Nova Scotia

'We can't let his evil turn us into hateful people,' says daughter of Mountie slain in 1996

The weekend rampage in Nova Scotia that left 22 dead, including an RCMP officer, brought back painful memories for the family of the first Mountie murdered in the province.

'Nobody can understand what they're going through unless you've been through it,' says Tanya Burkholder

Derek Burkholder served with the RCMP for 30 years. (Submitted by Tanya Burkholder)

The weekend rampage in Nova Scotia that left 22 dead, including an RCMP officer, brought back painful memories for the family of the first Mountie murdered in the province.

Tanya Burkholder remembers her father, Derek, as a strict and loving gentle giant. He was the sort of police officer who could give people a ticket and make them smile at the same time. "That's just who dad was. He was kind. He would help anybody. He protected and loved his family so much."

Derek Burkholder enlisted with the RCMP in 1966. "Dad had a big heart," she said from her home in Enfield, N.S. "He believed in the RMCP, in being fair to people."

In 1995, he was promoted to sergeant and put in charge of the Lunenburg, N.S., detachment. In June 1996, he responded to a domestic violence call in Maders Cove, N.S., a call he could easily have handed down to a subordinate. Burkholder was shot dead at the scene.

"In my life, everything kind of ended on June 14, 1996. A lot of memories, I've just buried before that day and started living life again after that. That's not a good thing to do, but it's taken many years to start remembering stuff from before that again," Tanya Burkholder said.

She said her heart breaks for all of the victims of the weekend violence, including the family of Const. Heidi Stevenson.

RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson was one of 22 people killed in Nova Scotia last weekend. (RCMP/Reuters)

'A shattering moment'

"You can train all you want for it, but when it actually happens, it's a lot more difficult. [The RCMP] were all amazing to us, and I know they will be for Heidi's family, and for all the families that are going through this. But nobody can understand what they're going through unless you've been through it yourself."

The killings also stirred up painful memories for Thomas Lowe, a retired RCMP officer living in Halifax. He's been thinking about the day he was investigating a case when, out of the blue, someone started shooting at him.

"It's not pretty, and it's not easy. It's a difficult thing to know you just missed death by the shot zinging through the trees by your head. It's a shattering moment," he said Wednesday.

He said Const. Chad Morrison, who was hurt in the weekend rampage, will likely face a long road back to physical and mental health. Lowe was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and said the brush with death forever marked him.

Const. Chad Morrison is now recovering at home. (Roger Morrison/Facebook)

Everybody 'did what they could'

It was one of the many reasons he and other RCMP vets dedicated years of their retirement to travelling across Nova Scotia to inspect the graves of officers, whether they died on duty or of old age. They ensure they are in good shape and bear appropriate markings so the dead are never forgotten.

"When it happens to one, it happens to all," he said.

And despite the hardships, Lowe said he'd sign up again if he was a young man. The same was likely true for Burkholder.

His daughter Tanya has worked as a police dispatcher and urged patience as questions remain about how the RCMP informed the public about the ongoing danger over the weekend.

"If you haven't dispatched, you have no idea how difficult it is on a regular shift," she said. "We can't let our anger be directed at anyone else, except for the man who did this. He had evil in him. We can't understand what was going through his mind, but if we have anger, that's where it should be directed. Everybody else did what they could to help, and did what at the time they thought was the best."

All going to get through this

It can take years to get over the anger, she said, but it's important to do so.

"We can't let his evil turn us into angry, hateful people either. Because that means he's terrorized us to that point. We're still good people, and we're all going to get through this."

She finds solace in her son, Dylan, who at 10 is the spitting image of his grandfather.

"Dylan is an old soul in a child's body, and I know he's destined to do great things as well. Everybody who meets him loves him immediately, and that's how it was with my dad."

She's brought her son to memorial events to lay flowers and pay respect to his grandfather. Now, they'll be remembering Const. Stevenson as well.

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.