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Nova Scotia native brings towns together in vigil

Natasha Morrisey, who knew nine of the 22 people shot in rural Nova Scotia last weekend, arranged vigils in Black Diamond, Turner Valley and Millarville.

OKOTOKS — The sound of church bells rang through three Foothills communities on April 24 as emergency responders and members of the public gathered to mourn the victims of a mass shooting that took place in rural Nova Scotia April 18 and 19.

They were brought together by Black Diamond area resident Natasha Morrisey, who knew nine of the 22 people killed and three intended victims. Morrisey grew up in the rural Nova Scotia community of Debert, where two people were shot.

“I knew many of the victims through school, mutual friends and family,” she said. “We’re all connected because it’s just such a small area. From Debert to Portapique is like from Turner Valley to Sandy McNabb. You can drive from one area to the other and not even know you’ve left the first one. You just know everybody.”

Twenty-two people died, as well as an unborn child, when Gabriel Wortman went on a shooting spree and set fires in six rural Nova Scotia communities last weekend.

Among those killed were RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, two nurses, two corrections officers and a teacher.

Morrisey said she and her family are devastated by the tragedy.

“There were no words to say to some of these people,” she said. “One gentleman lost his sister who just lost his mom and dad last year. What do you say to somebody like that? One of my aunts found two of the victims – she was one of the first people on site.”

Although miles from home, Morrisey wanted to do her part to pay her respects after learning of an online movement started by a support group back home.

“They were wanting to reach out to different churches to see if they could get the country to come together and honour the gone by ringing their bells,” she said. “Even though I’m 3,500 miles from home I want them to know it’s not out of sight, out of mind. There’s a large maritime population in the valley.”

Morrisey arranged vigils at the St. George's Anglican Church in Turner Valley, St. Michael's Church in Black Diamond and Christ Church Anglican in Millarville, where church bells tolled 23 times, signifying each life taken, including the unborn baby.

Firefighters, peace officers, RCMP officers and EMS attended in Turner Valley and firefighters and a peace officer attended in Black Diamond, said Morrisey.

“Although there were 23 lives that were lost, there were so many lives impacted by this,” she said. “The fire brigades down there are so small they would have known a lot of the victims. The impact that this has had on them - I can only imagine they’ll be dealing with this for the rest of their lives.”

Following the ringing bells was two minutes of silence, a bagpiping performance and prayers from local reverends.

“It was something that came together quickly and everybody was just so eager to participate and show their support,” Morrisey said, adding she put details about the vigils on social media. “I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who came out. It was pretty incredible to see the towns come together in that way.”

Among those in attendance was Turner Valley peace officer Todd O’Leary, who grew up in Windsor, Nova Scotia.

While O’Leary didn’t know anyone involved in last weekend’s mass shooting, the incident hit him hard.

As an auxiliary constable with the Turner Valley RCMP, a peace officer with Alberta Health Services, a former correctional officer and having a close connection to local firefighters, O’Leary said he feels as if he’s lost some of his own.

“It’s just a tragedy that never needed to happen,” he said. “I talked to people from back home and they knew some of these people. My heart goes out to those people for sure.”

The shooting hit too close to home for O'Leary.

“My wife said, ‘What if this is you one day?” he said. “It definitely weights on our minds every day going to work without a sidearm. I’ve been to a number of officers’ deaths and it’s just a sobering thought.”

Tammy Rollie,

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