‘They have suffered a loss far too great’: Shooting victims mourned during vigil
In a powerful moment, the father of one of the shooting victims hugged the gunman’s mother — and told the community not to blame the killer’s family for his horrific actions
A large number of people in Sault Ste. Marie withstood heavy rainfall and wind gusts in order to remember and honour the lives of those who have died in recent months under tragic — and in some instances, unimaginably horrifying — circumstances during a candlelight vigil held in the Canal District Friday.
A moment of silence was bookended by drumming, singing and dancing from members of the Indigenous community and a number of speeches from community leaders.
The vigil was held just days after the murderous shooting spree that resulted in the deaths of five people — three children and two adults, including the gunman, who took his own life — and one survivor being rushed to hospital. Monday’s tragedy has been described by police as a product of intimate partner violence, which has been declared an epidemic in a number of municipalities throughout Ontario.
“They have suffered a loss far too great — greater than anyone should ever have to experience,” said Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Matthew Shoemaker during the vigil. “It is incredibly important that together, as a community, we stand with them and with our first responders who have responded to calls we would never have expected in our city, and continue to do so with the utmost professionalism and compassion. Our community grieves as we try to reckon with inconceivable acts of violence.
“Sault Ste. Marie is a strong and caring community, and I encourage people to look out for one another and offer support during this incredibly challenging time,” the mayor continued.
“Tonight is an opportunity to do so. By coming together, we honour the memory of the lives lost and we send a message that the good in our community will not relent to the bad. The darkness will not outshine the light. We will not now, nor ever, let that happen.”
The father of Angie Sweeney, the 41-year-old woman who died from a gunshot wound in her Tancred Street home, remembered his daughter as a “daddy’s girl” who was a “giving and loving soul” from the time she was a child.
“If you had the privilege to meet her, she was the best friend you ever had,” said Brian Sweeney, as his son held up a photo of Angie while standing beside his father. “If you needed something, she would drop her own needs to take care of you right to the bitter end.”
Before Sweeney even began talking about his daughter, he made sure to do something else: he invited Marcia Gillespie — the mother of Bobbie Hallaert, the shooter in Monday’s horrific rampage — to the stage.
As he held Gillespie, Sweeney advised community members that Hallaert’s family is “not responsible for this tragic situation.”
“I am here with this lady right now because she is the other half of my family,” Sweeney told the crowd. “She lost the same grandchildren I lost, she lost a child as I have lost a child. But yet for some reason, people seem to think it’s okay to look down on these people. And that does not sit well with me. She deserves the same respect I do, because we both feel the same pain, and she’s the most beautiful woman in the world and she was one of my daughter’s best friends — so it would mean a lot to me that people show respect to that family.”
The only good thing that could ever happen as a result of Monday’s tragedy, Sweeney said, would be a movement in the Sault to effect change. And now, he wants to meet with Premier Doug Ford in order to have a conversation and offer suggestions.
“I’ve got to do something so that no other family in this country will suffer,” Sweeney said.