Toronto

'Like a nightmare': Hundreds gather to remember Toronto dentist, daughter killed in Iran plane disaster

Home videos of the life Hamed Esmaeilion was supposed to share with his wife and daughter flashed before those who gathered to honour them, like the memories he clutches now that they're gone.

Friends, family and even strangers attended memorial for Parisa Eghbalian and nine-year-old Reera Esmaeilion

Illustrations of Parisa Eghbalian and Reera Esmaeilion, who were laid to rest in this past week north of Toronto and honoured at a memorial Sunday. (Chris Glover/CBC)

Home videos of the life Hamed Esmaeilion shared with his wife and daughter flashed before those gathered to honour them, like the memories he holds of them now that they're gone. 

Parisa Eghbalian and the couple's nine-year-old daughter, Reera Esmaeilion, were laid to rest this past week north of Toronto. On Sunday, more than 1,500 people turned out at a memorial in Concord, Ont. to remember them, as the one-month anniversary of the Iran plane disaster approaches.

The mother and daughter pair were among 57 Canadians whose lives were cut short when Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752 was shot down by the Iranian military on Jan. 8, killing all 176 on board.

After days of pressure, Iran eventually admitted responsibility for the tragedy that took place hours after Iran fired missiles at Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed in retaliation for the American drone strike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

"Dear Parisa, dear Reera, I'm speaking to you from darkness. Forgive me," Esmaeilion said in Persian amid video clips of happier times, the family dancing in their home, Reera's smile lighting up the room. 

"Darkness has embraced me. I'm at the bottom of the ocean," he continued.

WATCH: Hamed Esmaeilion speaks about his nine-year-old daughter, Reera

Hamed Esmaeilion's daughter and his wife Parisa Eghbalian were among the 63 Canadian passengers on the Ukraine International Airlines flight that crashed in Iran. 1:35

The one light in that darkness, said Esmaeilion, was help from Canada as he worked to bring the remains of his loved ones back from Iran to lay them to rest. 

"I'm going to thank the Canadian government for their support when I was in Iran and trying to repatriate my loved ones to Canada," he said.

Reera Esmaeilion, nine, smiling in a home video in her family home, played at a memorial honouring her and her mother, Parisa Eghbalian, on Sunday. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

'Like a nightmare'

Friends, family and even strangers were among the hundreds who turned out to honour the mother and daughter.

Bahram Esfandiari met Eghbalian and Esmaeilion in dental school in Iran and had been friends with them for the last 25 years. 

"We were like family here, we settled here together, build our new life in our new country," he told CBC News.

Hundreds gathered to honour Parisa Eghbalian and Reera Esmaeilion at a memorial in Concord, Ont. on Sunday. (Chris Glover/CBC)

Eghbalian worked as a dentist in Guelph, Ont. She was beloved by her team.

She was "deeply kind, caring and wonderful person," the Dawson Dental Centres said on Facebook.

Her husband described his wife as a "wonderful woman," a perfectionist whom he learned from every day, and a role model for their daughter.

Eghbalian was bright, funny, smart, spoke English, French and Persian fluently. Her teachers said she could have been anything she wanted, Esfandiari said.

Bahram Esfandiari met Eghbalian and Esmaeilion in dental school in Iran and had been friends with them for the last 25 years.  (Yanjun Li/CBC)

To think that they're now gone is "like a nightmare," he said. "We still wish someone would wake us up."

"Even now, more than three weeks [later], every moment I remember them. It just breaks my heart over and and over again. The void here, nothing can fill it," said Esfandiari.

An illustration of Parisa Eghbalian and Reera Esmaeilion, who were laid to rest in this past week north of Toronto and honoured at a memorial Sunday. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

For Esmaeilion, the darkness endures.

"Dear Parisa, dear Reera, maybe, maybe, maybe there could come a light shining onto my black heart," he said.

"And that will be nothing but the surrender of the black box, the revelation of all the secrets of this mysterious flight — and justice."

 

About the Author

Shanifa Nasser

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shanifa Nasser is an investigative journalist interested in national security and stories with a heartbeat. Before coming to CBC News, she was a Munk Fellow in Global Journalism at the University of Toronto. She also holds a Master's degree in Islamic Studies. shanifa.nasser@cbc.ca

With files from Chris Glover