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Victims of Ottawa mass stabbing threw birthday party for alleged killer just days ago

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Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

Published Thursday, March 7, 2024 7:02PM EST

Last Updated Thursday, March 7, 2024 9:19PM EST

OTTAWA – A family slain in a stabbing rampage at an Ottawa home late Wednesday threw a birthday party for the alleged suspect just days ago, says a religious leader who knew them.

The father who survived the attack in which his wife and four children were killed was in “great shock” on Thursday, said Bhante Suneetha.

The resident monk at Hilda Jayewardenaramaya Buddhist Monastery, which the family attended, said he visited his friend at the hospital.

The father told Suneetha that nothing seemed “wrong” in the lead-up to the attack in which a student living with the family is accused, the monk said.

“They (even) helped him to celebrate,” he told The Canadian Press in an interview. “They organized a celebration of his 19th birthday last week, a few days ago.”

Police were called to the scene of a suburban home in the Barrhaven neighbourhood Wednesday night, where they discovered the bodies of a mother, her four young children and a family friend in the aftermath of a vicious attack.

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, two-and-a-half months. A family friend, Amarakoonmubiayansela Ge Gemini Amarakoon, was also killed.

The father, identified in court documents as Dhanushka Wickramasinghe, suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries.

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

The victims and suspect are all Sri Lankan nationals, according to police. The baby was born in Canada.

The father told Suneetha that there had been no issues between the family and De-Zoysa before the attack.

De-Zoysa had moved into their basement a month or two ago as he pursued his studies in Ottawa. The father had even met the suspect’s parents in Sri Lanka, Suneetha recounted.

But it seemed not all was well with De-Zoysa.

He was having problems at school and recently dropped out, Suneetha said the father told him. He was also having thoughts of suicide.

Febrio De-Zoysa

A spokesperson for Algonquin College confirmed that De-Zoysa had been a student there and his last semester of attendance had been in winter 2023.

The college’s president, Claude Brule, said in a statement that the college is mourning “along with our community after learning the devastating news.”

The resident monk said that as the father tells it, he came home from a cleaning job late Wednesday night when the alleged attack occurred.

The father resisted and asked if his family had been hurt.

“The murderer said, ‘No, I didn’t do anything (to) them.’ And he released him and went to the kids, and they’re gone.”

Suneetha said the father had part of two fingers cut off, and 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.

Ottawa police Chief Eric Stubbs said on Thursday afternoon that police responded to calls that a man – whom he later identified as the father – was yelling for help outside the house.

He was taken to hospital in stable condition, police said.

The monk said he got to know the family because they had been attending his monastery regularly since arriving in Canada after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their seven-year-old son had even begun religious classes there just last week.

Suneetha said the family came to Canada with so many “dreams and plans.”

He knew them as kind and helpful people who were enthusiastic participants at community events.

While he didn’t know De-Zoysa, Suneetha said he believes many people have not been faring well since the pandemic, and international students in particular have been suffering.

He said the monestary recently gathered a group of Sri Lankan students to offer spiritual support.

“They are in a great stress and anxiety and (they are) homesick when they come,” he said. “We have to address that.”

Suneetha said he’s been getting calls from members of his community from across the country, expressing their shock and sadness.

“This is the first time that we (had) this kind of incident in our community,” he said.

Police said Thursday they were working to understand what motivated the killings.

“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,” Stubbs said.

“I want to emphasize this was a senseless act of violence perpetrated on purely innocent people. I know our whole community is shocked in mourning this event.”

De-Zoysa appeared in court briefly on Thursday and was ordered not to speak with the surviving father and a handful of other witnesses. The matter was adjourned until next week so he can get a lawyer.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, support is available 24/7 by calling or texting 988, Canada’s national suicide prevention helpline.

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

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