‘It’s surreal’: Nova Scotia marks 1st anniversary of deadly mass shooting

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marked the one-year anniversary of Canada’s deadliest mass shooting, telling the victims’ families: “you are not alone.” On April 18, 2020, a gunman dressed as an RCMP officer embarked on a 13-hour shooting rampage in Nova Scotia, killing 22 people at 16 separate crime scenes.

One year ago, Nova Scotia was filled with terror.

One year later, the province continues to heal as a small rural community remembers the 22 lives lost in the country’s deadliest rampage in history.

“We lost our family. People saw things that they’re never going to be able to unsee,” said Tara Long.

Long’s brother Aaron Tuck, his wife Jolene Oliver and their daughter Emily Tuck were among the victims killed by a lone gunman last April.

Read more: One year later: How the Nova Scotia mass shooting shook and changed a province forever

Long, along with the family members of other victims, marked the first anniversary of the tragedy with a peaceful march to the RCMP detachment in Bible Hill on Sunday afternoon.

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There, the families expressed their dismay with the Mounties’ response to the killings and the lack of information that’s been shared with the relatives.

“We are here in peace because violence is what caused us to lose our families. We want to make sure that everybody here is acknowledged, everyone here matters and a lot of us lost our family but a lot more of us lost our faith in our police force,” she said.

“We are not going away until we find out what happened to our family. You can’t grieve. How can you grieve if you don’t know what happened?”

Family members took turns speaking at the rally, each clutching a red rose to represent the victims. At the end of their speeches, they handed the roses to the RCMP officers.

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The RCMP’s commanding officer in Nova Scotia, Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman, issued a statement Sunday saying the police force would observe a moment of silence at 2 p.m. on Monday.

“The gunman’s actions were directed at innocent people, and no one has felt this more than the families of the victims. Their lives have changed in ways that most will never understand, and our hearts are with them during this difficult time,” the statement says.

Read more: RCMP radio system overwhelmed during search for Nova Scotia gunman: watchdog

Bergerman said more than 100 RCMP employees were part of the response last April, and hundreds more have been involved in the subsequent investigation.

“We understand people have questions and want to know as much as possible about the incidents,” Bergerman said, adding that a federal-provincial public inquiry will provide some answers.

“It is our hope that the Mass Casualty Commission will provide a full accounting of what happened for the families of the victims and the public.”

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotians honour victims of mass killing in Portapique marathon' Nova Scotians honour victims of mass killing in Portapique marathon
Nova Scotians honour victims of mass killing in Portapique marathon – Apr 18, 2021

Marathon to raise money for permanent memorial

Earlier in the day, another group gathered in the community of Portapique, to mark the anniversary with a run.

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“It feels like it was just yesterday, doesn’t it? Time goes by so fast,” said Bill MacEachern, as he readied himself to take part in a memorial marathon.

“Life feels so precious. We got to be like this, be together and support one another.”

The somber day began with the memorial run, which began in the Colchester County community of Portapique and wound its way to Victoria Park in Truro.

Click to play video: '‘You are not alone’: Trudeau marks 1st anniversary of Nova Scotia mass shooting' ‘You are not alone’: Trudeau marks 1st anniversary of Nova Scotia mass shooting
‘You are not alone’: Trudeau marks 1st anniversary of Nova Scotia mass shooting – Apr 18, 2021

Like so many others who decided to run or volunteer during Sunday’s event, MacEachern knows some of the victims of last April’s deadly shooting.

Greg and Jamie Blair were his friends.

“When we were just driving here thinking about how beautiful it is here, and that this could happen here. It’s just kind of so sad that such a tragic thing could happen,” he said.

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MacEachern says he’s always found running to be therapeutic — a sentiment echoed by other participants. Money raised from the event will go towards a permanent memorial for the victims.

“It’s surreal,” said Jillian Arany, who wrote the names of each victim, as well as Kristen Beaton’s unborn baby, on paper hearts and wore them on her back as she ran the marathon.

“It felt surreal that it happened and every time that I come through this way, it’s always hard.”

Read more: Mayor on impact of Nova Scotia mass shooting and how it ‘hits you’ again and again

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Scott and Mindy Miller knew several of the people killed during the shooter’s two-day terror spree and chose to volunteer at the event as a way to show their support.

“This is our community, so it just feels like we need to do something to pay it back to those who have lost their lives,” said Scott.

Moment of silence across the province

A memorial service was held in the afternoon at Truro’s First United Church and included a province-wide moment of silence as the ceremony began.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a recorded message that such a tragedy should never have happened in a community like Portapique — or anywhere in Canada.

“Even a year later I know there is no comfort for the anguish of having an adored parent or precious child torn away. I know there are no words for losing a beloved constable and teacher. For mourning respected nurses and corrections officers,” he said.

“So all I can say is this: you are not alone. All Canadians stand with you and grieve with you today and always.”

Jenny Kierstead, whose sister Lisa McCully was one of the victims, summed up the past year with a message of hope, but acknowledged those affected have been changed forever.

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“We have all suffered so much this year that it’s our intention to brings some light and beauty to our lives on this dark day,” she said.

“What we know is that a trauma such as the one we have endured can shatter a person’s life. I know it has mine.”

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia marks sombre anniversary of killing spree' Nova Scotia marks sombre anniversary of killing spree
Nova Scotia marks sombre anniversary of killing spree – Apr 18, 2021

— With files from Alexa MacLean, Graeme Benjamin and The Canadian Press

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