Iqaluit reels over 4 family members' deaths

People across Nunavut are shocked by the deaths of four Iqaluit family members, including two young girls, whose bodies were discovered late Tuesday in what police have described as connected cases.

No words can describe 'shock and grief' people feel, says premier

People across Nunavut are shocked by the deaths of four Iqaluit family members, whose bodies were discovered late Tuesday in what police have described as connected cases.

The bodies, one at a local graveyard and three inside a home, are those of a man, woman and two young girls from the same family, CBC News has learned.

"It is a sad day here in Iqaluit and across Nunavut. Four Nunavummiut lost their lives," Premier Eva Aariak said in the territorial legislature on Wednesday.

"There are no words that can adequately describe the shock and grief that is resonating throughout Iqaluit and beyond. My heart goes out to the family and friends of those affected."

Aariak said she has been personally impacted by the tragedy and is working through the stages of grief herself.

Few details confirmed

RCMP in the Nunavut capital have confirmed few details about the discovery of the bodies. Police plan to release more information at a news briefing scheduled for Thursday.

Police tape sections off a part of the Iqaluit cemetery, where a man's body was discovered late Tuesday. (CBC)

"We can confirm two children are involved and two adults at this point," RCMP Sgt. Jimmy Akavak said in a phone interview Wednesday.

"We're trying to notify family members outside of Iqaluit and locally, and staying away from releasing any names at this point," Akavak said, adding that members of the community are shocked and sad about the incidents.

Police were called around 4:30 p.m. ET Tuesday to the local cemetery, where the man's body was found. A firearm was also discovered near the body. 

A short time later, police went to the man's home in the city's Tundra Valley subdivision and found three more bodies. The two cases are connected, according to RCMP who cordoned off the areas of both crime sites.

Forensic experts have been called in from Winnipeg to help with the investigation, according to police.

"It's going to take a long time — many days, many hours — investigating this," Akavak said.

'It's just overwhelming,' says mayor

Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern said news of the deaths are being met with "shock and profound sadness" among many in the city of about 7,000, where many people know each other and there is a number of large families.

Crisis support services

The Nunavut government has produced a list of services for people who are grieving the four deaths.

Iqaluit residents can go to the local social services office in Grinnell Place, beside the post office.

People can also call the Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut Helpline at (867) 979-3333. The helpline is open from 7 p.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

Officials are urging people to speak to their families and trusted clergy during times of crisis. St. Jude's Anglican Parish Hall was open on Wednesday for anyone needing support.

A full list government services can be found on the Nunavut government's website.

"I haven't slept yet. I keep being overwhelmed by my emotions." Redfern told CBC News from Ottawa, where she was on business.

"It's just overwhelming, I know not only for myself, but the family that's affected [and] the close friends. This family has family all across Nunavut, as well as members in the South."

Redfern, who is flying back to Iqaluit on Thursday, said she has asked the territorial government for crisis intervention programs for not only family and friends of the victims, but also for emergency responders and the community at large.

"You bump into each other, you work together, our children play together. So without a doubt, when we lose a family, we've lost a very integral part of who we are as well," she said.

Aariak said Nunavut's deputy ministers of health, education and justice met on Wednesday morning to "coordinate efforts and determine what services are available for those affected by this tragedy."

A number of counselling services are available in Iqaluit, and crisis counsellors are being brought in from outside the territory, Aariak said.

Grief counsellors at school

Regular classes were cancelled Wednesday at Joamie Ilinniarvik elementary school, where one of the four victims was a Grade 2 student. Students and staff were offered grief counselling throughout the day. 

"We're doing the best that we can given the situation that we're in," said vice-principal Clyde Steele. "It was late last night before we knew anything."

Meanwhile, people wept in rows of folding chairs inside St. Jude's Anglican Parish Hall, which opened its doors "for anyone to come to talk about whatever," said volunteer Rebekah Williams.

"If you want to cry, it's there. If you want to just express how you feel, it's there for people," she said.

"It's still a very small community. When something like this happens, it affects everybody."

Redfern said while this week's incident is isolated, there have been almost a dozen deaths in Iqaluit this spring alone.

"We had a tragic accident that lost a respected wildlife officer. A young girl is still in a coma here in Ottawa in critical condition," she said, referring to a fatal snowmobile collision outside the city on May 23.

"Just as we sort of manage to get to terms with a death, we're thrown with another one," she added. "We've had suicides, respected elders have died. It's very, very difficult and challenging for all of us."