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'They died together': Family of 3 killed in Nova Scotia shooting rampage remembered

Jolene Oliver was 40 years old. Aaron Tuck was 45. Their daughter Emily was 17. The family is among the victims of one of the deadliest mass killings in Canadian history.

'No matter how hard it was, they always stayed together. They always focused on family'

Emily Tuck, 17, and her parents, Jolene Oliver and Aaron Tuck, were killed in their home in Portapique, N.S., during one of the worst mass shootings in Canadian history. (Tammy Oliver-McCurdie/The Canadian Press)

For Jolene Oliver and Aaron Tuck, their acreage home at the end of a long winding lane in Portapique, N.S., was a refuge.

Visitors were rare. The doors were never locked.

The tree-lined property was often filled with the lively hum of their teenage daughter Emily playing the violin. 

For Oliver, who grew up in Calgary, living off the grid was a new adventure. For Tuck, the quaint house and the hard work that came with it had always been home. 

His father had built it to be sturdy and self-sufficient, and they worked hard to maintain his legacy. 

In an interview with CBC News on Monday, Jolene Oliver's sister, Tammy Oliver-McCurdie, said all three family members were found dead inside the home Sunday.

Jolene Oliver was 40 years old. Aaron Tuck was 45. Emily Tuck was 17. They are among the victims of one of the deadliest mass killings in Canadian history.

RCMP now confirm at least 18 people, including an RCMP officer, were killed in the rampage. The gunman was fatally shot by police who responded to 911 calls about gunfire and pursued him through several communities.

'They've always stuck together'

The senselessness of the deaths of Oliver, Tuck and their teenage daughter has left other members of their family haunted. 

"For 20 years, they've had quite the journey, and they've always stuck together," Oliver-McCurdie said.

"No matter how hard it was, they always stayed together. They always focused on family and staying together.

"There were times when they literally had nothing, but they always stuck together. At least they died together."

Oliver and Tuck met years ago in Alberta. She was a waitress and he was one of her regular customers. They moved to Nova Scotia two years ago when his mother became ill and eventually inherited the family home.

Tuck, known to his friends as "Friar," worked as a mechanic. Oliver continued working as a waitress, a job she loved.

"She just loved connecting with people and helping and listening," Oliver-McCurdie said in a phone interview from her home in Red Deer, Alta.

"She is amazing. She's my best friend. She was always so wise. She had the weirdest wisdom." 

'She didn't even get to live her life'

Emily, just a few weeks shy of high school graduation, was deciding whether she wanted to pursue a career in music or in welding.

Adept at violin, she was also a budding mechanic after a childhood spent tinkering with cars in the garage with her father.

"She didn't even get to live her life. She had so much potential ... so much love, so smart, so caring, so humble," Oliver-McCurdie said. 

"Emily was amazing. She loves mechanics and playing music and she loved reading books. 

"And when you can get her to really smile, she can light up an entire community. She was pretty cool."

They didn't need to spend money to make memories.- Tammy Oliver-McCurdie

In recent weeks, with the coronavirus pandemic shuttering business across the country, money was tight.

Oliver-McCurdie said she takes comfort in knowing they spent their final days together without distraction, taking walks and playing music together as a family.

One of the last Facebook posts from the family was a video of Emily playing the violin for her father in the living room. 

"They got to spend the last few weeks together as a family and just enjoy each other's company," she said. "They were having fun.

"They didn't need to spend money to make memories. They just persevered and they just made the best of every situation and worked with what they had and made a great life." 

WATCH | A video of Emily Tuck, 17, playing violin for her father posted to Facebook:

Emily Tuck, 17, was one of the victims of a deadly shooting rampage in N.S. She and her parents were found dead in their Portapique home. This is the final video posted of her online. 2:21

The shooting rampage began late Saturday in Portapique, a quiet community about 40 kilometres west of Truro. 

The violence didn't end until 12 hours later when the gunman was killed after being intercepted by officers about 90 kilometres away in Enfield, north of Halifax.

The shooter was not a stranger to the family. He lived on the adjacent property. 

Oliver-McCurdie said she'd heard of tense exchanges between the family and their neighbour in the past, but nothing that would foreshadow the deaths of so many.

'We don't have any answers'

As details of the rampage hit the news in bits and pieces, Oliver-McCurdie began to worry. Her sister wasn't answering the phone.

Her niece's social media accounts had gone silent.

Watching the news break from nearly 5,000 kilometres away, she felt helpless. She thought of buying a plane ticket.

She prayed that they had run into the woods for cover. Or maybe they were injured in hospital. 

More than 10 agonizing hours later, a call from the RCMP confirmed her worst fears. 

The waiting was torture. Knowing the truth has left her with a grief so suffocating she finds it difficult to breathe, she said.

The bodies of her family members will remain inside the home until Tuesday. Police have told her little else. 

"We don't have any answers on what happened. I have a lot of questions."

Oliver-McCurdie has been left to wrestle with her questions as she plans two funerals. Because of the pandemic, family members on opposite sides of the country will not be able to grieve together.

Oliver-McCurdie said the family is taking solace in all the messages of support they have received from people in Portapique, from Canadians across the country, and from other grieving families. 

The tragedy should serve as a reminder to hold loved ones close, she said. 

She had a falling out with her sister years ago and regrets the time they lost. 

"By the grace of God, I was able to mend that in the last few months. I just wish I called her more, now knowing that I had such limited time.

"If there are people out there, if there's anybody in their life that they need to mend a fence with, do it sooner than later because you never know. You never know."

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

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