‘Terrible tragedy’: Canada rocked by mass killing of Sri Lankan family

The victims of a rare Ottawa mass killing included four children and two adults. A 19-year-old acquaintance was arrested.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has condemned the mass killing of an Ottawa family that had recently moved from Sri Lanka, calling it an act of “terrible violence”.

Trudeau’s comments on Thursday came in the hours after a family and their acquaintance were killed in an apparent late-night stabbing in the Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven.

The victims include a 35-year-old woman and her four children, ages seven, four, two and two months. A 40-year-old family friend was also killed.

The attack has resonated across Canada, which, unlike its southern neighbour the United States, rarely sees mass casualty attacks. There were just 14 murders in Ottawa, a city of one million, in 2023. The year prior, the tally was only 15.

“Obviously, our first reactions are all ones of shock and horror at this terrible violence,” Trudeau told reporters.

“We’re expecting that the community reaches out to support family and friends, as Canadians always do. And we expect the police of jurisdiction to be doing the work and keeping us all informed of this terrible tragedy.”

An Ottawa Police Service officer stands near a door smeared in blood in Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven in Ontario, Canada [Blair Gable/Reuters]

The motive for the killing was not immediately clear, although police said 19-year-old Febrio De-Zoysa, a student from Sri Lanka, has been arrested and charged with six counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

Police said De-Zoysa was an acquaintance staying with the family but had no previous contact with law enforcement.

‘Senseless act’

Ottawa police chief Eric Stubbs said, during a televised news conference, that the family was found inside a house after authorities responded to an emergency call shortly before 11pm local time Wednesday (02:00 GMT Thursday).

The husband of the 35-year-old mother killed in the attack was injured but survived and was taken to a hospital in stable condition. De-Zoysa was arrested at the scene.

Stubbs said an “edged weapon” was used in the killings.

“This was a senseless act of violence perpetrated on purely innocent people,” he said.

On social media, Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe called the attack “one of the most shocking incidents of violence in our city’s history”.

Mass killings are relatively infrequent in Canada, which has a population of just over 38 million. However, 2022 saw two prominent attacks. In December of that year, a man shot five people in a Toronto suburb before being fatally shot by police.

Several months prior, in September, a man also stabbed and killed 11 people in the western province of Saskatchewan. He died of a cocaine overdose shortly after being arrested.

The rate of such attacks is far lower than in the US, which has a population of 331 million. In 2023, there were 42 mass killings, defined as incidents in which four or more victims are killed, according to Northeastern University’s mass killing database.

The number was the second highest in the US since 2006, the year when the database began tracking mass killings. In 2019, there were 46 attacks, accounting for 234 victims killed.

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