Because of COVID-19, Harry had not seen his parents much in recent weeks. But he did drive up about two weeks ago with his wife to drop off groceries – a final visit he’s now grateful for.
“The one good thing from this situation would be that they died together,” Harry said, after receiving the devastating confirmation that his parents were victims of the mass shooting. “I wouldn’t want it any other way, because they were stuck together like glue, like two 17-year-olds. They always have been.”
With reports from Michelle Allan, Michelle Carbert, Tom Cardoso, Alex Cyr, Janice Dickson, Mike Hager, Andrea Woo