A person leaves flowers at a make-shift memorial dedicated to Constable Heidi Stevenson at RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Monday, April 20, 2020. Investigators say a killer’s use of a mock police cruiser and an RCMP uniform almost identical to the real thing helped him escape detection as he travelled between 16 crime scenes in a rampage that has left at least 19 dead in Nova Scotia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Riley Smith

Mourners struggle to grieve Nova Scotia mass-murder victims during pandemic

The death toll for the shootings has risen to 23

The death toll from a massacre that stretched across rural Nova Scotia last weekend rose to 23 Tuesday as families grappled with the heart-wrenching question of how to mourn during a pandemic that is forcing people to stay apart.

Tammy Oliver-McCurdie, whose sister Jolene Oliver, brother-in-law Aaron Tuck and niece Emily Tuck were among the dead, was struggling with how to plan funerals. The victims have loved ones in both Nova Scotia and Alberta, where the sisters grew up, and the pandemic makes travel difficult.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with this whole COVID thing. It’s just so, so much,” an emotional Oliver-McCurdie said from Red Deer Monday. “I know she’s got people who love her here and people who love her there.”

Justin Zahl in Halifax was still searching for answers about his parents’ fate days after seeing images of their Portapique, N.S., home’s burnt remains, all while separated from his younger brother who’s in Albuquerque, N.M. He has no relatives in the province, and the Canada-U.S. border closure is keeping the brothers apart.

“I don’t know how I’m going to get my sibling up here,” Zahl said in an interview.

Premier Stephen McNeil called the rampage that began Saturday night in the quiet community of Portapique and ended at a gas station in Enfield on Sunday “one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history.”

READ MORE: Death toll in Nova Scotia shootings rises to 23

But officials reminded Nova Scotians that the community would have to mourn together from a distance to stop the coronavirus from spreading, as cases and deaths from the illness also climbed.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, acknowledged at his daily news COVID-19 news conference Monday that it would be “hard for people to hear” reminders about the need for physical distancing in the aftermath of the killings.

“COVID-19 is not going to pause because of our pain — we cannot let our guard down,” Strang said.

Simon Sherry, a professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said while social and ritualized aspects of grief are important, they represent only one part of coping with death and dying.

“At an individual level, people can still make meaning and reach acceptance, even amid a pandemic and the heavy weight of a mass shooting,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

On Monday night, people across Nova Scotia were asked to express their grief by stepping outside at 8:30 p.m. to light a candle or shine some kind of light.

Others have displayed solidarity by posting photos of sunsets across the province. Toronto-based singing group Choir! Choir! Choir! announced a Facebook live performance of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ scheduled for Thursday. A virtual vigil is planned for Friday evening, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would attend.

Sherry said that kind of new ritual can be an important gesture of solidarity.

“When your community, when your province is suffering through grief like this, it’s important to emphasize a connection to community …. It’s important to refocus on community.”

A memorial with flowers and tributes sprung up outside the RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth this week to honour Const. Heidi Stevenson, who was killed in the line of duty.

But Stevenson’s funeral will look different from those held for slain officers at other points in Canadian history — like the regimental funeral for Fredericton police constables Robb Costello and Sara Burns in August 2018 that was attended by hundreds of police officers and first responders from across the continent.

“It’s going to require some out-of-the-box thinking. I really don’t know where they’re even going to begin,” said Brian Sauve, president of the union representing RCMP officers.

He said such events are always uniquely tragic and challenging, but there are possibilities available during the pandemic, such as livestreaming and inviting guests to park along roadways.

“There are ways in today’s day and age to honour the fallen,” he said. “It’s just in a different format.”

READ MORE: A look at some of the lives lost in Nova Scotia mass shooting

Quentrel Provo, an anti-violence and gun control activist who founded Stop the Violence, Spread the Love in Halifax, led a virtual candlelight vigil Monday night, opening with a prayer, a moment of silence and a reading of victims’ names during a livestream on Facebook.

Provo said it was emotionally tough to lead the event, which he set up to offer some hope as Nova Scotians feel overwhelmed by the pandemic and the violence of the weekend.

“A lot of tears have been shed. I know myself, I’ve cried a lot in the last few days,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“If we’re hurting, it’s unimaginable the pain the families are going through right now, but we’re trying to come together and be strong and show them support during this time.”

Provo said he plans to pay tribute to the victims by lighting a candle each night for the next 20 days, and he said people should continue to support each other and the families into the future.

Sherry said people should be careful not to suppress their grief during the pandemic — and it’s important to recognize that people will deal with grief in their own way.

“There is no one, particular timeline or course that someone needs to follow as they move through grief, loss and trauma,” he said.

— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Mass shootingsNova ScotiaRCMP

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: Langford man battling cancer honored with hot rod, motorcycle procession

Friends and family support Patrick O’Hara on his 73rd birthday

Langford Fire calm mother and daughter after being trapped in elevator

Three-year-old girl given stuffed animal to calm nerves

Langford businesses can expand onto sidewalks, public spaces

Council passes new bylaw supporting business expansion

Capital Regional District prepares to reopen regional campgrounds

Camping will look different at Island View, Sooke Potholes, Jordan River sites

‘Seven baths in two days’: Homeless adjusting to life in hotels

Victoria passes motion to allow camping 24-7 in parks until June 25

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

POLL: Do you agree with the provincial government’s decision to increase the minimum wage?

B.C.’s lowest-paid workers will be getting a few more dollars to try… Continue reading

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

As SD84 schools look to reopen, Kyuquot and Zeballos opt out

Schools in Tahsis and Gold River will open on June 1, with 30 per cent students expected to come in

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

Most Read