Friends, family mourn ‘vivacious’ Quispamsis native killed in N.S. shooting

Last weekend, Lisa McCully helped organize a birthday parade for her 82-year-old father.

She called friends and family and asked them to drive by his Quispamsis home with signs that read “Happy birthday” — the closest they can come to a party without breaking COVID-19 physical distancing rules.

This is the type of person McCully was, said family friend Bonnie Williams. A wonderful teacher and mother and a kind, helpful and optimistic person.

“Lisa was just a vibrant, vivacious person,” Williams said. “She just had a positive energy. She was always smiling.”

McCully, 49, has been identified as one of at least 18 victims in a 12-hour series of shootings that began late Saturday in the small community of Portapique, N.S.

She was a teacher at Debert Elementary School and the mother of two children.

McCully’s sister Jenny Keirstead declined an interview but posted on Facebook on Sunday. 

“Our hearts are broken today as we attempt to accept the loss of my sister, Lisa McCully, who was one of the victims of the mass shooting in Portapique last night,” she wrote. “Our condolences go out to the other family members who are affected by this tragedy.”

‘Creative’ teacher

Williams said Lisa was honest and authentic. 

“She didn’t put on any airs.”

She said that in recent weeks, McCully was finding the silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic. She was embracing remote learning with her students and enjoying the time she had with her two children, who are 12 and 10 years old.

“As a teacher, she was … extremely creative and cared about her students,” Williams said.

We have the ultimate ‘why’ question but I’m not sure that we’ll ever know that.​​​​​– Bonnie Williams, family friend

Debert Elementary School principal Scott Armstrong said McCully taught at the school for five years.

“She was an incredibly positive person whose love of life and children brightened the day of anyone who came in contact with her,” Armstrong wrote in a statement.

Brightening the world

Jocelyn Smith went to school with McCully from kindergarten until they graduated from high school together. Through tears, Smith said McCully “just wanted to brighten the world.”

“I was overwhelmed by her support and advice for me and my kids,” Smith said. “She was so generous.”

When McCully’s brother was diagnosed with cancer, she gave all her close friends and family, including Smith, a task: Write him a short letter to remind him he’s loved.

Jocelyn Smith, right, and Lisa McCully have been friends since kindergarten. Smith says McCully was passionate, loved life and ‘didn’t fear much of anything.’ (Submitted by Jocelyn Smith)

She rolled up the letters and put them in tubes and asked her brother to open one every day as he went into treatment, so he would be reminded to “kick cancer’s butt.”

Smith said this was just one example of McCully trying to bring joy to people. 

McCully’s brother died in 2017, but she remained very close to his wife and children, Williams said.

Quispamsis Mayor Gary Clark called the shooting “a horrific tragedy.”

“She was a mother, daughter, sister, teacher and a friend,” he said. “Lisa’s father John is a retired school teacher from Quispamsis. He’s a beloved figure in our community.”

Questions remaining

Williams said she texted McCully on Sunday, checking in after she heard the news of a man firing shots and fleeing police. 

But she didn’t hear anything until a friend told her McCully had been killed.

“It’s hard to comprehend,” she said.

Both Williams and Smith said one of the biggest questions remaining is why. 

“It’s an unexplainable tragedy,” Williams said. “We have the ultimate ‘why’ question, but I’m not sure that we’ll ever know that.”

“I think it’s human nature that we want to know the answers,” she said. “I don’t think we can fully understand why something like this happens.”

Smith said she never expected it could happen in the small community.

“It’s sickening how he was able to do this. And it sounds like a situation that would have happened in the states, not in Canada. Especially not in the Maritimes.”

The other victims CBC has identified are family of three Aaron Tuck, Jolene Oliver and Emily Tuck, corrections officer Sean McLeod, corrections officer Alanna Jenkins, Tom Bagley, RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, licensed practical nurse Heather O’Brien, continuing care assistant Kristen Beaton, couple Greg and Jamie Blair and Lillian Hyslop.

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