Straight from the wedding-guest-from-hell-file. Mark
walked into a pre-wedding gathering of his estranged wife's family in
Vernon, British Columbia, and killed his wife, her sister-- the bride-to-be--
and seven of her relatives. Two others were wounded, an elderly woman
and a 6-year-old girl.
After the massacre the chagrined husband drove a
rental van back to the motel where he was staying, scribbled a short
apology and killed himself. The stunned groom heard of the rampage en
route to the wedding.
Gunman kills 9 on eve of family
Canada rampage ends with assailant's
April 6, 1996
VERNON, British Columbia -- An estranged husband
opened fire as his wife's family prepared for a wedding yesterday,
killing her and eight others before fleeing to a motel and killing
himself, police said.
The victims included the bride, who was to have been
married today. Police say the gunman left a suicide note apologizing for
the rampage, the second-deadliest in Canada's history.
Police say Canada mass killer had
plan to flee
April 7, 1996
VERNON, British Columbia -- A man who shot and killed
his estranged wife and eight in-laws had planned the murders
deliberately, but apparently killed himself only when he realized he
could not escape undetected, police said yesterday.
Mark Chahal walked up to the home of his wife's family
Friday as relatives gathered for a wedding yesterday and opened fire --
killing the bride-to-be, his wife and seven others.
Gunman had planned massacre carefully, police said
April 6, 1996
VERNON, British Columbia -- A
man who shot and killed his estranged wife and eight in-laws had planned
the murders deliberately, but apparently killed himself only when he
realized he could not escape undetected, police said Saturday.
Mark Chahal walked up to the home of his wife's family
Friday as relatives gathered for a wedding Saturday, and opened fire --
killing the bride-to-be, his wife, and seven others. Witnesses described
how Chahal opened fire with a .40-calibre semi-automatic handgun and a
.30-calibre revolver. "He had two guns," said neighbor Rick
Young, who was playing outside with his two children. "One in each
hand, just like the old western-style shooters, blasting away. He was
only a few yards away. He turned and looked me in the eye. I thought I
was going to die. He had a full opportunity to plug me full of holes.
But he just turned away from me and went around again to the back of the
house and then fired some shots at the back."
It was the second-worst massacre in Canada's history,
behind only the 1989 killing of 14 female engineering students at a
Montreal university, by a gunman who then killed himself.
Chahal, who had threatened his wife since their
separation last year, returned to his motel room and shot and killed
himself, after writing a short apology for the killings, police said.
Chahal had exchanged his own vehicle for a rental van
before driving to Vernon, a quiet city of 30,000 about 185 miles
northeast of Vancouver. To police, that suggested he intended to flee
after the killings. "In a murder-suicide, it really is irrelevant
whether or not you're using your own car," said Sgt. Doug Hartl of
the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. "We think his decision to commit
suicide is a result of what occurred in the house, maybe because he felt
his identity would be known."
A 60-year-old woman and a 6-year-old girl were shot
but survived. Two children were the only ones to escape the gunman
entirely. Police believed he had spared them intentionally.
Although Chahal had no criminal record, wife Rajwar
Kaur Gakhal had complained about his violent behavior to police at their
home in the Vancouver area, and then to police in Vernon when she
returned to her family after separating from Chahal in January 1995.
The gunman first shot her, then her parents, their
son, a son-in-law, and four other daughters, including the intended
bride. All were members of a close-knit community of Sikh immigrants
Friends and relatives continued to arrive Saturday for
what was to have been a wedding celebration. Police managed to contact
the groom Friday, as he traveled from Toronto.
Police believe Chahal was only in the home for three
to four minutes, although all the dead had multiple gunshot wounds from
a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun and a .38-caliber revolver. Police
found 28 spent revolver casings and two empty semiautomatic gun clips,
which had each contained 10 shots. A 12-gauge shotgun, not used, was
found loaded in his rented van.
People trooped past the house Saturday, where blood
had dried on the driveway. Some gawked. Others cried, and left flowers.
In a few terrifying minutes, Vijay Chahal proved
just how deadly his anger could be
Karnail and Darshan Gakhal had high hopes for
the wedding, the third for their string of five daughters and a son. The
Sikh family's last marriage, two years ago, had ended sourly: daughter
Rajwar had broken up with her husband, Vijay (Mark) Chahal, after barely
six months, complaining that he abused her.
The Gakhals hoped things would go differently for her
younger sister Balwinder, who was to be wed on Saturday to a young
engineer from Toronto. And the family was doing its best to prepare for
the occasion. Inside the comfortable two- storey home, with its views
over Vernon Creek to the dun-colored hills surrounding the quiet B.C.
farming and tourist town of the same name, Darshan and her daughters
were getting ready to receive more than 200 people at a post-wedding
reception. Outside, the Friday morning air was soft and mild as Karnail
set about washing the new red Mazda Precidia parked proudly in the
triple driveway. Then, moments before 10:30 a.m., a dark green minivan
pulled up to the curb-and the wee kend's promise turned suddenly to
Stepping from the minivan, Mark Chahal, 30, levelled a
.40-calibre Smith and Wesson semi-automatic - one of two pistols he was
carrying - and fired. Karnail Gakhal fell, fatally wounded, near the
Mazda's right front tire, blood streaming down the inclined driveway
towards the street. Chahal fired again-this time through a bay window at
the front of the house-then strode up the front steps and went inside.
He walked from room to room repeatedly firing both weapons, pausing
twice to shove fresh 10-round clips into the semi-automatic. "I
heard gunshots and screaming," said nearby resident Chantal
Beaudoin. "I woke my mom up and I told her." Then, the
resourceful youngster called police. With local RCMP already on the way,
Chahal walked out of the Gakhal house and paused to loose a few more
rounds into its beige siding. Stepping into his rented van, he calmly
buckled his seat belt and departed.
When the first police officers arrived moments later,
they encountered a scene of carnage rarely equalled in Canada. In
addition to Karnail, 50, five more people lay dead, including Darshan,
45, Rajwar, 26, and the bride never-to-be, Balwinder, 24. Another five
were bleeding heavily from multiple gunshot wounds. Three of them died
In less than five minutes, Chahal had wiped out the entire Gakhal
family, including younger daughters Kalwinder, 21, and Halvinder, 17, as
well as the only son, 14-year-old Jaspal. The couple's oldest daughter,
Jasbir, 30, and her husband Balgit Saran, 33, were also among the dead.
One of Jasbir's three young daughters, six-year-old Justine, had a
bullet wound through both thighs. Saran's 60-year-old mother, Gurmail,
had also been injured, taking a bullet in her face. It was the
second-worst shooting rampage in Canadian history, exceeded only by Marc
Lepine's savage hunt through the halls of a Montreal engineering
institute in 1989.
And like Lepine, Chahal could not live with what he
had done. Police later concluded that his attack had been planned with
an escape in mind. Nevertheless, after the killings he drove barely
three kilometres to a second-floor room at the Globe Motel, just off
Vernon's main street, where he had checked in the previous evening as
"M. Singh." There, Chahal penned a hasty note apologizing to
his family for what he done and leaving police several telephone numbers
with which they could reach his next of kin.
Fastidiously, he dated and
signed the note, adding that police could find his identification in the
pocket of his pants. Just before 11 a.m., he fired the semi-automatic
one last time-into his own head. Police, responding to a call from motel
staff, found Chahal dead on the floor. In his van, they found a third
weapon: a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun.
For Vernon's 40,000 residents, among them about 150
Sikh families, the morning's events were a shattering introduction to
the violence that seems increasingly to erupt from family breakdowns
across Canada. "Our community is in a state of deep shock," a
sombre Vernon mayor, Wayne McGrath, told a news conference the day after
the shootings. Ron Shunter, a superintendent at the Tolko Forest
Products Ltd. sawmill in neighboring Lavington, where Karnail Gakhal had
worked for 26 years, said the tragedy "is going to shake the whole
community up." Gakhal, who operated a planing machine, had been
"a friendly sort of fellow, " Shunter recalled. "Quiet,
reliable, a good employee."
Among the town's close-knit Sikh community, the shock
and remorse were even greater. Members of the community knew Karnail
Gakhal well. Shortly after arriving in Vernon from Punjab, India, he had
helped to establish the town's first Sikh temple. Balwinder 's wedding,
like Rajwar's, had been planned for a newer white stucco structure that
in 1989 replaced the older house of worship, less kilometre from the
family home in the community's prosperous middle-class Mission Hill
In the wake of the tragedy, the temple instead became
a place of mourning. As dusk fell on April 5, the traditional Sikh
wailing of bereaved friends and relatives filled the building.
Throughout the following day, members of the congregation held a vigil
for wedding guests, some of whom did not learn about the tragedy until
they arrived in Vernon. (The groom, whose name was withheld by family
members, had received the shocking news while en route from Ontario.)
"We are gathering together, talking, preparing hot meals so they
will have some comfort, " said temple president Satwant Dhindsa.
"Everybody is in shock. We don't know what to think."
For no one was the shock greater than for the Gakhals'
immediate relatives. They had known that Chahal harbored a grudge
against his estranged wife and her family. In January, 1995, Rajwar
visited Vernon RCMP to file a complaint that Chahal had threatened her,
but she requested that the police take no action against him. Still,
Chahal's animosity was common knowledge among relatives. "He told
them he was going to make sure none of their other daughters would ever
get married," Balwinder Gakhal, the wife of Karnail's cousin Torlok
said. "Nobody imagined he would be capable of doing this." In
a few terrifying minutes, with just a week to go before the Sikh holiday
of Vaisakhi, which celebrates the revelation of the five symbols of
Sikhism, Vijay Chahal proved just how deadly his rage could be.
The search for answers: trying to explain the
massacre in Vernon
The Okanagan evening was cool and damp, but
those who mourned barely seemed to notice. More than 600 residents of
Vernon, B.C., gathered last week in a candlelight vigil for nine members
of the Gakhal family who were killed in a hail of bullets on April 5.
The rampage, committed by an estranged husband with
two legally registered handguns, provoked calls for tighter controls on
firearms. It also raised questions about family violence and cultural
influences, including the Sikh custom of arranged marriage. But there
were no clear conclusions. "It's tempting to look for an easy
explanation when we see visible differences, " said Stephen Hart, a
forensic psychologist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby. "It
allows us to say, 'that won't happen to us.' "
The painful search for answers touched nerves in
South-Asian communities and aroused concern about stereotyping among
those who study and counsel abusive men and their partners. Some
counsellors suggested that rigid gender roles could have created an
emotional pressure cooker between the killer, Vijay Chahal, 30, and his
wife, 26-year-old Rajwar Kaur Gakhal. Like many men who kill their
wives, Chahal committed suicide shortly afterward. But members of
South-Asian groups vehemently denied that cultural factors played a
part, instead noting that the same type of family violence takes place
in virtually all Canadian communities.
In one respect, the relationship that triggered the
murders was unusual. Although the five Gakhal daughters and one son were
born and raised in Canada, the family continued to live by many Sikh
traditions, including arranged marriage. Chahal and Rajwar Gakhal were
married in April, 1994, after only a few meetings. Chahal was a
successful and apparently well-liked Burnaby accountant, and Rajwar
worked as a dental hygienist.
The marriage went horribly wrong from the beginning,
with Rajwar later telling friends that her husband beat her and called
her a "slut" on their wedding night. She left the couple's
Burnaby apartment within eight months, returning to her parents'
middle-class home in Vernon. Soon after, Rajwar registered a complaint
with police about assaults during the marriage-but asked them not to
take any action. By the time she and her family were murdered while they
prepared for the wedding of her sister Balwinder-also an arranged
marriage-the Gakhals had registered three more complaints about Chahal's
threats and harassment. Rajwar consistently refused to press charges,
however, for fear of making her husband more violent. Ironically, the
Gakhals had originally considered a match between Rajwar and the
Grimsby, Ont., engineer that Balwinder was to marry the day after the
murders. The family halted the plan because they did not want their
daughter to move so far away.
There are no statistics on the success rate of
arranged marriages, but some experts say they are often sabotaged when
husbands demand total control, especially when the couple lives in North
America. In a recent book, The Seven of Us Survived, Toronto social
worker Aruna Papp chronicles the failure of several arranged marriages.
" Asian couples often think that violence is just part of
marriage," she says. "And women are socialized to believe that
marriage is their fate, and that they cannot leave." Papp added
that, in her experience, it is very unusual for a traditional Indian
family to do what the Gakhals did-support Rajwar's decision to leave her
That generosity may have cost them their lives.
Vancouver social worker Shashi Assanand specializes in counselling women
from diverse cultural backgrounds, many of them from Asia. "The
issues of power and control are the same in all cultures," she
says. " What is different is the way people respond. With an
arranged marriage, everyone takes an active role in making or breaking
the relationship. So the blame can be attached to the whole family. It's
likely that in Chahal's mind, the Gakhals were part of the problem
because they were protecting his wife."
Still, it is difficult to understand how anger over a
failed relationship turns into a murderous rage. Mark Bodnarchuk, a
research associate at the British Columbia Institute on Family Violence
in Vancouver, said that dominant male stereotypes are an important
factor in such cases. In addition to problems with jealousy and rage, he
said, many men believe they are entitled to beat their wives.
"Abusive men often view themselves as king of the castle-their
control over the family is tied to identity," he sa id. "That
is true in the West-but in other cultures the belief can be more
Many Sikhs, however, reject the notion that the
killings were caused by an arranged marriage or cultural frictions.
"That idea concerns us," said Gian Sandhu, a resident of
Williams Lake, B.C., and past president of the Canadian branch of the
World Sikh Organization. "This was an appalling tragedy-why is it
being painted as having a cultural nature?" Both partners were born
and raised in Canada, he pointed out, and were therefore comfortable in
both cultures. "Arranged marriages are not the same as they w ere
50 years ago," he added. "It's more like assisted marriage,
and there is consent by the bride and groom."
Hart is inclined to agree that Chahal's overwhelming
personal problems were the driving force behind his rampage. The pattern
of assault, abandonment, threats, and possession of weapons are all
typical of such crimes, he noted. The Gakhal family was just unlucky to
be present when Chahal arrived to kill his wife, he said. "Once
you've started firing, it's easy to keep going. I'm not saying arranged
marriages are a good thing," he said, "but it's a mistake to
connect them with homicide."
Survivor still haunted by memories
Teenager recalls shots, screams and bloodbath
Manpreet Grewal - The Province
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Gunshots. Screams. A chaotic
That's how one of the four survivors of the Vernon
massacre -- B.C.'s worst mass murder -- recalls the day 10 years ago
when her young life changed forever.
"I remember everything vividly, as if it had happened
a couple of hours ago," says Brittany Saran, speaking for the first time
about surviving the massacre that claimed nine family members and gunman
Mark Chahal, her estranged uncle.
Saran remembers the sounds of gunshots, the screams,
the bloodbath and the chaos -- and that suddenly, it was over.
Six-year-old twins Brittany and Justine and four-year-old
sister Courtney were happily watching television with their mom in their
grandparents' living room when Chahal -- armed with two handguns --
began his rampage.
Bitter over his failed marriage to Rajwar Gakhal and
enraged over her allegations of abuse, Chahal stalked methodically
through the house, firing at former in-laws preparing for a family
By the time Chahal finished, the entire Gakhal family
-- Brittany's grandparents, four aunts and an uncle -- and mother Jasbir
Saran and her father, Roger, were dead.
The days following the massacre, which shocked the
Okanagan city and its tight-knit Indo-Canadian community, were hazy.
"I remember being with the extended family in Vernon
for a few days and then my grandpa brought us to Abbotsford," she
recalls. "The grandparents moved in with us in our parents' home."
Despite the familiar surroundings, life was never the
"I remember Halloween firecrackers could make me
shudder when I was young," she says. "I would be scared and run to my
grandparents. I can still feel insecure, just hearing a door slam.
"I still have haunting dreams of that terrible day. I
still feel unsettled if I have to go to Vernon for any reason."
Despite the killings, the twins have good memories of
"I have memories of my childhood. We were always at
baseball games, watching my dad practise and play," she says.
"We were in ballet lessons, enrolled in gymnastics,
skating and swimming. We had very active lives.
"We travelled a lot as a family. I have fun memories
of visited my grandparents and aunts and uncles in Vernon.
"All that changed for us. My grandparents, who have
raised us in the last 10 years, mean the world to me.
"But I always feel that they have their own place in
my life. I was close to them even when my parents were alive. They gave
up their life for us and have tried to provide us with a lot of safety
Brittany remembers her mom as a smart, sweet,
confident modern woman who would have provided them with opportunities
She remembers her father as a strong, sweet,
protective force in her life. He was a corrections officer to whom she
looked for security.
"When he was alive, I always thought of myself as
daddy's little girl," she says. "I miss them so much. I got an English
and a drama award last year and I so wanted them to be there and proud
"Both Justine and I have participated in plays at
school and performed to huge audiences. I was the main character in the
Alice in Wonderland enactment at school. When I am on stage, my eyes
always search for my parents' faces in the crowds. I can imagine their
camera clicking. Those are some of the hardest mom- ents for me.
"Birthdays are also hard for all of us, because we
remember the birthday parties my mom and dad used to throw for us."
Brittany remembers the transition from elementary to
middle to eventually secondary schools as particularly difficult without
the support of her parents.
"In some ways, our lives are like everyone else's
with ordinary routines, but in other ways different, because of our
tragic past, which will always be a part of us," she says. "We, as
siblings, don't talk about the tragedy too often. We all deal with our
ugly memories in our own way.
"What we love to do is listen to others share happy
memories of our parents. For example, just the other day, the principal
from my old school was saying he knew my dad and he thought he was a
great hockey player. I was thrilled to pieces."
Adds Justine: "Our grandparents' whole life in the
last 10 years has revolved around us, but they are older and traditional
and can only do so much. Absolutely nothing can take the place of our
That absence led Brittany to follow her mother's
footsteps in a bid to understand the person she was.
One day, she saw one of her mother's business cards
from Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) and felt a tug at her. She
needed to learn more about what her mother had done in the workplace and
Last May, Brittany went to the ACS building to
volunteer. Justine soon followed.
"I felt the connection as soon as I walked in," says
She recalled the whole family participating in the
laughter and sounds of community events in a big meeting room now named
The Jasbir Saran room.
It was months before Brittany told anyone in the
agency who she was.
The twins learned their mom had worked for ACS for
about nine years and was instrumental in the growth and development of
English as a second language classes, which provide language training,
settlement and orientation to new immigrants. She was known for her
empathy, compassion and diligence by those she had served and for her
professionalism, commitment and hard work by her colleagues.
That brought solace to the orphans, now on the cusp
of their adult lives.
Says Brittany: "I want my parents remembered not only
with happy memories, but also in the context of what happened to them.
They need to learn and prevent it from happening in the future. People
in government and police need to know that there is something really
wrong when people get guns and shoot and change lives forever."
The Vancouver Province