Published March 8, 2024

'Big smile and compassionate': Survivor of Ottawa attack feeling community support

A child places flowers on a park table where flowers and teddy bears had been placed during a vigil for the six people killed on March 7 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

By Anja Karadeglija, Stephanie Taylor and Nojoud Al Mallees

Tears welled up in the eyes of the sole survivor of a mass killing as he contemplated life without his wife and kids — as well as the plight of the man now charged in their deaths, a family friend said Friday.

Naradha Kodituwakku of the Buddhist Congress of Canada was among several people who visited Dhanushka Wickramasinghe in the hospital to comfort him as he recovered from his injuries.

Wickramasinghe underwent surgery to repair serious but non life-threatening damage to his hands and face, injuries sustained in a struggle late Wednesday with the attacker who allegedly killed his family.

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, including at a vigil scheduled for Saturday.

"'I can see that the people are with me,'" Kodituwakku quoted his friend as saying during his visit.

"He did have tears in his eyes, but (at) the same time he did mention that, you know, (the suspect's) only a young kid ... so there was compassion."

That showed "the kind of person that he is," Kodituwakku said. "Big smile and compassionate."

"He's strong," Kodituwakku added. "But he's shaken."

Febrio De-Zoysa, a 19-year-old international student who attended Algonquin College and recently moved in with the family, faces six counts of first-degree murder and one charge of attempted murder.

Details about the suspect were slowly trickling out Friday.

YouTube confirmed the name of De-Zoysa's account on the platform and said it has been removed. Other social media accounts with the same handle have also been scrubbed off the internet.

Archived posts from early in the COVID-19 pandemic show a user with that handle sharing videos of himself playing video games such as Minecraft, and expressing appreciation for the YouTuber known as Mr. Beast.

The victims and the accused were all Sri Lankan nationals, authorities say. No motive has been assigned to the attack.

The Sri Lankan community is devastated and struggling to deal with such a "monstrous" tragedy, Kodituwakku said.

"We always think that nothing like this would happen ... and then it hit us hard."

The community is doing its best to rally on behalf of the victims and their families, including through a GoFundMe campaign launched Thursday.

The funeral expenses alone are likely to be hefty, given the cost of potentially repatriating the bodies to Sri Lanka.

"It's not only one person," Kodituwakku said. "It's six people."

The dead included 35-year-old Darshani Ekanayake and her four children, the youngest only two-and-a-half months old.

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

He had a wife and two kids and only arrived in Canada about two months ago in hopes of a better life, said Kodituwakku: "The kids want to see their father."

Lashinka Dammullage, a minister counsellor at the country's mission in Ottawa, said they are waiting for the authorities to release bodies before assisting with funeral preparations.

"It's shocking news," Dammullage 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 spoke to The Canadian Press from Mexico the day after learning what had transpired inside the house.

"I was shocked," Chhabra said in an interview Friday. He said police called Thursday morning while he was at the airport, preparing to board a flight to begin his family vacation.

"This can't be true," Chhabra recalled himself thinking as police related the details. "A young family, six people murdered on my property ... my heart goes out to them."

Chhabra said the family had been leasing from him since last June or July and described the father as "a great tenant." He didn't know the family had a new baby, he added.

Sri Lanka's consulate general in Toronto issued a warning to parents Friday on Facebook "to pay more attention to their children during their transition and integration into the new societal and psychological environment in foreign countries."

Neighbours and community members gathered at a nearby park Thursday evening as they absorbed the news.

They brought flowers and teddy bears and lit candles, wondering among themselves what could have possessed someone to kill four children in cold blood, including 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.

Therika Ekanayake, who is also from Sri Lanka, said she showed up to the vigil to pay her respects 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, a minister who lives nearby, came out to see if she could be of any comfort to her neighbours. "I just feel really, really sad," Jacobs 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."

Banner image: A child places flowers on a park table where flowers and teddy bears had been placed during a vigil for the six people killed on March 7 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2024.

— With files from Mickey Djuric in Ottawa

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