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In the 36 years she knew him, Gerry Christensen was a dedicated family man who never raised a hand in anger.

When Janet Christensen, his sister-in-law, heard he had apparently killed his wife and teenaged daughter before committing suicide, her mind immediately turned to his long battle with depression.

"He wasn't a violent guy at all. He was a very compassionate guy. He'd just been struggling with depression for a while now and depression can do that," she said in an interview yesterday.

After receiving a 911 call around 6 a.m. Monday -- which Ms. Christensen believes the father of four placed himself -- RCMP officers raced to his tidy grey bungalow outside the hamlet of Mallaig, about 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

They found three bodies: that of Mr. Christensen, his wife Yvette and their youngest child, 19-year-old Heather.

Autopsies were conducted yesterday, but police are waiting until today to release the results.

The apparent double-murder-suicide has shocked the tightly knit community and devastated Mr. Christensen's large family, especially his surviving three children, who are in their 20s and live in Edmonton, Ms. Christensen said. Heather had just graduated from Grade 12 and planned to continue her studies.

Ms. Christensen's husband Henry last saw his brother on Saturday, when Gerry, a 55-year-old mechanic by trade, was looking for some equipment for his beekeeping business.

"He was doing some of his work that he needed to do with beekeeping, you know, the things that had to be done."

His mood, she said, was "not anything unusual from what he had been over the last little while." In the past six months, he had descended into an "intense" depression and his brothers, who also keep bees, were helping him out.

"Depression is like any other illness -- you're very tired. You don't have energy, so a lot of the physical stuff they [his brothers]did and kept him informed," said Ms. Christensen, who is a nurse.

Gerry, who she said didn't drink or smoke, had suffered from depression "off and on" for the past decade and had sought treatment in Edmonton. Ms. Christensen said his illness was "difficult" for Yvette, his wife of 28 years and a secretary at the local school, and added she did not know whether he had been taking his medication recently.

Mental-health experts say depression manifests itself in different ways, and one in 10 Canadians will experience it at some point.

"It wears a different face, I think, for every person it affects," said Peter Portlock, associate executive director for the Alberta division of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Mr. Portlock said events such as this one are "certainly rare," and added it is a myth that mentally ill people are more violent than other people.

"Incidents like this do represent an extreme in what may happen in some people who are experiencing depression," he said.

While exactly what drives depressed people to violence is unknown, he said they are likely consumed by a deep sense of despair.

"There is probably some reason to suspect that people who act in this way are overwhelmed by a sense of complete and utter hopelessness and that nothing can be corrected to the point where life can be supported."