Mother and four kids killed, father injured in gruesome attack at Ottawa home

A police officer and a member of the coroner’s office talk at the scene of a homicide where six people were found dead in the Barrhaven suburb of Ottawa on Thursday,

A police officer and a member of the coroner's office talk at the scene of a homicide where six people were found dead in the Barrhaven suburb of Ottawa on Thursday,
A police officer and a member of the coroner's office talk at the scene of a homicide where six people were found dead in the Barrhaven suburb of Ottawa on Thursday,
March 7, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

OTTAWA — Blood spattered the sidewalk Thursday outside a suburban Ottawa home where police recovered the bodies of a mother, her four young children and a family friend from the aftermath of a vicious and unexplained attack.

Febrio De-Zoysa, a 19-year-old international student who had been living with the family, was to appear in court Thursday. Police say he faces six charges of first-degree murder.

“This was a senseless act of violence perpetrated on purely innocent people,” said Ottawa police Chief Eric Stubbs, who said a knife or other edged weapon was used in the attack.

De-Zoysa, a Sri Lankan national, was in Canada as a student, police said. He also faces one count of attempted murder in connection with the family’s father, who survived the rampage.

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, a two-and-a-half-month-old baby.

Amarakoonmubiayansela Ge Gemini Amarakoon, 40, was also killed in the attack. He was also living with the family and had recently arrived from Sri Lanka, Stubbs said.

The chief said two emergency calls came in at 10:52 p.m. Wednesday describing a man in distress outside in his driveway, screaming for someone to call 911.

Stubbs later identified that man as the family’s husband and father, who is identified in court documents as Dhanushka Wickramasinghe.

He was injured and remains in hospital in serious condition, but his injuries are not life-threatening, authorities say.

Shanti Ramesh, who lives across the street from the family, said she heard a commotion late in the evening. From her balcony, she saw a man sitting in the driveway, yelling.

When police arrived they helped carry him away, though it did appear that he was able to walk on his own, Ramesh said.

The killings took place inside a townhome in Barrhaven, a fast-growing suburb about 20 kilometres south of Ottawa’s downtown core. The brick rowhouse sits on a relatively busy through street, which Thursday morning was crawling with police and onlookers, as well as parents and kids heading to one of the two elementary schools nearby.

A trail of blood droplets was still visible on the sidewalk in front of the row of brick townhomes Thursday afternoon. The door of the townhome immediately beside the victims’ residence was also smeared with blood.

A vigil has been set up in a nearby park but some residents, feeling the grief of the event, left bouquets of tulips on the front lawn of the townhouse.

Stubbs said the first officers on the scene identified and arrested the suspect very quickly, before entering the home to find the bodies of all six victims.

He said police are limited in the details they can provide to protect the integrity of the investigation.

“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.”

De-Zoysa is the only suspect in the case, Stubbs took pains to note.

Stubbs could not say how long the family or the accused had been in Ottawa, but that the baby was born in the city. Police had no interactions with any of the victims or the accused before Wednesday, he added.

Don Perera, who lives nearby, said he met the father at a Halloween party at the kids’ school last fall, and Ekanyake was pregnant at that time. He said they got to talking because he too is from Sri Lanka.

A spokesperson at the Sri Lanka high commission said they are in touch with family members of the deceased in the country’s capital of Colombo.

Police remained at the home throughout the night, and a heavy presence was in still in place as the neighbourhood began to wake up Thursday.

Multiple police cars and a coroner’s van were parked in the driveway, on the street and in neighbouring driveways Thursday morning. Forensic investigators in white jumpsuits moved in and out of the home.

Uniformed police officers held a white sheet to block the view of the door as the investigators carried the bodies out shortly after 9 a.m.

Neighbours walking their kids to school were horrified by the scene unfolding before them.

“This is unbelievable for the whole neighbourhood,” said Ahmed Saed, as he walked his 11-year-old son to school.

Katie McNelly, who lives a short drive away, said she considered keeping her kids home until the police made clear there was no ongoing threat. She said she is in disbelief that it happened.

“What could cause someone or people to do this, you know, annihilate six people that had their lives to lead,” she said. “I’ll definitely be hugging my family a bit tight tonight.”

Neighbours believe some of the family’s children attended a nearby Catholic school.

Sharlene Hunter, a spokesperson for the Ottawa Catholic School Board, said she had not been told if the children attended one of the board’s schools but said students and staff will be provided with any assistance or support they need.

“We at the Ottawa Catholic School Board want to express our deep sorrow for the tragic events that occurred in the Barrhaven community,” she said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected by this loss.”

Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe joined Stubbs for the afternoon news conference and said Barrhaven and Ottawa are safe and welcoming places.

“It’s hard to believe that something like this could happen there or anywhere else in our city,” Sutcliffe said.

Police said nobody can remember a murder involving this many victims in the city.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it a “terrible tragedy.”

“Our first reactions are all ones of shock and horror at this terrible violence,” he said in Toronto.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also offered his condolences.

“This morning’s news is heartbreaking,” he said on X. “My thoughts are with the family and friends of the six victims and the entire Ottawa community who is reeling from this terrible tragedy.”

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

— With files from Mickey Djuric.

Stephanie Taylor and Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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