About three weeks ago, Ottawa lost six members of its community to one of the worst mass killings in city history.

Darshani Dilanthika Ekanayake, her four children, Inuka, Ashwini, Rinyana and Kelly Wickramasinghe, and a family acquaintance Ge Gamini Amarakoon were the victims of a savage and inexplicable attack inside their Barrhaven home. All the children were under eight, the youngest two-and-a-half months old. The only survivor was the father of the family of four, Dhanushka Wickramasinghe. He is recovering from his wounds.

A 19 year old international student has been charged in connection with the killings.

The March 6 incident continues to shake Barrhaven residents and Ottawa’s broader community. 

In a way, the community’s horrified reaction to the Barrhaven killings shows how rare and shocking incidents such as these are in Ottawa. Data on murder rates in Ottawa backs this up.

For example, Ottawa ranks 20th on a list showing the rate of homicides per 100,000 population in Canadian cities between 2016 and 2022. 

Thunder Bay had the highest rate in 2022, reaching 12.05 murders per 100,000 population, followed by Winnipeg with 6.1 and Regina with 2.98. Ottawa stood at 1.32.

There were 15 murders in Canada’s capital in 2022 and 2023. There have been at least seven in 2024. 

Ameera Abdalla, a third-year university student studying Healthcare Analytics and Business Technology Management at the University of Ottawa, has lived in Barrhaven for six years and describes the suburb as peaceful and quiet. 

“I was kind of shocked initially because it was so surreal to have something like this happen in Barrhaven … and then of course, I became sad for the family.”

A murder hadn’t occurred in Barrhaven since 2021. In 2023, it was 46 of 112 on the list of Ottawa neighbourhoods with the most crime.

Abdalla is less concerned about her safety in Barrhaven, given how uncommon the incident is.  But she is worried about the recurring violence downtown on her way to school. 

“I'm a bit more, hyper-alert, because there's more danger downtown, there's always someone getting arrested at Tunney's Pasture, and that's alarming for me.”

The Barrhaven killings come as fears of violent crime have grown among Canadians. A report published in April 2023 found 68 per cent of Ontarians feel the level of crime and violence in their community has worsened since the pandemic. 

Irwin Waller, an emeritus professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, says the City of Ottawa’s underfunding of social services contributes to concerns of violent crime among citizens. 

“They should be worried that the city is not taking affordable and effective action to make things safer,” he said.

He compares the Barrhaven murders to a shooting that occurred this past summer at a wedding in Ottawa South, where two victims were shot dead killed. 

Waller says the Barrhaven and wedding homicides are both isolated incidents, but argues they could have been prevented through systemic changes.

​​ “These (crimes) are all preventable, but they're not preventable by policing. They're preventable by knowing how to tackle the risk factors.”  

The factors include poverty, drug addiction and mental health issues, said Waller. He believes residents should worry about the city not adequately addressing the prevalence of these factors. 

The Barrhaven murders understandably caused immense grief and sorrow among Ottawans. 

A funeral service held at Ottawa’s Infinity Convention Centre displayed a powerful expression of resilience in hardships. 

The funeral service of the Wickramasinghe family at the Infinity Convention Centre on March 17, 2024. Loved ones carry the caskets of the six victims from the March 6 attack. [Video @ Madonna Garang]

In this moment of collective mourning, the tragedy resonated — healing physical and spiritual scars but also leaving a reminder of mental scars that will linger forever. 

“This tragedy has shaken me and my family deeply,” said Dhanushka Wickramasinghe, the sole survivor, in a police-issued statement. “I am devastated and torn by the loss of my beloved wife Dharshini and my beautiful angels Inuka, Ranaya, Ashwini, and Kelly and my dear friend Gamini.”

During the service, Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe expressed his condolences and surprise for those affected by the family’s death. 

"It’s unimaginable that something like this happened in Barrhaven. I think of everything that’s been lost. All the contributions that these young kids would’ve made to our community and country." 

Sutcliffe also shared his gratitude to first responders.

“No amount of training could ever prepare a police officer, or a paramedic, for that kind of event. So our community is equally grateful to you,” he said. “The greatest pain of all, of course, is being felt by the families."  

The actions of the Ottawa Police Service have come under some scrutiny. Initially reported as a mass shooting, the Ottawa Police Service clarified that the attacks were carried out with a “wedged weapon” in a March 7 press conference.

Speakers seemed mindful of the residents’ growing fear of crime by emphasizing how safe Ottawa is.

“I want to emphasize that this was a senseless act of violence perpetrated on purely innocent people,” said Ottawa Police Chief Eric Stubbs in the media event. 

Stubbs and Sutcliffe both reiterated on March 7 that there was no on-going threat to public safety and that this was an isolated event. 

They explained how shocking it was that such a tragedy occurred in Barrhaven, a usually quiet neighbourhood. 

“Barrhaven is a wonderful and rapidly growing community filled with warm and welcoming families and neighbours,” said Sutcliffe. “So it’s hard to believe that anything like this could happen there, or anywhere else in our city.”