On the darkest day of the year, the close-knit community of Vaughan tried to bring some light to their grieving neighbours after a mass shooter took five lives on Sunday.
About 100 people gathered outside Vaughan’s city hall on Wednesday after dark — a frigid evening that fell on the same day as the winter solstice — holding candles in honour of the victims of the shooting at the Bellaria Residences condo tower.
Friends greeted each other with hugs, some swapping stories and others standing in small groups, silently reflecting.
Politicians and religious leaders offered words of condolence and the crowd joined together in a moment of silence, later filing past a Christmas tree and lighting tea lights and glass prayer candles they set on a bench at the side of the square in front of city hall.
The vigil honoured the five deceased victims: Naveed Dada, 59, Rita Camilleri, 57, Camilleri’s partner, Vittorio Panza, 79, Russell Manock, 75, and his wife, Helen (known as Lorraine), 71. Neighbours also offered support to a sixth victim, Doreen Di Nino, who was injured in the shooting and remains in hospital.
“It doesn’t bring your friends back,” said Lucy D’Erasmo, who met Camilleri and Panza about 10 years ago through her church. The pair were music lovers and enjoyed ballroom dancing, she said. “Any time there was a fundraiser or party happening, they were my go-to people because they always wanted to participate.”
Holding a red taper candle, D’Erasmo scrolled through her phone to find her last text message to Camilleri, a note sent late Sunday evening, asking her friend if she was OK. She never heard back.
Now, D’Erasmo said she is turning to her community and her faith for solace and added, “This is part of the journey of life.”
Rhonda Parente came to honour Dada, who she hadn’t seen in several years. She said he was a kind-hearted person who recently reached out on social media on her work anniversary, saying hi and suggesting they catch up, but they didn’t get the chance.
“The sudden, unexpected and devastatingly violent loss of a loved one leaves a wound forever,” Vaughan Mayor Steven Del Duca said at the vigil.
Del Duca, who has lived in the area for 36 years, called the community “strong and resilient.”
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In an interview with the Star earlier in the day, he said Vaughan is “Canada’s largest small town,” where it feels like “everyone knows someone.”
Del Duca said it was important to gather to show support for the victims and also take the chance to collectively process a traumatizing experience.
“Tonight, to me, is a way for our community to be together in person, to grieve together, and to let the victims’ families know they’re not alone,” Del Duca said.
Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, who also spoke at the vigil, said Wednesday that his family previously lived in the building and called Sunday’s events “very close to home.”
He said the Bellaria condo community brought people of many different backgrounds together. “Many of us remember vividly the holiday parties, sharing of traditions, the laughter and love we shared amongst each other.”
Last Sunday, Francesco Villi, 73, who lived in one of the Bellaria condo towers, went on the deadly shooting rampage and was gunned down by an officer from York Regional Police.
Three of the gunman’s victims were either current or former members of the building’s condo board. Di Nino’s husband is also a board member. Villi had been engaged in a years-long battle with the board and building management over a series of grievances.
He had been set to appear in court Monday for a hearing regarding his potential eviction from his unit.
In a written statement originally given exclusively to the Star, Villi’s three daughters said their father was “controlling and abusive” and said they were shocked by his actions.
“Words cannot begin to express how deeply heartbroken we are for the families affected by this horrific tragedy. We offer our heartfelt condolences,” the daughters wrote.
With files from Ivy Mak and Wendy Gillis
Christine Dobby is a Toronto-based business reporter for the Star. Reach her at email@example.com
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