Beautiful spring flowers have been placed on the ground in front of the house where three people in Strathcona County died this week.
They’re a visible reminder of the outpouring of grief over the deaths of Lois Paterson-Gartner and her 13-year-old daughter, Sara Gartner.
RCMP say Greg Gartner shot his wife, his daughter and a dog on Monday before he turned the gun on himself. Following autopsies, a spokesperson confirmed they all suffered gunshot wounds.
The couple’s 16-year-old son managed to escape the house early that morning and called 911.
RCMP evacuated the area for several hours while they investigated. Paterson-Gartner’s friend heard there was something going on and kept frantically trying to reach her.
“I called her and she didn’t answer the phone,” Emma Dybka said. “I was getting ticked off because she didn’t answer me.”
Then another friend called to convey the terrible news.
“I have never felt so devastated, honestly, in my whole life,” Dybka said. “I crumbled. And I still crumble.”
CBC News spoke to Dybka in front of the Gartner house. She went there to put the flowers in water as a tribute to the couple’s surviving son and their adult daughter.
“We’re going to try and preserve them as long as possible, so that their children that are still with us can see that, and the rest of their family can see that people love and care for them,” Dybka said.
Fighting back tears, Dybka talked about her friend, switching between past and present tense.
“Lois is amazing,” she said. “I love Lois to pieces. She made me laugh all the time.
“She was nothing like me. She didn’t like candy and I didn’t understand that. She liked to eat salad. I couldn’t get her to eat bread if her life depended on it.”
Dybka remembered Paterson-Gartner, 55, drinking a glass of wine, then going for a six-mile run because she felt guilty for the indulgence.
“She’s super healthy, super happy,” Dybka said. “Loved her family to pieces.”
On her Facebook page, Paterson-Gartner described herself as “a mom at home with my beautiful kids.”
Dybka described her as everybody’s friend.
“She was there for me when I had cancer, and I tell you that woman would do anything for anybody. She was a good friend to all of us and I don’t know how to get by without her.”
‘She was a really quirky kid’
On Tuesday, the principal of Fultonvale Elementary Junior High sent a letter to parents about the death of a Grade 8 student at the school.
Without naming Sarah Gartner, principal Brad Cooksley encouraged parents to support their children by listening and letting them talk about their feelings.
“Our thoughts and hearts are with all of the student’s loved ones at this incredibly difficult time,” Cooksley wrote.
Dybka remembered Sarah as “a really, really sweet kid.”
“Sarah made me laugh,” she said. “She was a really quirky kid. She played hockey with the girls, but she was really into synchro swimming. I talked to her choir teacher today and she was mentioning that she loved to sing.”
Dybka said she can’t make sense of what Greg Gartner did.
“That’s not the Greg that I knew,” she said. “I can’t see Greg doing what he did.”
Dybka did not want to discuss the couple’s marriage, but a man who owns an equine centre across the road from the Gartner’s shed some light on their past.
Joe Tomanek said Greg Gartner paid him a visit in February and revealed that in January he and his wife had separated, then had got back together.
“He seemed in very normal spirits,” Tomanek said. “Greg seemed like a very normal, probably a very intelligent guy.”
Greg Gartner, 53, was a tax lawyer and director with Moodys Gartner Tax Law.
In a written statement, CEO Kim Moody said Gartner’s former co-workers are shocked and saddened.
“It is impossible for any of us to comprehend the heartbreaking event that occurred,” Moody wrote. “Our heartfelt thoughts are with the family, friends and loved ones of all those involved.”
Dybka said her thoughts are with the couple’s surviving son.
She said she hopes that one day he remembers “the man who raised him, not the devil who did it that night.”