Ottawa murders reverberate in Sri Lanka where families mourn mass killing victims

OTTAWA: Flowers sit at the scene of a homicide where six people were found dead in the Barrhaven suburb of Ottawa on March 7.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Just a few weeks ago, Gamini Amarakoon sent photos of his new home in the Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven to a friend back in Sri Lanka.

“He said he was settled,” said Mr. Amarakoon’s childhood friend, Rizvi Mohamed. “He said he was planning to come to Sri Lanka in about a month and apply for visas for his wife and children.”

Instead, the 40-year-old Mr. Amarakoon was killed last week, one of the victims in what Ottawa police are describing as the worst mass killing in the city’s history. Also killed in the attack were five members of the Wickramasinghe family, with whom Mr. Amarakoon was living in the townhome – a mother and her four children.

The shockwaves from last week’s attacks are reverberating in Sri Lanka, where all of the victims and the suspect who has since been charged had extensive family ties. Mr. Amarakoon, who had only recently arrived in Canada, was the sole breadwinner for his entire family back in Sri Lanka – including a wife, two children, as well as an elderly mother and sister, said Mr. Mohamed.

Mr. Amarakoon’s mother is partially paralyzed, said Mr. Mohamed, who visited with the elderly woman after learning about the killings. “We went with some food and things they’d need,” he said. “She is not well.”

Killed alongside Mr. Amarakoon last week were Darshani Dilanthika Ekanayake, 35, along with her four children: Inuka, 7; Ashwini, 4; Ranaya, 3; and two-month-old Kelly. The lone survivor of the attack, Dhanushka Wickramasinghe – Darshani’s husband and father of the children – was wounded.

Police have since arrested Febrio De-Zoysa, a 19-year-old who came to Canada from Sri Lanka as a student, and who had also moved in with the Wickramasinghe family, police said. He has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. His next court appearance is on Wednesday.

Mr. Amarakoon grew up in Bandarawela, a town in southern Sri Lanka, said Mr. Mohamed.

As an adult, Mr. Amarakoon worked at a telecommunications company in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. That’s where he met Dhanushka Wickramasinghe, who was working for the same company.

“He earned well. He lived a comfortable life,” Mr. Mohamed said of his friend. He also married and had two children – a two-year-old and an older child, both in Sri Lanka.

Despite all of this, Mr. Amarakoon spoke of wanting to go to Canada, and began planning his move a few years ago, said Mr. Mohamed.

He left his family behind, and came to Canada just a few months ago, said Naradha Kodituwakku, a family friend.

“The [Amarakoon] family,” said Mr. Kodituwakku, “had to sell some of their belongings” so that Mr. Amarakoon could come here.

In Canada, Mr. Amarakoon reunited with Mr. Wickramasinghe, and moved into the Barrhaven townhome his former colleague was then renting with his wife and four children.

Despite only being in Canada for a few months, Mr. Amarakoon quickly began working to build a new life here. He was an entrepreneur, and began a number of small businesses.

Raj Sidhu, an Ottawa-area realtor, first met Mr. Amarakoon when he showed up at his office one day, offering the services of a cleaning company he had started. Mr. Sidhu introduced Mr. Amarakoon to a few of his clients.

“He was a very hard-working person,” said Mr. Sidhu. “He was trying his best.”

Mr. Amarakoon also set up a business offering tire-swapping services, Mr. Sidhu said. He was also trying to set up a travel business, looking to provide vacation packages for Canadians booking visits to Sri Lanka.

Mr. Amarakoon frequently posted photos of his new life in Canada on the social media accounts of his businesses.

“Embrace the radiance of summer,” he wrote in one image, which looked to be of his Barrhaven neighbourhood. “The mesmerizing beauty of Canadian winter,” he wrote next to another photo, this one of a snow-covered field.

Mr. Mohamed said that he last spoke with his friend about three weeks ago. Then, Mr. Amarakoon spoke about his hopes for his family in Canada, he said.

“He said he was looking for a school for his child,” he said. “He was trying to take his wife and children to Canada.”

© The Globe and Mail

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