TRURO, N.S. — The victims in Canada's worst mass shooting included an RCMP officer, a teacher, health-care workers, retirees, neighbours of the shooter and two correctional officers killed in their home.
Here is a look at the 22 lives lost on April 18-19, 2020:
Elizabeth Joanne Thomas and John Zahl
Thomas and Zahl died in Portapique, N.S., where their home was among those set on fire by the gunman. During the inquiry it was revealed they bought their home from a woman who had warned police about the killer's spousal violence in 2013. Thomas was in her late 50s and was known as Joanne to friends and family. She was from Winnipeg and fell in love with Nova Scotia on a trip during her teenage years, her son Justin Zahl said. After raising two boys in Albuquerque, N.M., Thomas and her husband retired to their dream home in Portapique in January 2017. Originally from Minnesota, John Zahl, in his late 60s, was a U.S. Navy veteran who served as a Russian linguist. He worked for FedEx before retiring and later working as an educational assistant with special needs students. Thomas threw herself into volunteering with her local church. She and her husband worked on charity projects providing food and laundry service for the homeless. Her son described her as a "living, walking angel.''
Peter and Joy Bond
The retired couple died inside their home in Portapique. A death notice in the Halifax Chronicle Herald said Peter Bond, 74, would be remembered "for his sense of humour and his stories of the past" while his wife Joy, 70, would be remembered "for being the life of the party, her beautiful smile, her contagious laugh and her ability to always keep it together for everyone." Peter was a retired independent truck driver who, according to the couple’s two sons, “could drive just about anything on wheels” and saw driving his 18-wheeler as his “therapy.” Her family says Joy was always “there when you needed something” and was well known for her baking and cooking. She also enjoyed crocheting blankets and dishcloths for friends and family.
The inquiry was told Campbell, 65, was killed while out for a morning stroll in Wentworth Valley, N.S. on the morning of April 19. A death notice placed by her family described her as "a true adventurer'' who "lived, worked, and explored Canada from sea to sea to shining sea.'' It said she was "courageous, generous, determined, quick-witted and gave the best hugs.'' Campbell had one child and retired with her husband Michael Hyslop to Nova Scotia from Whitehorse in 2014, embracing her new home, garden and neighbours "with her usual vitality.''
Dawn and Frank Gulenchyn
The couple were killed on the first night of the rampage in Portapique, and their home was set on fire. They had been together in Portapique since the summer of 2019, after Frank spent a decade meticulously renovating the retirement home while Dawn continued in her job as a dietary aid in an Oshawa, Ont., care home, awaiting eligibility for her pension. She was remembered as honest and conscientious and was described by a co-worker as a “beam of sunshine” who treated the care home’s residents as if they were her own family and friends. The couple had lived in the Durham region in southern Ontario for more than two decades before moving to Nova Scotia.
The inquiry was told that Webber, 36, was on a family errand on the morning of April 19 when he was killed after stopping his vehicle to try to help at an intersection near Shubenacadie, N.S., where RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson had died in a confrontation with the gunman. He was described by friends and family as a “country boy through and through,” who loved working in the woods as part of his father’s forestry business. Webber was also an avid stock car racer who competed in the hobby class of the sport. Neighbour Steve Streatch said Webber “always had a good outlook. He always had a big smile, and a lot of times that's hard to find in people." Webber’s fourth daughter was born on Christmas Day 2020, eight months after his death.
The inquiry was told Bagley, 70, was on his morning walk on April 19 when he was killed as he approached the burning home of neighbours Sean McLeod and Alanna Jenkins, in Wentworth, N.S. He’s described by his daughter Charlene as a “man who wore many hats.” He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy at 17 and served for 10 years on various ships, including Canada’s last aircraft carrier, HMCS Bonaventure. Bagley moved on to a 31-year career as a crash rescue firefighter at the Halifax International Airport. His daughter says he loved fishing, hunting, skidooing, driving his ATV and going for rides on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and was a lifetime member of the Harley owners group. She says he was an “earnest storyteller” who could keep people captivated “until the very end.”
Ellison, 42, of Truro, N.S., was visiting his father in Portapique when he was killed. The inquiry was told he was one of four victims discovered by the RCMP tactical team. His family remembers him as a “thoughtful, kind friend who went out of his way to help others,” while friend Ashley Fennell described him as "a beautiful soul.'' Legally blind, Ellison connected deeply with music, his family says, and one of his favourite bands was Metallica. An avid fisherman and outdoorsman, Ellison liked archery, shooting sports and NFL football and was a fan of the New England Patriots and their longtime quarterback Tom Brady.
Jolene Oliver, Aaron Tuck and Emily Tuck
The family members were neighbours of the gunman and were killed in their Portapique home. The inquiry was told by a friend of Aaron Tuck that they had discussed reporting the killer’s replica RCMP cruiser to Crime Stoppers but that Tuck said he couldn’t, because the perpetrator had threatened him. Tuck was 45 and Oliver was 39. Their daughter, Emily, was 17. The family spent their early years in Calgary before moving to Nova Scotia. Oliver's family said she loved working as a waitress, which she did for most of her life. She was described as having an “infectious laugh” and was an avid bird watcher. Emily developed a passion for playing the fiddle and had plans to continue her education but couldn't decide whether to pursue art or welding, her aunt said. Tuck was described as an accomplished mechanic who had a lifelong love for restoring older cars. He was also known to spend time making gifts for people, including beautiful leatherwork.
Sean McLeod and Alanna Jenkins
The inquiry heard that police believe the Wentworth couple were killed in their home early on April 19. Both were correctional officers who were acquainted with the killer. Jenkins, 37, worked at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro and McLeod, 44, worked at the Springhill Institution for more than 20 years. "They would have done anything for anybody, and they always made sure people were welcome in their home," said McLeod's daughter, Taylor. Jenkins was described as “honest and outspoken” by her family, who added that “you always knew where you stood with her, whether you liked it or wanted to hear what she had to say.” McLeod is described as the first to lend a hand to someone in need. He liked hunting and fishing and loved cooking, baking and football.
Greg and Jamie Blair
The inquiry was told the couple were killed at their home in Portapique. They ran a firm that provided service, sales and installation of natural gas and propane units in the area where the shootings happened. They had two small children, and Greg Blair, 45, also had two older sons from an earlier relationship. Judy MacBurnie said her nephew was a "wonderful person who was always laughing and was the funniest person you ever met ....You couldn't be around him too long, because your face and belly hurt so bad from laughing.'' Alec Gratto, the younger brother of Jamie Blair, said his 40-year-old sister was born and raised in Masstown, N.S., and married Greg in 2014. He said his sister loved the outdoors and the beach.
O'Brien, 55, was a licensed practical nurse and had worked with the Victorian Order of Nurse for nearly 17 years. The inquiry was told she was on her day off when she was killed in her parked vehicle while talking on the phone to a co-worker near Debert, N.S., on April 19. She was described by her family as “kind, intelligent and witty.” She loved horses and learned to play guitar at a young age, with the ability to “pick up a song almost instantly.” Her family says O’Brien considered the nurses she worked with her “second family.” Active in her community, she loved to play cribbage and to spend time with her 12 grandchildren on weekends. Her family said they would like her to be remembered for the life she lived and not the way she died. “She is defined by her caring and kind spirit, the way she always rooted for the underdog and how beautifully she swept through this life,” her family said.
Goulet, 54, died at her home in Shubenacadie, N.S., on April 19. The inquiry was told that the final victim of the rampage knew the gunman through their shared profession as denturists and that he once asked her to work for him. Her family said Goulet beat cancer in 2016 and again in January 2020 but never let it define her life. She was described as a “vibrant, dynamic woman and proud mother,” who will be remembered for her “kindness, generosity and ability to light up a room.” Goulet was a denturist for 27 years and was an avid angler who would often retreat to her cottage with her two dogs to go bass fishing. Goulet was also a salsa dancer who would travel to Cuba whenever she had the chance.
Beaton, who worked for the Victorian Order of Nurses for nearly six years, had been travelling between communities to provide care for clients when she was killed in her vehicle while parked near Debert, N.S., on April 19. She was pregnant with her second child. Her husband Nick Beaton says she cared so much for others, she sometimes forgot to take care of herself. Beaton says he and their nearly two-year-old son, Daxton, were the greatest beneficiaries of the 33-year-old's nurturing nature. "She loved her son more than I've seen anyone love anything ever,'' he said. She similarly doted on her clients as a continuing care assistant with the VON.
The inquiry heard that McCully, 49, was among the first killed as she walked to the edge of her property in Portapique on the night of April 18. She was a teacher at the elementary school in Debert and the mother of two children. She also taught Sunday school. A death notice in the Halifax Chronicle Herald described McCully as a gifted teacher. "Lisa was always teaching and constantly had creative pursuits on the go, whether it was baking bread, harvesting mushrooms or playing music,'' it said. "To know Lisa was to know life in full colour.'' Friends described her as someone who was there on “the good and bad days.”
Const. Heidi Stevenson
Stevenson, 48, was racing to support another officer when she encountered the gunman near a highway interchange. The inquiry was told Stevenson's cruiser was rammed by the gunman's replica RCMP vehicle on the morning of April 19, near Shubenacadie, N.S., and she died following an exchange of gunfire. Investigators also said it was plausible that a wound later found on the upper right side of the killer's head was caused by bullet fragments from Stevenson’s weapon. "Heidi answered the call of duty and lost her life while protecting those she served,'' Nova Scotia RCMP assistant commissioner Lee Bergerman said. A 23-year veteran of the federal police force, Stevenson was a mother of two. She graduated from Acadia University in 1993 and took on a number of roles with the force, including community policing, communications, drug recognition expert and representing the RCMP as part of the Musical Ride.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.
The Canadian Press