Two weeks before she was killed in a Canadian Forces Snowbirds crash in B.C. Sunday, Capt. Jennifer Casey was part of a flyover to honour the lives of 22 people killed in the Nova Scotia mass shooting.
Now, the Halifax community and the province — still reeling from a string of recent tragedies — is grieving the death of the 35-year-old, a former journalist and public affairs officer for the Snowbirds.
“She had a sharp wit, sharp kindness. Intuitive insights. Really a journalist’s journalist, who could always get to the bottom of a story,” said Richard Zurawski, who previously worked with Casey at NEWS 95.7.
“I struggle to think of a time that she didn’t make the day better just by meeting her. She was just such a beautiful person in all aspects,” said Zurawski, a Halifax regional councillor.
From B.C. to Nova Scotia, tributes and kind words are pouring in from friends and colleagues who remember Casey as a tenacious reporter, a kind-hearted person and a diehard Montreal Canadiens fan, who had a “smile that could light up the whole room.”
Tim Durkin, who worked with her at Quinte Broadcasting in Belleville, Ont., said they became close friends shortly after she joined the station in 2013.
“East Coast people are the best people on the planet,” he said. “She was up for adventure, up for learning, and up for talking about anything.”
“Even if you only met her a couple of times you built a bond, because it was so easy to do with Jennifer.”
Originally from Halifax, Casey completed a master of interdisciplinary studies at Royal Roads University in 2019 and held a bachelor of journalism from the University of King’s College and a bachelor of arts in political science and comparative world religions from Dalhousie University.
She spent years working as a producer and reporter at radio stations Halifax and in Belleville and built remarkable friendships with journalists across the country who said she was a “focused storyteller.”
“When she came up to the radio station I knew within minutes that she was a gem and that there was something special about her,” said Sean Kelly, the director of programming at Quinte Broadcasting, who hired Casey when she moved from the East Coast.
“She connected with the community right away,” he said.
“Just a great talent and gone far too young.”
Lars Hagberg, a freelance photographer for The Canadian Press, described a 2017 assignment he did with Casey where he got to fly in a Hercules C130 on Remembrance Day in Toronto.
“She sat behind the pilots with a big smile on her face,” Hagberg said. “I spent a great deal of the flight with my head in a garbage bag since my stomach couldn’t handle all the crazy turns they did to kill time and unable to see the horizon.
“She made (the assignment) happen that day.”
Scott Simpson, who worked with Casey at NEWS 95.7 Halifax, said he was shocked and saddened by her death.
“Jenn was a delight to be around, solid in her work, and had such an infectiously upbeat and genuine way about her,” Simpson said in a Facebook post that’s been shared more than 200 times. “We could all see the pride she expressed in her work with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds.”
Ottawa city councillor Shawn Menard met Casey while at Carleton University and said she was a special person.
“(Casey) was such a kind hearted, smart and driven person,” Menard said on Twitter. “She was a very special person to a lot of people. I’m so sorry this has happened.”
Casey joined the Canadian Armed Forces in August 2014 as a direct entry officer before working as the public affairs officer at 8 Wing Trenton, then the CF-18 Demo Team, travelling North America and Britain with the NORAD 60 jet, according to a biography on the Royal Canadian Air Force’s website.
She became the public affairs officer for the Snowbirds squadron in November 2018.
“Canadians look at the Snowbirds as a source of joy and an exhibition of the incredible feats that our people in uniform are capable of,” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in the statement.
“Operation Inspiration was intended to lift the spirit of Canadians at this difficult time and the Snowbirds accomplished their mission. I know that all Canadians grieve this tragic loss.”
Casey died Sunday when the Tutor jet she was flying in crashed shortly after takeoff in Kamloops, B.C.
The Snowbirds – famous for their nine-plane formation – had been on a cross-Canada tour called Operation Inspiration to boost morale amid the COVID-19 pandemic and salute those working on the front lines.
Capt. Richard MacDougall, the pilot of the jet, was able to eject from the stricken aircraft and landed on the roof of a home. He suffered non-life-threatening injuries, the CF Snowbirds confirmed Sunday night.
The Canadian Forces confirmed to Global News on Monday that Casey was part of a flyover in Nova Scotia on May 3 to honour those killed in the April mass shooting.
Sarah Van Gilst, an Alberta airshow producer, worked with Casey for roughly three years and described her as a ray of “sunshine” in an interview with Global News.
“She was a really joyful person to be around,” Van Gilst said, holding back tears. “She was very efficient at her job and had a real passion for the industry.
“(Casey) kind of got what we always call the air show bug,” she said. “Once you get involved in this industry, it tends to grab hold of your heartstrings.”
Casey’s death is the latest blow for a province devastated by several tragedies in recent weeks, including a mass killing that left 22 people dead and the crash of a military helicopter in the Mediterranean Sea, killing six people — three of whom were from Nova Scotia.
“Your heart breaks also for Halifax and Nova Scotia,” Durkin said. “The shooting rampage and then losing another daughter like this. It’s an extremely difficult time.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his thoughts to Casey and MacDougall’s families, along with the entire Snowbirds team.
“For the past two weeks, the Snowbirds have been flying across the country to lift up Canadians during these difficult times,” Trudeau said in a statement. “Every day, they represent the very best of Canada and demonstrate excellence through incredible skill and dedication.”
Meanwhile, dozens of pilots are planning to fly over parts of British Columbia to commemorate Casey and pay tribute to the Snowbirds Monday evening.
“Let’s pick up where the Snowbirds left off in honour of Captain Jenn Casey in their mission to fly over Canada to lift the spirits of Canadians,” the B.C. General Aviation Association said in a statement.
-With a file from Global News’ Kaylen Small