Three days after the worst mass murder in this city's modern history, Cyndi Duong's friends and family struggle to understand why a bubbly, church-going, hockey mom is now dead.
"She was self-sacrificing, she was joyful, she had a great smile, she was welcoming, she was sharp, witty and keen," said Kevin Gartly, a long-time family friend who was at Ms. Duong's home on Thursday. "I have so many great memories in the house behind us."
Ms. Duong's body was found on Monday evening, hours after a man identified by neighbours as 53-year-old Phu Lam is suspected to have killed seven people in his home in north Edmonton. The next morning, Mr. Phu was found dead of apparent suicide in a Vietnamese restaurant in nearby Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.
As a bio-hazard crew continued to clean the home on a quiet cul-de-sac, Mr. Gartly tried to cope with the loss. A former pastor at Ms. Duong's church, he volunteered his time with her in the community. He spent part of New Year's Eve with the surviving members of the 37-year-old's family, including her husband, David Luu, and three children.
Across town, a slow trickle of friends and family brought flowers and stuffed animals to the snowy yard in front of Mr. Phu's home. Along with the five adults found dead inside were two children, an eight-year-old boy and a 14-month-old girl.
On Thursday evening, a woman wept alongside her young son while standing in front of the house. She said she was the ex-wife of a victim and had only learned of his death earlier in the day.
Neither Mr. Phu's identity nor those of the other seven unnamed victims of Monday's mass murder have yet to be confirmed.
According to police, Mr. Phu had a criminal record that stretched back to 1987 and patrol officers had visited his Edmonton home twice in recent years. The man's friends describe him as having been depressed and on medication. Neighbours remember a father with two young children who lived in a troubled house where loud fighting frequently erupted in plain view of the neighbourhood.
In the days before the killings, Mr. Phu had been agitated, according to some neighbours. The man was in bankruptcy proceedings and his failing finances were weighing heavily on him, according to the daughter of his ex-wife.
Edmonton police have not held a press conference on the murders since Tuesday evening, when Chief Rod Knecht laid out what was then known about a case that spanned three crime scenes and two jurisdictions. "It appears to be an extreme case of domestic violence gone awry," the chief said, calling the killings "planned and deliberate."
Seven people were killed at Mr. Phu's home on Monday afternoon. Hours later, according to police, a suspect entered Ms. Duong's home at 6:52 p.m. MT and used a 9-millimetre handgun to kill her. The murder took place in a "family setting," police said. However, whether Ms. Doung's husband or her children were in the same room as her at the time of her death is unknown. After a standoff with police, Mr. Phu's body was found hours later in the VN Express restaurant in Fort Saskatchewan. Investigators have ruled out a link to gangs or drugs in the murders.
While police have been able to match the vehicle of the man found dead in Fort Saskatchewan with Ms. Duong's murder, investigators have so far not revealed what connection existed between the man and Ms. Duong.
The small congregation at Edmonton's Vietnamese Alliance Church held a small service on New Year's Day for Ms. Duong. All were still in shock over her murder. Pastor Thanh Trung Le said he doesn't understand why someone would kill Ms. Duong, a woman whose marriage he officiated and whom he considered his daughter.
"They were kids to me. I married them after they grew up. These are like my kids," said the pastor, who has led the congregation for 28 years.
The pastor says he broke down on hearing the news and says he still can't understand what happened.
"I don't know for sure, but I feel she was a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, a by-product of something – collateral damage. It's still under investigation so we don't know," he said. "In the days to come, we'll put more of the pieces together."
Police sources have told Edmonton media that Ms. Duong may not have been the killer's intended target.
Mr. Phu's ex-wife, Chau Tran, told The Globe and Mail that she had never heard of Ms. Duong. Members of Ms. Duong's congregation say they have never heard of Mr. Phu.
The two lived at opposite ends of Edmonton's sprawl and seemed to live very different lives. Mr. Phu spoke little English and didn't interact with his neighbours. He was often a maintenance worker at the VN Express restaurant in Fort Saskatchewan. Ms. Duong was an employee at Enbridge – a large energy company – and was well-known in her neighbourhood. She also left a long trail of friends who have come forward to memorialize her.
Patricia Coombs left a message online about her former co-worker. "We had a fire drill one day and Cyndi didn't have a coat warm enough so we wrapped her up in the Emergency Warden vest to keep her warm. She was so tiny it nearly wrapped around her twice! Oh how we will miss her entertaining laughter and quick wit."
The minor hockey association in southwest Edmonton has called for a moment of silence before games this weekend. Ms. Doung was frequently seen around the area's arenas, bringing her three children to games and practices.
Ms. Duong's parents arrived from Vietnam on Wednesday night. Her church is planning a private service for Sunday.