‘He wasn’t in his right mind:’ Shooting victim’s sister opens up about grieving, forgiveness

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WATCH: Lisa McCully's sister sat down with Global’s Ashley Field to talk about her older sibling, how the family is grieving her loss, and about forgiveness – May 1, 2020

Nearly two weeks after a gunman killed 22 innocent people, one of the victim’s family members is opening up about how she’s dealing with the loss.

Lisa McCully, a teacher at Debert Elementary School in Debert, N.S., was killed in her home community of Portapique, N.S. on the evening of April 18., at the age of 49.

Jenny Kierstead, McCully’s younger sister, describes her as a natural leader, who loved nature and life.

“She had so many adventures. She travelled, she had work that she loved as a teacher, and she had two children that she adored. She really savoured every moment,” said Kierstead.

READ MORE: ‘Lived life 200%’: Teacher killed in N.S. shooting remembered for her infectious personality

While two weeks have passed and she’s starting to feel OK, she says losing her older sister feels like “a stab wound.”

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“I’m feeling joy bubble up sometimes, spontaneously, but there is such a heaviness, and last night I just curled up in bed and wailed from my deepest depths for I don’t even know how long, so it’s exhausting,” says Kierstead.

“I wake up in the middle of the night and I’m just devastated by this new reality.”

Thankful to first responders

Not only is she grieving that her sister is gone, but that her niece and nephew have lost their mother.

“They’re struggling, as all of the children are who are affected by this tragedy,” she says.

“They’ll never be the same.”

On the night the deadly rampage began, Kierstead says the children were in their basement on the phone with 911 for hours.

“That dispatcher was the kids lifeline for two long hours, and they helped them through and they are safe and that is a blessing,” says Kierstead, adding she hopes to meet whoever was on the other end of the call that night.

“Our whole family has deep gratitude for everyone who was on the scene.”

Ability to forgive

Kierstead says while she notices anger bubbles up, she sees it as a distraction.

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“He’s gone, it doesn’t serve anyone to hold on to the anger, so we’re doing the hard work of grieving.”

An image of the last photo Lisa McCully sent her sister Jenny Kierstead on the night of April 18. Jenny recreated the photo (right) a week later.
An image of the last photo Lisa McCully sent her sister Jenny Kierstead on the night of April 18. Jenny recreated the photo (right) a week later. Jenny Kierstead/Facebook

When asked if she thinks she’ll be able to forgive:

“I think I already have, yeah. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t in his right mind. He had a psychotic episode or a split personality that will come out, we’re not exactly sure, but he wasn’t there,” says Kierstead.

“I do feel passionate about taking preventative measures and supporting humanity in seeking help if they do notice themselves becoming drastically mentally unstable. So I feel very passionate about what we can do as a collective to prevent this from happening again.”

Sharing her legacy

A makeshift memorial continues to grow at the elementary school in Debert, N.S. where McCully worked and in the Portapique, N.S. community where she lived. Kierstead says she still hasn’t been able to make the trip to see them.

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A man and his son pay repects at a memorial to Lisa McCully, a teacher at Debert Elementary School in Debert, N.S. on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

“At some point maybe next week I’ll venture out and take a look at them, but you know, there’s video compilations of her life and I can’t get through them, so yeah, it’s all still very raw,” she says.

READ MORE: Here’s what we know about the victims of the Nova Scotia mass shooting

She says the outpouring of support has been humbling, and it’s a reflection of who her sister was.

“I always thought she had celebrity status, she was just so vibrant and charismatic and she earned this,” says Kierstead.

Kierstead says she wants to share her sister’s life story, because it’s what McCully would have done.

“We lost our brother not three years ago to cancer, he died fairly quickly, and she just covered all the details she was absolutely remarkable, and I just thought, I’m going to do that for her,” says Kierstead.

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“So this is just one of the ways that I can share her legacy with the world and hopefully encourage other people to live as joyously and wholeheartedly as she did.”

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