Vietnamese community prays for Edmonton murder victims, forgives killer — (The Globe and Mail)

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The Globe and Mail

Members of the coroner’s office remove a body from one of three crime scenes where a total of nine people were found dead. Police found seven dead including two children inside this home, located in north Edmonton, December 30, 2014.

In a special Buddhist ceremony following the Sunday prayer service at an Edmonton monastery, Mr. Tam knelt and prayed facing an altar piled with tea, fruit and other edibles. As people wept, he prepared a meal for the dead. The remainder of the congregation stood around him and chanted.

“This was the first time something like this has hit our community and it’s really painful, it’s really touched my heart,” said Nga Ho, a volunteer at the monastery.“I couldn’t sleep last night because I was thinking of the two kids. Whatever the adults did, the kids suffered and that’s very hard.”

They may be heart-broken, grief-stricken and angry, but Edmonton’s Vietnamese community nonetheless called for peace, love and understanding a week after the worst mass murder in Alberta’s history. They prayed for the seven adults and two children who died, extending forgiveness to the 53-year-old gunman who killed their friends and family.

“Everyone needs love, like a plant needs water to survive, we need love. We need to embrace each other, even the one who was responsible,” said Phap Hoa, the chief abbot of the north Edmonton Truc Lam Monastery.

Despite frigid temperatures, more than 100 people attended, among them two family members of the victims. Of the eight who were murdered, at least six are connected to the monastery.

“The people killed could have been our husbands, our daughters, our wives or our sons,” said Thich Thien Tam, the president of the Edmonton Buddhist Research Institute. “We should not waste our emotions on anger, but direct them towards love.”

The monastery’s members sat and knelt on red mats, each facing a book of chants set on a carved wooden pedestal. The strong smell of incense wafted through the air as they chanted in English and Vietnamese for more than an hour. Above them, the deep blue prairie sky spilled through large windows.

Police believe that before 8 a.m. on Dec. 28, Phu Lam entered the home he once shared with his estranged partner Thuy Tien Truong. Inside, he killed Ms. Thuy, their eight-year-old son, Elvis Lam, and five others – her mother, Thi Dau Le; her father, Van Dang Truong; her sister, Thanh Ha Thi Truong; Ms. Thanh’s three-year-old daughter, Valentina Nguyen; and Viet Nguyen, an acquaintance of Ms. Thuy’s.

Mr. Phu’s one-year-old daughter and his wife’s eight-month-old nephew may have been in the home at the time of the murders. They were dropped off at an adult relative’s home by Mr. Phu the next morning. That relative warned police the man might be suicidal.

Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht called the murders inside the house an “extreme case of domestic violence gone awry.”

In the years before the murders, Mr. Phu had a number of run-ins with the law and built up a massive gambling debt. He was also depressed and on medication.

A day after the first seven murders, Mr. Phu drove to south Edmonton and killed 37-year-old Cyndi Duong on the evening of Dec. 29. Police say the mother of three was not his intended target. Mr. Phu shot himself after a police standoff north of Edmonton the following morning.

A packed and sombre service was held at the Vietnamese Alliance Church on Sunday morning for Ms. Duong, a hockey mom with an infectious smile. Her husband, David Luu, said he held no animosity toward anyone.

“I don’t know why this happened,” Mr. Luu told a well-wisher Sunday afternoon. “I prayed to God to help take the pain away and he’s been helping.”

Ms. Duong was often seen in the community, volunteering and bringing her children to hockey practice.

No links can be made between Ms. Duong and Mr. Phu. The troubled father of two moved to Edmonton in 1979, just a few years after the end of the Vietnam War, according to members of the Truc Lam Monastery – Mr. Phu did not attend the monastery. Eight years after his arrival in Canada, he was arrested for assault in the first of many run-ins with the law.

After a divorce from his first wife and meeting Ms. Thuy during a trip to Vietnam, he sponsored her to join him in 2003. Her family soon followed.

Nghi Tran couldn’t control his tears Sunday as he spoke of Ms. Thuy. He worked alongside the woman and her mother for the past decade at a cement-casing company in industrial Edmonton.

“They were very nice, kindhearted. They were always bringing coffee and food to people at work. The mother, Tien, loved her kids and she was always talking about them at lunch time,” said Mr. Nghi. “It’s a heart-broken family,”

A funeral will be held Tuesday for Ms. Thuy and the five other slain members of her family. Ms. Duong’s funeral is set for Monday, and the family of Mr. Viet has yet to reveal funeral plans.