‘I was shocked,’ says landlord after mother, 4 kids and friend killed at Ottawa home

The Barrhaven father who came home to find his family massacred, told community members he has "compassion" for the man accused of the crime, noting the suspect is just 19.

By Anja Karadeglija, Stephanie Taylor and Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

The landlord of an Ottawa townhouse that was the site of a gruesome mass killing says he had no idea others were living at the home — including the 19-year-old international student who is facing six charges of first-degree murder. 

Harpreet Chhabra spoke to The Canadian Press from Mexico the day after learning that six people were found dead inside the home Wednesday night. 

“I was shocked,” he said in an interview Friday.

Chhabra said he got the call from police on Thursday at around 9 a.m., while at the airport dropping off his bags en route to his family vacation. 

As he listened, he said he was in disbelief. 

“This can’t be true,” Chhabra recalled himself thinking.  

“A young family, six people murdered on my property … my heart goes out to them.”

Among the dead were 35-year-old Darshani Ekanayake and her four children, the youngest of them only two-and-a-half months old. 

The sole survivor of the attack was her husband and the kids’ father, who was taken to hospital with serious but not life-threatening injures. 

Chhabra said the family had been leasing from him since last June or July and described the father as “a great tenant.”

He said he didn’t know the couple had a new baby, nor that others were also living in the house. 

Gamini Amarakoon Amarakoon Mudiyanselage, a 40-year-old man, was also found dead at the scene. Police described him as a family friend who had recently arrived from Sri Lanka and was living with the family. 

On Thursday, police charged Febrio De-Zoysa, an international student who last attended Algonquin College, with six counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. Police said he is the only suspect.

The victims and the accused were all Sri Lankan nationals, authorities say. 

No motive has been assigned to the attack. 

But Sri Lanka’s consulate general in Toronto issued a warning to parents in a Facebook post Friday afternoon “to pay more attention to their children during their transition and integration into the new societal and psychological environment in foreign countries.” 

The surviving family’s father, identified in court documents as Dhanushka Wickramasinghe, is trying to secure visas for some of his family members to come to Canada, the Sri Lankan High Commission says. 

Lashinka Dammullage, a minister counsellor at the country’s mission in Ottawa, said consular officials are working to help the family get visas for his father and brother and that the Canadian government has agreed to expedite the documents. 

She said the high commission has helped organize a GoFundMe crowd-funding effort to support the surviving father.

They are waiting for the victims’ bodies to be released to begin assisting with any plans for funerals, including having them repatriated to Sri Lanka.

“It’s shocking news,” she said. 

The commission also confirmed another vigil for the slain family will be held at a small park near their home in the south-end Barrhaven neighbourhood on Saturday.

Neighbours and community members gathered there Thursday evening as they absorbed the news.

They brought flowers and teddy bears and lit candles, asking what could have led someone to kill four children, among them a baby.

The kids were identified as a seven-year-old son, Inuka Wickramasinghe, and three daughters: Ashwini, 4; Ranyana, 3 and Kelly, two-and-a-half months, who was born in Canada. 

“We know there are a lot of questions about why this tragedy occurred. This is the focus of our homicide unit as they diligently investigate this tragic crime,” Ottawa police Chief Eric Stubbs said Thursday.

Those at the vigil were full of the same questions. 

Therika Ekanayake, who is also from Sri Lanka, said she showed up to the vigil to pay respect to the family. Ekanayake, who is not related to the victim and did not know the family, said the community is shaken. 

Roshan Fernando said the Sri Lankan community is a peaceful one. “It’s a big shock for everybody,” he said. 

“Hopefully justice will be served for the family.”

Ruth Jacobs, who lives nearby and is a minister, came out to see if she could be of any comfort to her neighbours. “I just feel really, really sad,” she said. “I wonder who could do this to children.”

Ginette, who declined to give her last name, said her granddaughter went to the same school and played with the seven-year-old victim at recess. 

“It’s a useless, senseless crime. Why?” she said. “I can’t wrap my head around it.” 

“All day, I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain this to her, that the little boy is not going to be at recess anymore.”

Christine Bellini said she’s lived in the area for 35 years. “I never thought this little community would experience such a tragedy,” she said.

Bellini predicted the community would rally around the father. 

“I can’t imagine what this poor man is going to do or what he’s going to go through.”

Bhante Suneetha, a resident monk at the Hilda Jayewardenaramaya Buddhist Monastery, said Thursday he knew the family well and had visited the father in hospital.

The father told Suneetha he arrived home from his evening cleaning job Wednesday night to be attacked as he entered the house.

“He’s in shock, great shock,” Suneetha said.

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