News

Published March 10, 2024

Father left to pick up the pieces after entire family killed in mass stabbing

By Nojoud Al Mallees

Dhanushka Wickramasinghe thought his days of living alone in Ottawa were behind him.

His home in the suburb of Barrhaven would be quiet when he got back from work a bit shy of 11 p.m., but the happy tumult of a house full of kids would surely resume in the morning.

It wasn’t always this way: Wickramasinghe had spent several lonely years alone in Canada, working to establish himself, his family still back home in Sri Lanka.

Last summer came the happy reunion with his wife Darshani Ekanyake, a teacher, and their three young children. Months later, more joy — a baby girl named Kelly.

But on Wednesday, a waking nightmare was unfolding on the other side of Wickramasinghe’s front door.

“He’s in shock, great shock,” said Bhante Suneetha, a resident monk at the family’s local temple who would later learn the details at Wickramasinghe’s hospital bedside.

As he wrestled with his assailant, Wickramasinghe felt the sting of a knife or other edged weapon — police would later call it a “knife-like object” — slashing across his face.

He was stabbed in the chest and in the back. At least one of his fingers was lopped off. Blood was everywhere.

Inside, his entire family was already dead.

“That murderer hit him and you know, stab him,” Suneetha said. “But the father tried to manage him and hold him.”

Wickramasinghe demanded to know from his attacker if his family had been hurt. The answer of "no" was a lie. Also lying dead was Gamini Amarakoon Mudiyanselage a family friend.

Wickramasinghe ran back outside — screaming, bleeding, inconsolable. Neighbours summoned the police, who arrived minutes later and subdued the attacker.

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.

Febrio De-Zoysa, a 19-year-old international student who was staying with the family, now faces six counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

De-Zoysa, also a Sri Lankan national, had moved into the family’s basement in recent months. Earlier this month, they all celebrated his birthday together.

Wickramasinghe had even met the suspect’s parents in Sri Lanka, Suneetha recounted.

But all was not well with De-Zoysa, who had dropped out of school and was also having thoughts of suicide, Suneetha said.

A spokesperson for Algonquin College confirmed that De-Zoysa had been a student there, last attending in the winter 2023 semester.

In an interview with Global News, the suspect’s aunt, Anusha, said the family had been “so nice to him.”

“I’m still shaking,” she said. “They were such a wonderful family.”

De-Zoysa arrived in Canada two years ago, she told Global. He lived with his aunt during his first month in the country, then later met Wickramasinghe at Algonquin.

Then suddenly, he seemed to break off all contact with his relatives, blocking their phone numbers and social media accounts, she said.

The landlord of the Ottawa townhouse where the family lived said he had no idea anyone other than the couple and their kids were living at the home.

Harpreet Chhabra was checking his bags at the airport Thursday morning, en route to a family vacation in Mexico, when police called with the news.

“This can’t be true,” he thought to himself. “A young family, six people murdered on my property ... my heart goes out to them.”

In the aftermath of the attack, Ottawa’s Sri Lankan community has rallied behind Wickramasinghe, described by many as a kind and helpful man.

His brother and father will soon arrive from Sri Lanka to help in his emotional recovery — a harrowing road made smoother by the outpouring of public support.

De-Zoysa is scheduled to be back in court on March 13.

Banner image: Flowers sit at the scene of a homicide where six people were found dead in the Barrhaven suburb of Ottawa on March 7, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

 This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2024.

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