A few weeks ago, Lisa McCully took to social media to comfort loved ones living near and far in other parts of the country—folks stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Here’s a little goodnight song to all our friends and family, we miss you.” McCully said cheerfully while holding a ukulele in a video from her kitchen on a Monday evening, her two young children sitting on either side of her.
The 49-year-old school teacher then began to play and sing a heartwarming rendition of Eddie Vedder’s “You Belong to Me.” Her children sang along. All three then wished their viewers goodnight, smiling at the camera.
McCully was one of the 22 victims of the horrific shooting rampage over the weekend that has devastated northern Nova Scotia—a region known beyond its borders for the cheerfulness, kindness and openness of its people, even in the most difficult times.
As a group, they are a cross-section of the Atlantic province’s neighbourly, service-minded society: a police officer, nurses, caregivers, a teacher, business owners and trades workers. Some provided vital services during the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure the safety of their communities, braving unprecedented times that shook their small worlds. Many in their last few days did their best to keep up the spirits of their fellow Maritimers, working in essential services or taking to social media to provide assurance.
McCully, a proud educator who grew up in Quispamsis, N.B., posted regularly about how much she missed her students since school was suspended due to COVID-19. And determined to not let her 82-year-old father celebrate his birthday alone in Quispamsis, she called up friends and family and organized a car-parade past his home.
“Lisa was just a vibrant, vivacious person,” her friend, Bonnie Williams, told local CBC. “She just had a positive energy. She was always smiling.”
On Facebook—where many have grieved because bans on public gatherings have made it difficult to hold memorials— McCully’s sister, Jenny Keirstead, wrote: “This is so hard to write but many of you will want to know. Our hearts are broken today as we attempt to accept the loss of my sister.”
In the days after the tragedy, portraits of who the victims were and the lives they led began to emerge, as the RCMP continues to investigate 16 different crime scenes along Nova Scotia’s central artery, from Portapique to Wentworth to Enfield.
Here are some remembrances of them, and the lives they led.
Constable Heidi Stevenson
Heidi Stevenson’s death was the first announced by the RCMP after the killings. She was a mother of two children, aged 10 and 13, and a 23-year veteran of the force. There are witness accounts suggesting she deliberately rammed the killer’s fake police car in an attempt to stop him before he shot her to death.
“Two children have lost their mother, and a husband has lost his wife,” the commanding officer for the RCMP in Nova Scotia, Lee Bergerman, told reporters. “Parents have lost their daughter, and countless others lost an incredible friend and colleague.”
A photo of Constable Stevenson released by police that has since circulated online shows her walking hand-in-hand with several children, beaming from ear to ear in her red serge, during an RCMP promotion for crosswalk and school-zone safety in 2015. Stevenson is remembered for her contagious smile, and as someone who embraced life and helping others.
“She was just spectacular,” retired RCMP Sgt. Jerry Mayo told the Chronicle Herald. “Phenomenal with kids, with the elderly. Probably one of the best I’ve ever worked with.”
She leaves behind her two children and her husband, Dean Stevenson, who teaches at a Halifax high school. The RCMP has set up a condolences page for Heidi on their website.
O’Brien was a 55-year-old licensed practical nurse who had worked with the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) for 17 years. She leaves behind her husband of 35-years, Andrew O’Brien, six children and two step-children.
In an emotional post, her daughter, Darcy Dobson, took to Facebook on Sunday to share the news of her mother’s death. “A monster murdered my mother today,” Dobson wrote. “At 9:59 am she sent her last text message to our family group chat. By 10:15 she was gone. She drove down the same street in the same town she drives through every single day.”
Dobson remembered her mother as beautiful and kind, and wrote that she loved being a nurse. O’Brien’s eyes sparkled when she spoke of her 12 grandchildren, Dobson wrote, and Christmas was her favourite holiday. “This will not be Heather O’Brien’s defining moment,” she wrote.
O’Brien’s obituary noted that it was “an understatement” to say she loved her job. “Heather was a natural-born healer. We have lost an incredible woman, with a heart of gold, but we know that she’s smiling watching us.”
Jolene Oliver, Aaron Tuck and Emily Tuck
In a video posted last month, 17-year-old Emily Tuck played “In Memory of Herbie MacLeod” on the fiddle from her home, where she was isolated with her family due to COVID-19. “There’s some fiddle for ya,” she said playfully at the end of the two-minute tune as she grinned at the camera.
The video was posted on a Nova Scotia Kitchen Party Facebook group that was created to keep spirits up during the pandemic. Tuck’s family made other posts in recent days, including a video that showed her father, Aaron Tuck, and mother, Jolene Oliver, encouraging people to “stay the blazes home,” using the much-repeated directive of Nova Scotia’s premier, Stephen McNeil.
“Have a good time with your family, this is what it’s all about,” Aaron said in the video, as blues-rock played in the background. “We’d never get this chance again.”
The family of three were among the victims of Saturday’s tragedy. Oliver’s sister, Tammy Oliver-McCurdie, shared the heartbreaking news in a Facebook post. “At least they were together.”
Along with O’Brien, Beaton worked as a nurse for the VON. The young mother posted a selfie on Friday showing her wearing a protective mask and glasses in a plea for people to stay home and support frontline health-care workers.
Her husband, Nick Beaton, said his wife went door-to-door to clients’ homes daily with VON. She died on her way to her favourite client’s house, he told CTV. In a Facebook post, he called for more support and access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for frontline health-care workers, as lack of access caused his wife daily grief. Nick has also said that Kristen was in the early stages of pregnancy when she was killed.
“Every morning before she went to work she would cry, and every night she’d come home and she’d have to strip on the doorstep and go and shower before she could hold her son Daxton,” Beaton told CTV. “It killed her inside to not be able to just get out of the car and grab him.”
Many of Beaton’s friends and family publicly mourned her loss, and took to social media to share their condolences for her husband and young child.
“Kristen’s name may go down in history because of how she died but, believe me, the way she lived is so much more amazing,” one friend wrote. “While we were all staying home wondering what to get on our weekly grocery run, or what to watch on Netflix during this COVID-19 lockdown, she was out there every day, literally, putting her life in harm’s way by her continued work for the Victorian Order of Nurses.”
Sean McLeod and Alanna Jenkins
Sean McLeod, 44, and Alanna Jenkins, 36, were both correctional officers. McLeod worked at Springhill Institution, while Jenkins worked at the Nova Institute for Women.
The pair’s house in West Wentworth was one of those burnt down by the killer during Saturday’s rampage. Speaking to the Chronicle Herald, Alanna’s father, Dan Jenkins, said the couple had a perfect relationship and loved each other very much.
“The only thing I really want people to know about Alanna and Sean is how well-loved they were. They had their family of corrections officers. The family from their hometowns. They were so appreciated and loved. That’s all I can say, they were wonderful people,” Dan told the Halifax paper.
McLeod grew up in Truro, N.S. He leaves behind a 23-year-old daughter, Taylor Andrews. In several social media posts, Andrews said the couple was welcoming and generous, and their house was always full during the summer. “My home is gone, the place where so many of us gathered to have a good time and never felt unwelcome,” Andrews wrote in a Facebook post. “My heart is broken and I just don’t understand.”
Tom Bagley, 70, died while trying to save McLeod and Jenkins. His daughter, Charlene Bagley, wrote that her father “died trying to help, which if you knew him, you knew that was just who he was all the time.” A retired firefighter, Bagley had reportedly been rushing to McLeod and Jenkins’s burning home when he encountered the killer and was gunned down.
Bagley grew up in Norton, N.B. He was a navy veteran and a father of three. His nephew, Jeff Flanagan, took to social media to honour his uncle, remembering his kindness, caring nature and incredible storytelling skills.
“Tom will be greatly missed by anyone that had the privilege of knowing him,” Flanagan wrote.
Joey Webber was running an errand for his family on Sunday morning when he failed to return, according to a GoFundMe page set up to help his partner, Shonda MacLeod, and his two young daughters.
The 37-year-old also leaves behind a teenage daughter. Webber was one of many affected by the downturn of the forest industry in Nova Scotia, having lost his job after the shutdown of a pulp mill in the area. He had just begun working again on April 17, according to his family.
His neighbour, Coun. Steve Streatch, told the National Post that Webber “had a good outlook. He always had a big smile, and a lot of times that’s hard to find in people.”
“Often in the morning I would drive by to council and I’d see him at the bus stop with his children,” Streatch told the paper. “He always waved and had a big smile on this face.”
Greg and Jamie Blair
Greg Blair, 45, and Jamie Blair, 40, lived in Portapique, where the killer’s spree began. The pair were raising four children.
“I have never known a love as strong and pure as Jamie and Greg’s,” Jamie’s aunt, Victoria Lomond, wrote on Facebook. “It would be hard to determine who loved the other more, although I am sure Greg would have an answer for that.”
Lomond wrote that Jamie enjoyed fishing, cooking, off-roading, being outdoors, hunting and being with her family. “She made raising a family of four look easy,” she wrote. “Her four boys were the absolute centre of Jamie’s world.”
“The last moments of her life were spent protecting the littlest two from unspeakable harm,” Lomond wrote.
John Zahl and Elizabeth Joanne Thomas
John Zahl and Elizabeth Joanne Thomas lived in a home along Portapique Beach Road, and were neighbours of the killer, Gabriel Wortman. A GoFundMe page to support the family says the pair had adopted two sons, Justin and Riley Zahl.
Zahl and Thomas previously lived in Albuquerque, N.M., for 20 years before moving to Canada. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Zahl was a retired FedEx employee, while Thomas worked at the University of New Mexico. The couple later settled down in Canada, where Thomas is from.
They were married in 1985, a family friend told the paper, after meeting and falling in love in Nova Scotia. Zahl also served in the U.S. Navy as a Russian translator.
Lillian Hyslop enjoyed taking walks regularly on the roads of Wentworth Valley. She moved to Nova Scotia with her husband in recent years, after he retired from working at the Yukon government.
She was on one of her habitual Sunday morning walks, friends have told local media, when she was killed.
Friends of Hyslop have said she was always friendly and cheerful, and she and her husband volunteered regularly in their community, helping set up dinners at the local recreation centre.
Dawn and Frank Gulenchyn
Dawn and Frank Gulenchyn had called Ontario home for many years before retiring to Nova Scotia. Dawn worked at Hillsdale Terraces long-term care home in Oshawa for decades, and retired in 2019.
A friend of the couple told CBC that they looked forward to moving out east, and spending their retirement years together in the picturesque Atlantic province. Her husband moved a year early to set-up their home in Nova Scotia.
“She worked so hard to be able to have the home that they wanted for their retirement. And now that they’re together… this would happen,” Spatzie Dublin told CBC.
Gina Goulet was a denturist in Shubenacadie for almost 30 years, and owned her own clinic in the area.
She is also a two-time cancer survivor, her daughter Amelia Butler told the Chronicle Herald. In her spare time, Goulet enjoyed bass fishing and salsa dancing, which she’d taken up as a hobby in recent years. She also enjoyed vacationing in Cuba.
“She was my best friend,” Butler, 27, told the paper. “I would go fishing with her, she would come biking with me. I would go help her at her home. We did a lot together.”
Corrie Ellison, 42, was a social worker and lived in Truro, N.S. He and his brother Clinton were visiting their father in Portapique over the weekend when they heard gunshots outside and noticed a glow in the sky from nearby. Corrie ventured outside to see what was going on and find out if anyone needed help, Clinton told CBC; his brother followed and found Corrie’s body by the side of the road.
Corrie Ellison’s family remembers him as kind, and as someone who is always willing to lend a helping hand.
“He’s the type of person that I don’t think anybody would want to see that happen to him,” his father, Richard Ellison, told Canadian Press.
Friends like Jeffrey Langille took to social media to offer up their condolences. “Miss the carefree times of our childhood fun times,” Langille wrote. “Never thought it would end this way for you bud. Rip.”
Joy and Peter Bond
The couple were the latest to be identified as victims of Saturday’s tragic rampage. Deanna Gionet, a cousin of Peter Bond, wrote on Facebook that the couple lived on Portapique Beach Road.
“I will never understand heartless inhumane acts like this,” Gionet said.
Another family member, Dean Collicutt, wrote: “I will always remember the love and good times. I just can’t believe it’s real. Rest In Peace aunt Joy and uncle Peter.”