It was a Good Friday that turned into bloody Friday.
On April 5, 1996 – 25 years ago today – gunman Mark Chahal walked into an Okanagan Avenue home on Vernon’s Mission Hill, killing his estranged wife Rajwar Gakhal and eight members of her family before turning the gun on himself inside a now-defunct Vernon motel across town which now serves as a seniors residence.
Killed were Karnail Gakhal, his wife Darshan, son Jaspal, daughters Balwinder, Kalwinder, Harvinder, Rajwar and Jasbir, and son-in-law Roger Saran.
The family had been preparing for Balwinder’s wedding that weekend.
Ten years after the killings, the Morning Star followed up with family members including Hardev Gakhal, who said then he still expected his brother Karnail to walk through the door.
Roger and Jasbir Saran’s three youngest children were left orphans, with six-year-old Justine Saran struck in both legs by a stray bullet.
“She still has memories of it,” Hardev said of then 16-year-old Justine in 2006. “She knows everything. She was there.”
Rajwar Gakhal was receiving counselling from the Vernon Women’s Transition House prior to her death. She had filed a complaint against Chahal with the Burnaby police a year before the shootings. When she moved to Vernon, she reported the complaint to the local RCMP.
Clair Hayward was an RCMP Staff-Sgt. with the Vernon detachment at the time of the murders. He was spending a quiet Easter holiday at home with family when he got a call about the shootings.
“It’s just not something you forget,” said Hayward.
Indeed, the community didn’t forget, as a candlelight vigil was held for many years to remember the Gakhal family every April 5.
A monument in memory of the victims was erected outside the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives, with people annually laying flowers in tribute and in respect.
The killings, at the time, were the second largest in Canadian history behind the death of 14 women at the hands of Marc Lepine at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique in December 1989. Both dropped a spot after Gabriel Wortman killed 22 people in Nova Scotia nearly a year ago, April 18 and 19 before being killed by police.
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