As It Happens

Teacher killed in N.S. shooting remembered as 'vibrant, energetic, positive person'

Lisa McCully spent her last few weeks of life teaching her students online, playing ukulele with her kids, and throwing a birthday parade for her father in New Brunswick. 

Lisa McCully spent her final weeks playing ukulele with her kids and organizing a birthday parade for her dad

Lisa McCully was one of the people killed during a weekend shooting in Nova Scotia. (Lisa McCully/Facebook)


Lisa McCully spent the last few weeks of her life making the most of a bad situation.

Stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, the elementary school teacher spent her time engaging with her students online, organizing fun activities for her two children, and throwing a birthday parade for her father in New Brunswick. 

The Quispamsis, N.B., native was one of at least 19 people killed in a 12-hour attack by a lone gunman in rural Nova Scotia on Sunday. The shooter was also killed. 

McCully leaves behind a son and a daughter, aged 10 and 12. Bonnie Williams of Saint John, N.B., was her close friend. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

When you heard that something was unfolding in Portapique … were you thinking about your friend Lisa?

I actually saw it on Facebook, and it was just an alert for people to stay indoors and that there was an active scene. And I immediately thought of Lisa when I found out the location.

I did reach out to Lisa with a text, and when I didn't get a response, I was quite concerned. 

Did you think the worst?

I really didn't. I couldn't imagine that it could be anything like that.

So when I received a phone call within a half an hour from another person who's a friend of mine who is friends with the family, and she told me what had happened, [I was] quite shocked.

I wanted to talk about your friend, about Lisa McCully. I've seen some pictures of her, and lots of people writing about her. What was she like?

Lisa was just such a vibrant, energetic, positive person. She just lit up a room when she walked in. She had a beautiful smile. 

She was just a wonderful mother, dedicated to her two children. And a fantastic teacher. Just a lovely person. She was creative. She was just a lot of fun to be with. 

And always, always concerned about others. She was really socially conscious. She was always trying to help people out and cared about her students. She was their advocate. If she had a student who had special needs, she was there for them. 

She really was a special individual, for sure. 

A memorial is set up across the street from the Debert School where McCully taught Grades 3 and 4. (John Morris/Reuters)

The closest we can get to how special she was is there's a video [on Facebook] that's hard to watch when you realize she's gone. But it's this lovely video of her playing ukulele with her kids, and they're singing harmony. So what does that tell you about Lisa?

Lisa's just was so loving with her children and just so much fun to be with.

Lisa grew up learning ukulele. I'm a music teacher. I taught music with her mother. So when I saw that post on Facebook, I commented immediately, "Oh, wow, you still remember your ukulele skills."

And now to look at that and remember Lisa that way — that's the way I want to remember Lisa. It just shows so much of her love and her vibrancy.

And those kids, those wonderful kids, singing along with her.

They are wonderful. And I was saying to someone today that Lisa has taken this time during this isolation period and just she's done such wonderful things with her children.

She was constantly posting things that they had done. They built mazes. They baked bread. They picked mushrooms. They were just constantly outside enjoying nature.

I had a conversation with her more than a week ago, and she told me that she was in a happy place being in this time of isolation, to have time with her children and to do the things that she wanted with them, and to reach out to her class online.

I like to think that she was in a good place when this happened.

Are [her children] OK?

They are being looked after and surrounded by love.

It's unfathomable for us to imagine two children going through this. But I understand that there are many more in the same situation. It's horrendous.

There's all those kids that Lisa was teaching that she was trying to keep up their lessons online, wasn't she?

Yes, and Lisa was just so creative. And she was a master at that. And so she was having a lot of fun with doing that. Every now and then she would send me a little video of something she sent to her kids, and it was just so sweet.

But for now, those students, they're grasping to understand this, like all the rest of us. So it's pretty sad.

As a teacher myself, I find that doubly hard to think of Lisa leaving behind a class of children who will be very, very upset by this.


Can I just ask you finally if there is any particular memory that you are cherishing at this point about Lisa?

I like to remember the last conversation that I had with her more than a week ago when we were trying to plan a little drive-by surprise party for her 82-year-old father who lives here. And we were trying to figure out a way to celebrate him, even though she couldn't enter the province.

And I just remember her being so happy that we were able to pull that off. And so that's how I like to remember her — in a good place, in the midst of a crazy time.

And are you able to help support her dad right now?

We have spent time with him and he has many people around him.

It's difficult because of the regulations right now. It's, of course, when we want to reach out, we want to hug, we want to be able to be there in a physical sense, and we have to be careful about how we do that. So that's made it a little bit difficult.

But we're finding a way to reach out and help him. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now