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Sister of N.S. shooting victim organizes memorial walk in rural Alberta

A woman who lost a sister and her family in last year’s mass killing in Nova Scotia organized a walk in Cardiff, Alta. on Sunday to commemorate the tragedy.

‘Even though this happened all the way in Nova Scotia, they were my family, they were Albertans’

From left, Emily Tuck, Jolene Oliver and Aaron Tuck are shown in a family handout photo. The family from Portapique, N.S. were among the victims of the mass killing in Nova Scotia last year. (Tammy Oliver-McCurdie/The Canadian Press)

A woman who lost a sister and her family in last year's mass killing in Nova Scotia organized a walk in Cardiff, Alta. on Sunday to commemorate the tragedy.

The five-kilometre walk, with participants attending in person or virtually, was done in partnership with the Nova Scotia Remembers Legacy Society, which is raising funds to establish a permanent memorial in Nova Scotia. 

A memorial race organized by the group was part of ceremonies on Sunday marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting rampage that claimed the lives of 22 people.

"It was probably the longest, most excruciating day of my life," Crystal Mendiuk said of that day. She lost her sister Jolene Oliver, brother-in-law Aaron Tuck and niece Emily Tuck.

Mendiuk organized Sunday's event to help honour their memory in the province where they spent so much of their lives.

"My sister and my niece were born and raised in Alberta, my brother-in-law spent most of his life in Alberta," she said.

"It is important for me that Albertans remember that even though this happened all the way in Nova Scotia, they were my family, they were Albertans. 

"And everybody in the country remembers, and I want for them to remember."

Crystal Mendiuk (far left) was joined at the walk in Cardiff, Alta. by her mother Bonnie Oliver (centre-left), father John Oliver (centre-right), and sister Tammy Oliver-McCurdie (far right). (Manuel Carrillos Avalos/CBC)

A year later, Mendiuk said she can now smile when she thinks of them.

"The tears are a little less," she said. But there is still a long road ahead as many questions remain unanswered, Mendiuk added. 

"This didn't just affect me, my family. It didn't just affect all of the other families. It affected the country, it affected the world."

The RCMP is under intense scrutiny over their handling of the case and why it took 13 hours for officers to stop the gunman.

Bonnie Oliver, mother of Jolene Oliver and Mendiuk, said she hopes the public can get answers to ensure such a tragedy doesn't happen again.

"A whole branch of our family tree went in one day, and we'll always remember them," she said.

"But we'll never get them back."

Bonnie Oliver said she would always remember her daughter Jolene as a "happy go lucky girl who loved life" and had a big heart. She said her 17-year-old granddaughter Emily Tuck was only just starting to bloom.

"Three lives taken way too soon," she said.

A memorial bench, plaque and tree have been set up by Sturgeon County in Cardiff Park. (Manuel Carrillos Avalos/CBC)

Mendiuk said Sturgeon County obliged her request to plant a tree in Cardiff Park as a tribute to the lives lost. A bench and memorial plaque also mark the site.

"There's a lot of people in this area that are from out east, there's a lot of people who knew somebody from out east," Mendiuk said.

"So I wanted a place that everybody could come, everybody could see. You could sit on the bench, look out on the water and remember — remember them all."

With files from Danielle Kadjo.

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