Edmonton vigil mourns victims of Ethiopian Airlines, Christchurch tragedies

Community-based organizations in Edmonton rallied together Sunday to host a vigil commemorating the victims of two recent tragedies.

The Ethiopian Airlines crash and Christchurch mosque shootings happened within days of each other

A candlelight vigil was held in Churchill Square Sunday to remember people in Ethiopia and New Zealand. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

When Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed on March 10, Yusuf Abdullahi lost his sister and niece.

The pain inspired the 25-year-old to support families around the world mourning similar losses.

On Sunday Abdullahi attended a candlelight vigil alongside dozens of Edmontonians to honour Amina Ibrahim Odowa, 33, and her five-year-old daughter, Sofia Abdulkadir, as well as the other 155 people aboard the flight.

The Edmonton mother and daughter were among 18 Canadians killed in the plane crash.

The same vigil commemorated victims of Friday's mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. Fifty people were killed in the attacks and dozens more were injured.

"Every family is going through pain. The families of those people who were killed in the mosque, they are going through the same pain I went through, my family went through," Abdullahi said.

Around 100 people gathered Sunday to honour the victims of the New Zealand mosque shootings and the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash. (Anya Zoledziowski/CBC )

Cross-community support

The Association of Kenyans in Alberta collaborated with Edmonton's Somali and Ethiopian communities to organize the vigil. The event honoured "victims, their families and their countries."

Juliah Chebet Dudley, president of the Kenyan community in Alberta, spearheaded the vigil. She wanted to ensure Edmontonians could mourn "in communion," she said.

"We just want Edmontonians to know we are there to grieve. We are a phone call away," Chebet Dudley said. "We are offering a shoulder to this young man who lost his sister. We can grieve together, we are there together, we are united."

She added vigils "let those people that are in different countries know that somebody is thinking about them."

Yusuf Abdullahi’s sister, Amina Odawa, 33, and her daughter, Sofia Abdulkadir, 5, were on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Meheret Worku, a member of the Ethiopian community, joined community leaders to light candles in honour of the victims and draping the Ethiopian flag around the display.

"What is so powerful for us is when these things happen we're not home so there is no other place to come together and share our feelings, our sadness," Worku said.

Tragedies like the plane crash and the mosque shootings can also highlight community resilience, she said.

"What we are saying is we as people, each of us, need to do our part — giving that respect and also sharing who we are. I think that's where we can develop respect for each other," she said. "[Grief] doesn't stop us."

Abdullahi keeping sister's memory alive

The last time Abdullahi spoke with Odawa, he was driving his sister to the airport. Odawa was poking fun at her brother for driving recklessly.

"She was saying, 'The car doesn't have winter tires, slow down,' and I was just laughing," Abdullahi said. "I never thought that would be the last time I would see her."

The family hasn't received much information about Odawa and her daughter's remains, he said. Abdullahi's brother, Muhamed Ali, left Canada on Saturday to assist with the DNA testing process.

Abdullahi said he hopes Edmontonians will remember Odawa as caring, helpful and funny. He described his niece as "the sweetest girl ever."

Facing new realities

"There are lots of questions running through your mind, You're just wondering how can this happen to somebody in the family?" Abdullahi said. "You realize it's not a dream it's a reality and you just have to live with it for the rest of your life."

Now, hundreds of families around the world are facing similar realities and Abdullahi voiced his support for all of them.

"We just have to be there to support each other and bring peace and humanity to this community and society," he said.

The Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council is hosting a public event at city hall Monday at noon to express solidarity with the Christchurch terrorist attack victims. The group will also address "the rise of alt-right groups in Alberta," according to a post on Facebook.

With files from Andrea Huncar

About the Author

Anya Zoledziowski is an award-winning multimedia journalist who joined CBC Edmonton after reporting on hate crimes targeting Indigenous women in the US for News21, an investigative journalism fellowship based in Phoenix, AZ.