Published March 7, 2024

(UPDATE) Mother and four kids killed, father injured in gruesome attack at Ottawa home

A police officer and a member of the coroner's office talk at the scene of a homicide where six people were found dead in the Barrhaven suburb of Ottawa on Thursday, March 7, 2024.
Two adults, four children found dead in Ottawa-area home, police say

By Stephanie Taylor and Mia Rabson

Blood spattered the sidewalk Thursday outside a suburban Ottawa home where police recovered the bodies of a mother, her four young children and a family friend from the aftermath of a vicious and unexplained attack.

Febrio De-Zoysa, a 19-year-old international student faces six charges of first-degree murder in a case described by Ottawa police as possibly the worst mass killing the city has ever seen.

"This was a senseless act of violence perpetrated on purely innocent people," said Ottawa police Chief Eric Stubbs, who said a knife or other edged weapon was used in the attack.

De-Zoysa is also accused of attempted murder in connection with the family's father, who survived the rampage and remained in hospital with serious but not life-threatening injuries. 

The accused killer appeared in court briefly Thursday afternoon and mumbled his assent as the justice of the peace, Andrew Seymour, ordered him not to speak to the hospitalized father or to four other witnesses who provided statements to the police.

His case was adjourned until March 13 to give him time to find a lawyer. 

The dead include Darshani Ekanyake, 35, along with her seven-year-old son, Inuka Wickramasinghe, and her three daughters: Ashwini, 4; two-year-old Rinyana; and Kelly, a two-and-a-half-month-old baby, who was born in Canada.

Stubbs said they were new to the country. The Sri Lanka high commission confirmed the family are Sri Lankan nationals and it is in touch with their family members in the country's capital of Colombo.

Another Sri Lankan, Amarakoonmubiayansela Ge Gemini Amarakoon, 40, was also killed in the attack. Stubbs described him as a family friend who was also living in the townhouse and had recently arrived in Canada. 

Court documents identified the surviving father as Dhanushka Wickramasinghe.

Bhante Suneetha, a resident monk at the Hilda Jayewardenaramaya Buddhist Monastery, said he knew the family well as they had attended the monastery since arriving in Canada after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the student had lived in the family's basement for between one and two months.

Suneetha visited the father in hospital Thursday, who told him 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.

He said the father had part of two fingers cut off, but one has been repaired. He also suffered a slash across his face between his nose and his eye and stab wounds to the chest and back.

Stubbs said two emergency calls came in at 10:52 p.m. Wednesday describing a man in distress outside in his driveway, screaming for someone to call 911.

Stubbs later identified that man as the father.

Shanti Ramesh, who lives across the street from the family, said she heard a commotion late in the evening. From her balcony, she saw a man sitting in the driveway, yelling. 

When police arrived, they helped carry him away, though it did appear that he was able to walk on his own, Ramesh said. 

The killings took place inside a townhome in Barrhaven, a fast-growing suburb about 20 kilometres south of Ottawa's downtown core. 

The brick rowhouse sits on a relatively busy through street, which Thursday morning was crawling with police and onlookers, as well as parents and kids heading to one of the two elementary schools nearby.

A trail of blood droplets was still visible on the sidewalk in front of the row of brick townhomes Thursday afternoon. The door of the townhome immediately beside the victims' residence was also smeared with blood.

A vigil has been set up in a nearby park. Some residents feeling the grief of the event left bouquets of tulips on the front lawn of the townhouse.

Stubbs said the first officers on the scene identified and arrested the suspect very quickly, before entering the home to find the bodies of all six victims. 

He said police were limited in the details they could provide to protect the integrity of the investigation.

"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."

De-Zoysa is the only suspect in the case, Stubbs took pains to note. Police had no previous interactions with him.

Seven-year-old Inuka was in the second grade at Monsignor Paul Baxter School, about two blocks from the family home. Four-year-old Ashwini was in kindergarten there.

In a letter to parents Thursday, principal Vincenza Nicoletti confirmed the two had been among the school's pupils, promised counselling and crisis supports for the students in the coming days and offered heartfelt condolences to the family's loved ones.

"We cannot imagine the pain and sorrow they must be experiencing," the principal wrote.

Neighbours awoke Thursday to a heavy police presence in front of the home. Forensic investigators in white jumpsuits moved in and out of the front door. Shortly after 9 a.m., they carried the bodies to a waiting van while uniformed officers held a white sheet to block the view of the door.

Neighbours were horrified by the scene unfolding before them.

"This is unbelievable for the whole neighbourhood," said Ahmed Saed, as he walked his 11-year-old son to school Thursday morning.

Katie McNelly, who lives a short drive away, said she considered keeping her kids home until the police made clear there was no ongoing threat. She said she is in disbelief that it happened.

"What could cause someone or people to do this, you know, annihilate six people that had their lives to lead," she said. "I'll definitely be hugging my family a bit tight tonight."

By late afternoon, police were still going door to door looking for witnesses. At the supper hour, men in yellow vests were cleaning off the sidewalk.

Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe joined Stubbs for the afternoon news conference and said Barrhaven and Ottawa are safe and welcoming places. 

"It's hard to believe that something like this could happen there or anywhere else in our city," Sutcliffe said.

Banner image: A police officer and a member of the coroner's office talk at the scene of a homicide where six people were found dead in the Barrhaven suburb of Ottawa on Thursday, March 7, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2024.

— With files from Nojoud Al Mallees, Mickey Djuric and Laura Osman.

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