Elliot Lake mall victim remembered as 'neighbourhood mom'

Mourners at today's funeral for 74-year-old Doloris Perizzolo, one of two women who died in the collapse of a mall roof in Elliot Lake, Ont., say she was known as a 'neighbourhood mom' in the northern Ontario community.

Doloris Perizzolo, 74, laid to rest as OPP vows 'to get to the bottom of what happened'

The casket carrying Doloris Perizzolo arrives at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Elliot Lake, Ont., for the funeral of one of two victims in the Algo Centre Mall roof collapse. (Kenneth Armstrong/Canadian Press)

More than a hundred people attended today's funeral for one of the two women who died in the collapse of a mall roof in Elliot Lake, Ont., with mourners saying she was an unfailingly kind soul who helped anyone she could.

Doloris Perizzolo, a 74-year-old widow, was to be buried at Woodlands Cemetery, not far from the lake that gives the town its name.

Hours after the service ended, the Ontario Provincial Police, who announced the evening before that they are conducting a criminal investigation into the June 23 disaster, pledged to "pour in as much resources as we need" to determine exactly what happened and why. 

Perizzolo's casket was brought into Our Lady of Fatima Church with her family walking behind. During the service, mourners heard that she was known as a "neighbourhood mom" in the northern Ontario community.

"They spoke about how she was really a mother to the community, and a mother to all the kids in the community — would often give cookies and watermelon and drinks to anyone who would walk by," CBC's Natalie Kalata reported from outside the church. "She had a saying: She said life is too short; be happy."

Doloris Perizzolo, 74, died after a section of the roof of the Elliot Lake Algo Centre Mall caved in. (Elliot Lake Funeral Chapel)

Attendees included friends, family and residents of the town who didn't know her, but said they came to pay their respects. Gary Gendron, the fiancé of Lucie Aylwin, the other woman who died in the mall collapse, was also there. He hugged Perizzolo's family as he went in.

"They were announcing Doloris but also Lucie, so every time there was 'Lucie' there was lots of emotional tears and everything else," Gendron said.

"Just can't handle it anymore. I'm going to break down, and it's going to be pretty soon."

Judy Lewis said Perizzolo was a "good friend," who would offer her rides around town — the most recent occasion being about three weeks ago, which was the last time Lewis saw her.

"She was a very loving woman. She was very, very, very nice. She'd do anything, like, in order to help you out," Lewis said.

Perizzolo is survived by three daughters and two grandsons. One of her daughters lives in Elliot Lake, while the other two are from Guelph, Ont., and Hamilton.

She was buying a lottery ticket from Aylwin, 37, at a kiosk in the Algo Centre Mall on June 23 when the building's roof caved in and fell two storeys.

Perizzolo went to the mall weekly to buy a ticket, and was well-known in Elliot Lake, a town of 11,000, as the "lottery-ticket lady."

Aylwin was cremated, and there will be a celebration of her life on Monday in Elliot Lake.  

Both victims were honoured in a moment of silence Tuesday night at an Elliot Lake town council meeting. 

Criminal investigation

Ontario Provincial Police announced Tuesday they are conducting a criminal investigation into the collapse. Spokesman Sgt. Pierre Chamberland told reporters a couple of hours after Perizzolo's funeral that information came to light while officers were assisting the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario in its probe of the roof collapse, and that "our investigators assessed the information that was available and decided it was prudent to conduct a criminal investigation."  

He wouldn't give details of what exactly those officers learned.

The criminal probe is taking priority over the investigations by the coroner's office and Ontario's Labour Ministry, Chamberland said.

"We'll be looking at the state of the building, its current state. We'll be looking at reports and information that we get from the public in regards to any potential previous state. We'll be looking at anything that's been filed and investigations or any inquiries or any reports that have been completed in regards to that particular building," he said.

"We'll be looking at all aspects — we're not going to exclude anything."

Chamberland said the provincial force would "pour in as much resources as we need … in order to get to the bottom of what happened." Multiple people could face a range of charges, he said.

The mall had a history of roof problems dating back years, largely due to leaks. In 2007, a segment of drain pipe fell from part of the roof and struck a mall employee, causing a concussion. As recently as eight months before the cave-in, a plumber working on the roof said he noted obvious signs of water damage. But an engineering study done just over a month ago turned up no major issues.

Police will be looking into that study and various other structural assessments to make sure no one cut corners or was negligent.

Premier Dalton McGuinty announced on Friday that a public inquiry will be held and the provincial Labour Ministry is conducting its own investigation.

The mall remains closed, and business owners and workers have been told that due to safety reasons they won't be allowed back into the building to retrieve personal items.

With files from The Canadian Press