Grief, pleas for compassion at funeral for Sri Lankan family slain in Ottawa

Ottawans mourn together at a funeral for the six victims of the Barrhaven mass murder. From the other side of the world, the widow & children of Gamini Amarakoon, sent emotional goodbye messages to their departed father.

By Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — More than a hundred mourners offered tearful prayers and calls for solidarity and compassion on Sunday at the funeral for a Sri Lankan family slain in one of the worst mass killing’s in Ottawa’s history. 

Dozens gathered at the Infinity Convention Centre for a multi-faith service to remember the six people, including four children, who were found dead on March 6 inside a townhouse in Ottawa’s south-end Barrhaven suburb.

Ajahn Viradhammo, a Buddhist monk who spoke at the funeral, asked those grieving around the world to focus on supporting each other instead of leaning into despair or anger.

“We in the Ottawa area are in the eye of this storm, but we recognize that its impact is felt all over the world,” he said.

“It is in these dark moments that we must derive strength from compassion and wisdom that lie at the heart of faith. We come together bound by our shared humanity and our unwavering commitment to compassion.”

The victims included 35-year-old Darshani Ekanayake and her four children, who ranged in age from two months to seven years old, as well as a family friend.

Her husband and the kids’ father, Dhanushka Wickramasinghe, was taken to hospital with injuries to his hands and face.

Wickramasinghe was seen crying at the ceremony, his hands clasped in prayer with one finger bandaged. He was surrounded by family members, including a man sobbing into a handkerchief.

Funeral organizers said on Friday that he has requested privacy to mourn the loss of his family, but is thankful for the outpouring of public support since his relatives died.

Five coffins sat at the front of the room, including three smaller white ones and two larger wooden caskets, one of which had framed photos of both Ekanayake and her baby.

The ceremony included audio recordings from the wife and daughter of Gamini Amarakoon Amarakoon Mudiyanselage, the family friend who was also killed. His loved ones in Sri Lanka were unable to travel to Canada for the funeral.

“The memories we collected together we will always be in our hearts and I’m sure it will help us to live the rest of our life,” said Mudiyanselage’s wife Dishani Asangika Fernando said on the recording. 

“You were there (in Canada) hoping to give a good future to our kids, but all of our dreams just faded in a way that we never thought of.”

One of Mudiyanselage’s daughters, Aheri, thanked her deceased father for being an “amazing dad” and sang a song in the recording, which brought many to tears.

The service included a Buddhist ritual as well as reflections from preachers from various religions, who prayed for surviving relatives to have strength. A Catholic priest asked for healing for the families and the community, while a Muslim representative spoke of working together to prevent violence.

“We are here to offer our support, our love and our unwavering solidarity as you navigate this truly dark and difficult journey,” said Al Hafil Arshad Auff.

Dignitaries from multiple levels of government urged unity in comments during and after the funeral. A short, written statement attributed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed condolences and hope that community support will ease the pain relatives face.

“We have to continue to put our arms around these two families,” Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe told reporters. “They will have so many difficult days ahead of them and so many challenges.”

The Wickramasinghe family members were Sri Lankan newcomers to Canada, and the youngest was born in this country.

Shiroma Wijesekera said she didn’t know the family, but wanted to show her support after hearing about the attack, which she described as unbearable.

“Everyday I think of them, I see the pictures; all I can see is the little faces,” Wijesekera said after the funeral. She noticed many from her native Sri Lanka living in Ottawa showed up, regardless of their faith.

“As one community, as a Sri Lankan, everybody’s opened their hearts and hands to help support them any way we can,” she said.

Wijesekera said she’s praying that Mudiyanselage watches over his surviving wife and children, and that Wickramasinghe will have courage to continue living without his family.

Police arrested a 19-year-old Sri Lankan man on the evening of the attack and charged him with six counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

Police said Febrio De-Zoysa was an international student who had been living with the family at the time of their deaths. 

De-Zoysa’s lawyer, Ewan Lyttle, said his client is being held in protective custody and his family is “obviously very upset” about the allegations.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2024.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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