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Victims of mass murder case fondly remembered

Victims of mass murder case fondly rememberedWomen cry and hug beside a makeshift memorial near the scene of the multiple fatal stabbings in northwest Calgary on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal

CALGARY - As a funeral director, Ernie Hagel knows how to deal with death.

But the loss of a promising employee — one of five young people stabbed to death in Calgary's worst mass murder — has hit him hard.

Jordan Segura, 23, worked part time for McGinnis and Holloway Funeral Homes while majoring in religious studies at the University of Calgary.

He was at a house party celebrating the last day of classes when he was killed early Tuesday. The son of a senior Calgary police officer has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder.

"Our staff are devastated," Hagel said Wednesday, adding he was the one who broke the news at his office.

There were lots of tears for the young man.

"He had the qualities to be a great funeral director," said Hagel. "He wanted to serve people. He wanted to be there when they needed him."

Segura was killed along with Zackariah Rathwell, Josh Hunter, Lawrence Hong and Kaiti Perras — all in their 20s and all "good kids" police have said did nothing to provoke the bloody attack.

The suspect, Matthew de Grood, has been transferred to the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Centre for a court-ordered assessment.

Lawyer Allan Fay said his 22-year-old client was lucid and doing about as well as could be expected.

Justice officials say two Crown prosecutors from Edmonton have been assigned the file to address any perceived conflict over de Grood's father being an officer.

De Grood had completed a psychology degree from the University of Calgary last year and his Facebook page says he had been accepted into law school for the fall.

Police have said he was invited to the party and he showed up after finishing a shift at a grocery store.

It's alleged he found a large knife in the home and started stabbing people one by one.

Police were still trying to determine a motive for the bizarre attack, saying it appeared the suspect hadn't been drinking or doing drugs.

Chief Rick Hanson said everyone seems to be puzzled.

"I know every parent out there is looking for that piece. How can I go to bed tonight knowing that's not going to happen to my kid?" Hanson told Calgary radio station CHQR.

"When it's this random and this unpredictable, that's the part that unsettles everybody. And that's why we know that people are really anxious to have the answers. And we're just as anxious to get those answers."

The northwest home where the attack took place remained surrounded with police tape Wednesday as a pile of flowers and notes continued to grow.

Among them were a pair of pink ballet shoes in honour of 23-year old Perras. Perras took dance for several years at Counterpoint Dance Academy. She also studied English at Mount Royal University.

"We watched Kaiti grow into an exceptional human being. Her smile and energy lit up the stage ... Our hearts break for her family. She was a joy to teach and a beautiful person. She will be deeply missed," dance teacher Shannon Hearn said in an email.

Many self-portraits of the doe-eyed woman with long blond hair were on Facebook, as well as photos of a trip to Italy after high school and of an arm freshly tattooed with the words: "Follow your Own Spirit."

Rathwell, 23, was a first-year student at the Alberta College of Art and Design. He was in a band called Zackariah and the Prophets with Hunter, 22, a commerce student at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business.

The band had just celebrated the release of their first album at a weekend show in Calgary. Fellow musician Kyle Tenove remembered the pair fondly.

"We used to skip school together," he told CHQR through sobs. "We would sneak out so we could practise, then we'd get busted and we'd get suspended. It was the best."

A vigil was held Wednesday at the Alberta College of Art and Design in memory of Rathwell. Art history teacher Jennifer Salahub spoke to staff and students. She said about three weeks ago they had a speaker from Norway who was talking about memorials because of the mass murder of students on an island off Oslo.

Salahub said she put a bonus question on her final exam asking what students took away from that. After she heard that Rathwell was killed, she decided to mark his exam.

"And I got to the last question, which was the bonus question, and this is what he wrote: "I took away that even though tragic events cause much pain and distress, a truly well-thought-out memorial can help ease the suffering and build community while not just glazing over and forgetting the past," Salahub said.

Hong, 27, was to graduate this year from the University of Calgary with a degree in urban studies. His friends described him as a friendly, funny and fashionable guy who was a regular volunteer with the city's folk music festival.

He was also proud to be gay, even though it led to some bullying at his Catholic high school, said pal Sonia Razniewski.

Friend Christy Harris said Hong and his Chinese family moved to Calgary from the Philippines when he was in Grade 8.

"You don't ever think this would happen to someone you know and for it to happen in such an awful, awful way," she said. "I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to hurt him. Everybody loved him."

Harris believes Hong was either in the wrong place at the wrong time or trying to help another victim when he was stabbed. That's just the kind of person he was, she said.

She said she feels for relatives of all five victims, but also for those of the man accused of killing them.

"I feel for his family too, in a way. They're suffering in a different way and at the end of the day, this has really just ruined six lives and six families and countless friends."

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

— With files from Chris Purdy in Edmonton.

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